The Plockton fund-raising cruise took place in near-perfect weather on Tuesday 28th May 2019 and by the end of the evening had raised £1,855 in support of Waverley.
The cruise had been organised by Waverley supporter Mandy Ragsdale (pictured above) and had been well publicised in the local area on posters produced by fellow supporter Franklin Clark, in the West Highland Free Press newspaper, local radio and even nationally by Ken Bruce on BBC Radio 2.
The cruise was made possible by the generosity of Calum Mackenzie of Calum's Seal Trips who offered his crew, his boat and himself, at no cost, for a two-hour cruise of three lochs sans whirlpool. Calum has been sailing these waters for over thirty years and his current boat, the MV Sula Mhor was built in southern England in 1947, coincidentally the same year as Waverley. Sula Mhor is a 15.5m (51-foot) craft of carvel construction, with pitch pine planks affixed to oak frames forming her smooth hull. She arrived in Plockton ten years ago after serving, possibly as a naval tender, a Cornish ferry and providing sightseeing cruises off Mull. Two years later she famously ran a school bus replacement service when a landslip closed a road for several months necessitating a 140 mile long diversion by road.
Passengers were piped on board by Hector playing the pipes and with 37 tickets sold Sula Mhor left Plockton pontoon shortly after 5.30pm comfortably filled to near capacity.
Cruising down Loch Carron, Calum recounted the story of Duncraig Castle. How it was originally built in 1866 for Sir Alexander Matheson, a Member of Parliament and Scottish businessman who made his money from opium. How the castle served as a naval hospital during World War II and subsequently being bequeathed to the local council who turned it in to a domestic science college. And how, with perhaps too much enthusiasm, he enjoyed growing up in Plockton with 70 girls cooped up nearby. In 2003 the castle was purchased by an extended family from Nottinghamshire who had their story played out in a BBC six-part television series "The Dobsons of Duncraig". Since 2009 the castle has been in new ownership and will re-open later this year as a luxury Bed & Breakfast and wedding venue.
Calum's Seal Trips are known for their "free if no seals" guarantee. It appeared as if Calum had a team of highly trained seals on tap as he drew the attention of those on board to the appearance off the port side of "Ron". Ron Seal proceeded to do exactly what it said on the tin.
After dipping in to Loch Reraig to check out a loch-side house that is coming up for sale, Sula Mhor turned for Loch Kishorn and the former oil rig fabrication yard. The yard was built by Howard Doris and operational between 1975 and 1987. At its peak over 3,000 people were employed at the yard, many living offshore on the former car ferries Odysseus and Rangatira moored in the loch. It was here that the 600,000 tonne concrete Ninian Central Platform was built which, to this day, remains the largest ever man-made movable object.
With Sula Mhor drifting silently and serenely by the dock gates, Calum recalled his time working at the Kishorn yard and regaled us with an acapella rendition of Gordon Menzies "The Kishorn Commandos" with passenger accompaniment during the chorus:
We're the Kishorn Commandos way up in Wester Ross
We've never had a gaffer, we've never had a boss
But we'll build the biggest oil-rig you've ever come across
Remember we're the Kishorn Commandos
The yard, like so many of the oil platform construction yards around Scotland, never fulfilled it's potential and lay virtually abandoned for many years. The dry dock was again used in 1994 to build two 2,300 tonne caissons for the Skye Bridge and only recently undergone a refurbishment programme in anticipation of winning oil rig decommissioning contracts.
The raffle draw was strongly supported by local businesses with donations ranging from two-nights accommodation, meal and gardening vouchers and Waverley cruising vouchers. With a degree of irony, Calum won the latter so watch out for him on Waverley. All told, the raffle raised an impressive £420. Adding up the ticket sales, the raffle, auctioning of a deer experience and an additional £500 raised by Mandy via Facebook in lieu of her birthday, a grand total of £1,855 was announced. Angela Johnson, National Secretary of the PSPS publicly thanked all those on board, rightfully calling out the contributions of Calum and Mandy.
All too soon we were heading back towards Plockton passing Eilean a' Chait Lighthouse, disused since the 1920s. It was built with accommodation at the base of the lighthouse that was, perhaps intentionally, just large enough for the lighthouse keeper so a second building on a nearby island housed the keeper's family allowing them, during low tide, to wade between the two islands.
Low tide and a later than intended arrival also meant that Sula Mhor could not return to the pontoon from which she had originally departed, turning instead towards Plockton's main pier, bring to a close a most enjoyable evening cruise.
Thanks are due to the crew of Sula Mhor and all at Calum's Seal Trips for making this cruise possible. Thank you also to everyone who bought tickets, to Franklin, Hector and to the many local businesses who were so generous in supporting the raffle:
- Applecross Inn
- Co-op, Kyle of Lochalsh
- Duncraig Nursery
- Hector's Bothy, Kyle of Lochalsh
- Kyle Hotel
- Plockton Hotel
- Plockton Inn
- Reraig Forest Argo Tours, Lochcarron
- Shores Restaurant, Plockton
- Waverley Excursions
And finally thank you to the two people who went the extra nautical mile to make this cruise a success; Mandy Ragsdale and Calum Mackenzie.