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Audrey McKay

News from Mallaig Harbour: February 2023

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It hasn’t been a great start to the year in terms of weather, which has meant that very few of the boats have moved. The Sprat pump is still on the pier but has had no use at all this year, for the second year in a row. The stormy weather has seen some Irish fishing boats taking shelter in the Harbour while passing through on their way to or from the fishing grounds, but very limited landings for January.

Looking at overall landings for the year, we had a few visiting boats landing during the summer months, which took our total for the year almost to pre-pandemic levels. After the much lower figures for 2020 and 2021 this was a welcome boost.

Last month I outlined details of the services that were due to be put in place while the ferry terminal in Uig was out of action, which included five sailings a week between Lochboisdale and Mallaig, and two return trips on a Saturday. Unfortunately, disruption elsewhere in the network has once again meant that this has not been possible. There have also been various disruptions to the Loch Nevis sailings, in part due to weather, and in part due to infrastructure issues on the Small Isles and in Armadale. The Armadale issue meant that the Screen Machine was unable to come to Mallaig for their scheduled visit on Monday 30th and Tuesday 31st January, which was disappointing for all those who had booked tickets for the various films.  

I have spent much of the month meeting with stakeholders, and gathering information to submit a funding bid to DEFRA for the Outer Harbour project. We have had to revise the scope of this project, as to proceed with the original project, which included drilling and blasting to deepen the Harbour and the construction of a splay berth, was proving to be unaffordable for the Harbour. It is still our intention to deepen the Harbour by dredging, without the drilling and blasting, and construct the splay berth, but this is obviously subject to the funding bids being successful. While taking out the drilling and blasting element will mean that the Outer Harbour won’t ultimately be the -6m below chart datum that we had hoped for, it will mean that the works can be completed with much less disruption and in a shorter time period than we had initially thought. The original programme had allowed 33 weeks for the drilling and blasting, and vessels would have had to work round the drilling barge throughout this period. We are hopeful that the dredging will deepen the Harbour to -5m below Chart Datum, so there will be some benefit to the MOWI well boats, which have to work tidally at the moment.

Those of you in Mallaig will have noticed that the new foundation has been completed for the Marina Cabin and we hope that construction will start on this mid-February. We are building a wooden cabin which will be slightly larger than the previous portacabin, and properly insulated etc. so a bit more pleasant for our staff.

You may have seen adverts locally for a Marine Litter event, which is being organised by the Scottish Islands Federation and funded by Marine Scotland with support from Highlands and Islands Environment Forum. The event is taking place in the West Highland Hotel in Mallaig on 28th February from 10am until 3.30pm. Marine litter, made up of household plastic items and fishing litter, is a massive problem for island and coastal communities – causing pollution, killing wildlife and being landfilled instead of being eliminated or recycled into other products. The event will bring together a wide range of stakeholders to identify sustainable solutions to the problem of marine plastics and their disposal. We have been in discussion with the Scottish Islands Forum, and particularly with our Small Isles colleagues, to look at whether we can host a pilot to collect marine litter for recycling. Everyone is welcome at the event, and you can register through Eventbrite – you will find the link on Mallaig Harbour’s Facebook page.

Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: January 2023

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Happy New Year everyone! We welcomed the New Year again this year with another amazing firework display by the Ronja Commander, again supplemented by some local residents who had clubbed together to organise a pretty spectacular display. It’s becoming a regular tradition, and BBC Alba had even hoped to film it live as part of the Hogmanay ceilidh being broadcast from Mallaig and Morar Community Centre, but unfortunately some of the Harbour buildings were in the line of site to the satellite link so those of us who were at the ceilidh had to miss out on the fireworks!

Another similarity from last year is that there has again been no Sprat fishery to date this year, and it’s looking increasingly likely that the pump will be taken down unused before the end of the month.   

Looking back at last year’s January news, we had achieved a number of projects over the year. This year, it very much feels like all the emphasis has been on the Outer Harbour development, and the various iterations of this that we have had to go through. We now have a plan from Wallace Stone for the initial phases of the works, which are estimated to take 33 months in total and which will lead to disruption in the Outer Harbour, in particular while the dredging and blasting take place. This is likely to take around 30 weeks. We hope to manage it so that overnight berthing will be available throughout this time, and we are working with the main users of the Outer Harbour to try and timetable these works for the quietest periods to minimise disruption as far as possible.

Some of the works we are proposing will be for the benefit of CalMac, but we recognise that there has been significant disruption elsewhere in the CalMac network, and that this will continue with the closure of Uig for upgrading works. This will be done over two periods, the first from 16th January to 13th March 2023, and the second at the end of the summer season, from 30th October to 11th December 2023. During these periods there will be additional sailings between Lochboisdale and Mallaig, so we recognise the importance of there not being disruption in Mallaig during these periods. Between January and March, it is planned that there will be five sailings a week between Lochboisdale and Mallaig, with two return trips on a Saturday.  Let’s hope the weather is kind to allow this to happen! Further details and all the timetables can be found on CalMac’s website—Customer-Update.

