At the beginning of August last year our first boat tour went ahead. We have operated for over a year now and cannot quite believe it. There have been highs and lows along the way but we have made it into our second year, enjoying every minute, offering guests a glimpse of Argyll’s Secret Coast in all its glory.
We soon found our sea legs, including Crystal The Reluctant Sea Dog and crew, as the bookings came flooding in (excuse the pun!) August saw our diary filling up fast with ‘single family bubbles’, families on school holidays and favourable settled weather.
Our guests observed diving gannets and the occasional encounter with playful dolphins, busy oyster catchers and porpoises from a distance. The loch was centre stage for our wonderful wildlife to show off in its natural habitat.
With enquiries for larger groups than eight people, the need for increased stability whilst out on the loch and a more spacious cockpit we were rapidly coming to the conclusion that we needed a bigger boat.
The weather continued to be in our favour in September with sunny days, light winds and calm seas. Autumn, in its infancy, amidst the purple heather, was slowly emerging, as patches of yellow and brown began to spread on the ever changing landscape of the Cowal and Kintyre Peninsulas.
This was the month we witnessed a fatal stranded bottle nosed whale on rocks north of Portavadie. These mammals would not typically be located in these waters. Investigative work on stranded marine animals is ongoing by bodies such as the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme based at Inverness University, who cannot rule out the use of sonar by ships which disorientates and displaces these creatures.
September continued to be busy and also eventful with Crystal helping herself to biscuits from an unassuming guest’s rucksack and towing a yacht, which had engine failure, to the safe haven of Portavadie Marina.
With more enquiries for larger groups the thoughts of a bigger boat were still at the forefront of our minds.
This month our guests were dazzled by the golds and reds and browns of Argyll’s landscape with ever changing light creating breath taking views time and time again. With vivid rainbows and dropping temperatures, Autumn was in full swing.
The wildlife scene was changing. With less display from the diving gannets, swooping swallows and V shaped configuration of migrating geese heading to warmer climates our guests took delight in spotting deer amongst the shrubbery and browning bracken along the coastline.
Finding more time in between boat tours we addressed our marketing presence by registering Wild about Argyll (WAA) plus we also got to grips with our social media strategy including digital boost coaching with Business Gateway.
We still needed a bigger boat!
With the season ending, temperatures dropping and the darkness closing in, we stole what remaining light was on offer and delighted our guests with sunset cruises. On the rocks, cormorants adopted their batman pose, wings fanned out against the fading landscape backdrop as the watery sun dipped away.
We continued boat tours until the end of this month despite moving into the next tier of restrictions and England’s lockdown. The times we had been working in were proving more tumultuous than the seas we were sailing on!
The crew, even Crystal, Reluctant Sea Dog had experienced an amazing first season, amongst its unknowns, its treats, its doubts and its highlights, with a sense of realisation as to what we had actually achieved.
All we needed to accomplish now was to find a bigger boat!
We bought our bigger boat which was berthed in Liverpool Marina, she was bright yellow and perfect in every way……. except for the name. We decided that ‘Bad Boyz’ did not create the desired image of our business so she was renamed more aptly as ‘Fyne Explorer.
With the next lockdown looming we motored Fyne Explorer up an extremely choppy River Mersey to the port of Whitehaven. Our next meeting would be in a few months.
This month was a frustrating time for us as lockdown restrictions meant we could not visit Whitehaven. We ordered a new captain’s seat, complete with yellow tartan inserts
and suspension. Captain was denied by the crew for this seat to be heated. We cannot have the captain receiving all the perks, can we? That’s Crystal’s job!
We attended online training with Business Gateway to enhance our blog writing skills. Having never written a blog we needed as much help and guidance as possible.
In this month we completed the WISE course offered by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. Our plan was to travel to Tobermory to attend this course and stay overnight in a cosy hotel with Crystal the Reluctant Sea Dog, with a log burner and good food. Covid had other ideas. The restrictions on travel forced us to cover the course content via two zoom calls from the comfort of our lounge! We became more confident in identifying wildlife, how to interact with it and most importantly how to respect it in its natural habitat.
