‘I’VE worked on ships all over the world, and the wildlife and scenery on Scotland’s west coast is hard to beat,” beams Elizabeth G’s skipper Rob Barlow as we push out of Oban Bay into a world of big skies, vaulting mountain and shimmering isle. It’s an epic world where porpoises, sea eagles and mighty stags await on a Scottish wildlife safari.

Eight years have passed since this trusty former Norwegian rescue vessel surged me all way out to St Kilda; six years since we eased through the Caledonian Canal together. And she has changed. A lot. The Shetland-registered Elizabeth G has shorn two cabins, and the quartet of plush cabins are all now en suite with proper showers.

The public areas have been elevated a notch too with original art with Elizabeth G centre stage in the Hebridean scenes. At the stern a new covered area allows you to stay cosy and dry while feeling like you’re still outside, offering an alternative space to the roomy dining saloon.

We’ve seven guests aboard (she can sleep eight or 10 on a charter cruise) and three further crew – bosun Craig, chef Charlie and wildlife guide Zoë. It’s very much first-name terms aboard the Elizabeth G. Charlie is a star, bringing out the best in Oban-landed lobster, seasonal game and smoked Mull trout. A highlight is when qualified-diver Rob delves down to snare fresh king scallops. Rob shows us how to clean them on deck before we savour them as a delicious starter with dinner. Each dinner finishes off with dessert – think cranachan pannacotta or poached pear in red wine – then a cheeseboard heaving with French and Scottish options.

READ MORE: The best things to do in Dunfermline - Scotland's newest city

This high level of comfort and luxury is welcome, but the main attraction remains the scenery and the wildlife. Zoë enthuses us: “You really don’t need to go abroad with so much wildlife here in the water, skies and on land.” Our four-night expedition is billed as an Inner Hebrides Big 5 Autumn Wildlife Cruise. It doesn’t disappoint.

On our first night, we skip under the Connell Bridge, through the Falls of Lora into uncharted territory for me – the surprisingly wild northern reaches of Loch Etive. Herons ease along the shore as we track red deer breaking cover amongst the fiery reds and burning oranges of autumnal Scotland.

The next morning, I scan the waters for otters but have to wait until after our hearty breakfast. Our tender putters us ashore shore, and we set off for a hike beneath hulking Highland mountain massifs. And there she is, working her way along the shore, then feasting on a crab – a large female otter. It’s a privilege to get so close to this graceful creature, which – along with harbour seals, golden eagles, red deer and red squirrels – makes up Scotland’s wildlife “Big Five”.

Each new day brings further wildlife experiences that would have David Attenborough purring an excited voiceover.

Cruising towards Mull, we’re with guillemots, kittiwakes, shags and gannets – the latter my favourite bird, which risks breaking its neck every time it dives at speeds of up to 60 mph for fish. There are seals and porpoises too – everywhere you look, something catches your eye.

Ashore on Mull’s Loch Spelve, we’re lucky to see another elusive otter. This time he teases us, slipping in and out of the water before unfurling his full length as if he is posing for us before he disappears for good. Another star is Mull’s red deer. It’s autumn, so murderous rutting cries echo around the glens. We hear them, but don’t see anything, then a stag appears high up on a ridge, very much the monarch of the glen, his antlers glinting in the morning sun. A couple of does skittishly scramble up to him, and then they are gone. Seconds later, a hen harrier zooms in low near us like a fighter jet.

On our last day, we manage to get ashore twice. First on wild and wildly beautiful Morvern, where we’re humbly moored in Loch a’ Choire in a postcard-perfect natural amphitheatre of brooding mountains. We spot a seal from the tender, then the stags take over with a morning chorus.

READ MORE: Petition launched by filmmakers to save top independent cinemas and festival

We come within just a few metres of a stag just next to the tender dock.

Pushing on inland, rain has filled the local burns and rivers with a thunderous roar as we work our way up the hillside to peer back down at Elizabeth G, safely tucked in the loch, with Charlie cooking up a seafood risotto for lunch.

Our last landing is on Lismore, the “Great Garden” island. Once again, Zoë is there to gently coax us along, spotting things for us at points we might have missed, and letting us catch sight of our own wildlife too, all the while on hand with her knowledge.

All too soon, I’m back on the – always-open – bridge, with Rob easing back into the bright lights of Oban Bay, where the world of traffic lights and busyness is about to engulf. But I disembark knowing the revamped Elizabeth G awaits with a window into an altogether different world, a world where man gloriously plays second fiddle to nature just beyond Oban Bay.