The Scottish Government have also published their recommendations under the Strategic Transport Review 2 (STPR2). These can be accessed on Transport Scotland’s website – just search ‘STPR2’, and include a recommendation (No 42) for improving port infrastructure; ‘Investment in port infrastructure, including power supplies, would complement the introduction of new and upgraded ferry vessels. This would help meet the needs of rural and island communities by improving the capacity, resilience, reliability, accessibility and standardisation of ferry services and reducing their emissions. Investment in port infrastructure means that there can be progress to standardisation and interoperability of new and existing vessels, increasing network resilience. This investment would also contribute to reducing emissions across the ferry network and support Scotland’s net zero carbon emission targets.’ MHA needs to recognise this recommendation in any works we undertake, especially relating to the ferry infrastructure in Mallaig.

Those of you who live locally will be aware that Scottish Sea Farms were among those fishfarm operators who had difficulty with loss of salmon due to microscopic jellyfish blooms. This resulted in an increase in mortalities having to be landed in Mallaig, particularly in September. In agreement with Scottish Sea Farms, we charged a premium for these landings, with the intention of the monies going back into the community. In total, the premium was £900, so at the Board Meeting in December we agreed that these monies would be split as follows: £250 to Mallaig Community Council for the Christmas lights; £200 to Mallaig Primary School; £150 to the local Cubs and Beavers, who undertake an annual beach clean and who plant flowers at the entrance to the Harbour each year; and £300 as seedcorn funding to enable those interested in establishing a Men’s Shed locally to take forward the project.

Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: December 2022

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The Sprat pump was installed but so far there haven’t been any landings of Sprats, which is always disappointing. Not only do Sprat landings give a good boost at the end of the year to the fisheries, it would also have been a good test for the ice plant, which was shut down for a week in November while we installed a new gearbox and undertook various other bits of maintenance. Although we think of the ice plant being ‘new’, it has been in operation for almost four years now and so was needing some TLC. As with all things Harbour related, there had to be a challenge around the works! Despite us and the boats being organised, with ice orders made for the preceding Friday to last the fishing boats through the planned shut-down, the Ronja Challenger used the berth overnight on the Thursday and had an engine breakdown, which meant it couldn’t move on the Friday morning to allow the fishing boats in. Thankfully the Harbour staff had a plan ‘B’ and the new ice bins we had ordered in anticipation of a busy sprat season were filled and put in the chill for the boats to access as required. 

I attended the Aquaculture and Innovation Day as part of Lochaber Ideas Week. Servicing the Aquaculture industry is a big part of the Harbour’s income and it was good to meet with others involved in the industry and to see some of the new ideas that are coming through. As we are looking at development in the Harbour, it’s useful to understand some of the innovations that might be taking place in the Aquaculture industry, so that we can adapt our plans to support these. The idea of ‘active’ fendering systems for example, which use tidal motion to generate electricity, is something that we might be able to consider down the line. Some of the ideas being talked about, such as these ‘active’ fenders, are just at concept design, while others, such as a hybrid system which uses the diesel generators on fish farms to intelligently charge and discharge batteries, and therefore reduces reliance on these diesel generators, saving money and reducing carbon emissions, are already well established. 

Although the fishing has been very quiet, there is still a lot of activity on the Harbour – with lots of interesting loads of cargo for Knoydart recently. One of our Board Members, Jim Wilson has been working with the Knoydart Foundation (Knoydart Renewables) on their project to provide energy security, so we took delivery of a new transformer recently, as well as miles of new cabling and the pipework for it to be buried in. There’s also roof trusses and lots of insulated board, which we are presuming is for someone’s new house. Sometimes I think that it should be a condition of building materials being loaded over the pier that we get a photo of the finished project – it would be interesting to chart the progress over the years!

We’ve had a visit this month from staff at the Advanced Manufacturing Centre (AMC), part of the UHI based in Fort William, who are able to support Small and Medium sized enterprises throughout the Highlands and Islands. The Centre can provide a range of services to help local businesses, including 3D scanning and printing (at scales up to full building size!); Project Support and CAD and CAM services. Although we don’t really manufacture anything on the Harbour, we do have some ideas that they can hopefully help us with – including streamlining processes in the feed shed to manage stock better. Another example the AMC used was being able to 3D scan boats to allow organisations to consider how any changes that they might be proposing to make to the layout on deck (or below) would impact the vessel. The Advanced Manufacturing Centre is happy to help all sectors of business, and are really approachable and helpful, so if you have anything you think they can support you with – get in quick as there is EU funding available for the next few months.

Wallace Stone have been in discussion with potential contractors about how the works in the Outer Harbour might proceed, and have provided us with some potential options. As a Board we are going to consider these, and the associated disruption that they might cause, and we will then be talking to wider stakeholders, hopefully early in the new year.

Finally, we’d like to wish all Harbour users, and the wider community, a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year when it comes.

Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: November 2022

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The clocks have changed so it’s dark late afternoon; the Steam Train finished on the 28th October, and CalMac are on their winter timetable so the Loch Fyne, Loch Bhrusda and the Coruisk are away for the season. Summer is definitely over! The harbour seemed very empty for a few days, but the stormy weather has seen it fill up again so we are juggling berths to fit everyone in!