This month also saw our first blog go live followed very shortly after that with our second instalment of life with Fyne Sea Tours.
We waited and we waited.
We waited and we waited some more.
The waiting was over!
Hastily, new seating for the cockpit was made, life rafts and life jackets were serviced in Liverpool plus many other jobs including ordering new fire extinguishers and a shiny new anchor. The health and safety file was updated and covid restrictions were in place.
Without a day to waste, we moved Fyne Explorer from Whitehaven to Portavadie via Girvan, on the Ayrshire coast, for one night. The weather was in our favour for the passage up the Irish Sea and into Loch Fyne.
One of the first tasks once in Portavadie was to remove all the stickers. It soon became apparent that this was not a job to be completed quickly and there would be several broken fingernails along the way.
Firstly, despite the unseasonal freezing temperatures and snow on the higher peaks, this month saw the swallows returning. A promising sign that spring and summer were on the way. The gorse bushes were boasting a vivid yellow, not many shades off Fyne Explorer’s distinct coloured hull.
The tours began, with private charters and multi bubble bookings on board. A refreshing start to our season. A positive sign of things to come. It felt good to be back on the water with our first tour. Everything went well until we lost Crystal on our way back up the pontoons after the tour. After some searching she was found safely waiting by the boat. She was obviously eager to be on board for the next tour!
In between tours we pushed forwards with our marketing strategy. This involved setting up Google My Business, a booking engine on the website and liaising with Portavadie staff regarding promotional campaigns. We also contacted local hotel and restaurant owners and had them on board to experience one of our tours. Nothing better than the real thing!
During this month we took the RSPB out to Holy Isle and Pladda, two islands off Arran to do a count on Tysties (black guillemots.) The Open Seas Trust also chartered us for a day to carry out investigative work on the waters around Inveraray. A more unusual booking came from America. The US Lighthouse Trust have booked with us to see various lighthouses in the area next year in August 2022!
The painstaking slow sticker removal process continued.
The vivid yellow gorse bushes gave way to pretty pink and purple rhododendrons as the temperature began to rise. Our diary was busy as we found ourselves on the water every day. Guests on board saw Loch Fyne come to life, with sightings of the last paddle steamer in operation in the world, the ‘Waverley,’ on its passages once more and the spotting of bottle nosed dolphins south of Arran.
This month saw members of a ‘stag do’ coming on board and having a swim near Barmore Island. The stag, wearing skimpy pink and shiny speedos jumped in first followed by his friends. Thank goodness for increased daily temperatures in Argyll!
The water of Loch Fyne, later this month, turned an idyllic turquoise and emerald green due to an algae bloom. Our tropical surroundings, although looking stunning, meant that the wildlife could not see food in the water. The seals disappeared and the skies were empty of gannets.
At last, all the stickers were peeled off and Fyne Explorer was ready for her make over.
Amidst a very, very busy month in amazing weather, Fyne Explorer’s new graphics looked superb, shimmering in the sunshine. We liked her new professional look. The business image was beginning to take shape as the crew were also now wearing branded t shirts.
Our first possible appearance on TV did not come to fruition this month. Due to diary restraints we had to turn down BBC Breakfast News at short notice, who wanted to charter us to broadcast on the water from Tarbert Harbour. Oh well, maybe next time!
We did manage to get a photo shoot with the new CEO of Wild About Argyll.
The highlight of this month was observing the seals returning with their pups after the algae bloom. An example of the resilient behaviour of our wildlife.
That was our first year!
When reflecting on our first year it occurred to us how much had happened, how much we had achieved and most importantly, how much fun we had experienced. It was a huge leap to take, starting a new business in uncertain times. We persevered by consistently looking forward and remaining focused on what we believe in….. sharing our passion for this beautiful part of the world with our guests, giving them a unique experience whilst visiting Argyll.
Here’s to conquering more waves in our second year!
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