Another sure sign that summer is over is that the sprat pump arrived at the end of October, just about the same time as it arrived last year. Unlike last year, we haven’t installed it yet, until we have more information about when the fishing is likely to start. It feels a bit like Déjà vu, as last year when I wrote about it being installed I said the weather still felt a bit mild for sprats, and the weather has definitely been mild the last couple of weeks.

Some of you may have seen press coverage of the fishing statistics published by Marine Scotland for the 2021 calendar year. These showed an increase in the value of landings for the Mallaig District of almost 38%. Whilst this seems very positive, it has to be taken in the context of the very low landings in 2020, and also the fact that this is for the whole district covered by the Mallaig office of Marine Scotland, which also includes the Small Isles and Ardnamurchan, and the North Shores of Loch Linnhe to Corpach. Tonnage for the year fell by -1.5%. By far the majority of landings throughout the district were shellfish (83% by tonnage), and this is certainly the case for landings through Mallaig Harbour as well. Marine Scotland’s figures for the district showed a total of £4.8million was landed throughout the district, while our figures for last year showed landings of £2.4million through Mallaig Harbour, so only half the district landings came through Mallaig Harbour. For comparison, the same statistics showed a peak for the district in 2017 of £9.8 million, and landings through the Harbour in 2017 were £8.16 million, so a much larger proportion of the landings were through the Harbour in 2017 than is the case now. I’ve mentioned in previous months the challenges facing the industry, and this month the Reul a’Chuain was sold to be converted to a houseboat, and the Silver Dawn has also been tied up so the local fleet is reducing further.

It’s the end of the season at the Marina so the seasonal staff are all finished for another year. Our thanks go to Gena, Michael and Ross for working alongside Chris this season. It’s been another busy year, with 1,700 nights occupied at the Marina, and 1,022 vessels. Total nights occupied are higher than last year, and even slightly higher than 2019 – pre-pandemic.  We’re going to remove the portacabin from the top of the pontoon within the next month so that the concrete can be laid for the foundation of the new office ‘cabin’ which will be up and running for next season.

Last November, I wrote that the works had started on converting the Denholm Office into smaller spaces, and this November I am delighted to say that the new tenants are finally able to move in. Mallaig Fishermen’s Co-op and West of Scotland Fish Producers Organisation are in the process of moving across from their existing offices above the railway station. It will be great to have some more activity through in that side of the building again. Some of you will know that my husband works for WSFPO, and that he used to be employed by Denholms, working in the office we have converted, so there have been lots of jokes about being in the same building, and about him almost getting his old desk back!

I also mentioned last November that we had submitted the Marine Licences for the works in the Outer Harbour. It may not look like much progress has been made with this, but there has been lots of work going on ‘behind the scenes’. We have added an additional ferry berth to the scope of the original works, in response to the Coruisk being back, and the Loch Bhrusda supporting the Loch Nevis. While this has delayed things, it will mean that the overall project makes as efficient use as possible of the space within the Outer Harbour. We are consulting with CalMac at the moment about this new ferry berth to ensure it meets their needs, and then hopefully we will be able to cost the project and apply for funds to make it all happen! You will have seen in the media elsewhere, announcements about new ferries and various other works being undertaken to the ferry infrastructure. There are plans for a replacement for the Lord of the Isles, and also initial consultation is being undertaken by CMAL on the Small Vessel Replacement Programme. Both of these have potential impacts for the infrastructure in Mallaig, and we have to be sure that any work we undertake in the Outer Harbour considers these potential impacts. You can find details about these projects at

Finally this month, we sponsored Mallaig Football Club again this year, and after a long season, with some disappointments along the way, they were worthy winners of the Ewen MacRae Cup.

Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: October 2022

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The good weather now seems a distant memory – with wind and rain for much of the first week in October, and most of the boats tied up. Thankfully, it was still relatively mild at the start of September, when we welcomed Jasmine Harrison and her support crew to the marina on 7th September. Jasmine set off in June to swim the length of Great Britain from Land’s End to John O’Groats. As of the 3rd October, she had rounded Cape Wrath – so not too far to go in the scale of things! You can read more about Jasmine and track her progress at

The Loch Nevis has returned from its refit, and the Loch Bhrusda is now away to cover the Sound of Barra run for October. The Lord of the Isles is not running to Mallaig at the moment, while repairs to the linkspan in Lochboisdale are being undertaken.

CMAL held a public webinar on 31st August to share an update on the Small Vessel Replacement Programme, which includes the Loch Fyne and the Loch Bhrusda. You can access the slides and watch a recording of the webinar at . The winter CalMac timetables have now been published, and while the Loch Bhrusda will not be undertaking the additional sailings between Mallaig and Armadale during March that she has for the last three years, there will be two afternoon sailings Mon-Saturday from 24th October until 5th November and then from 16th to 30th March. There are also some changes to the Small Isles sailings, due to the turnaround time on each island being increased to a minimum of 20 minutes.

After two really good months of fishing, August’s landing figures were down to around £650k. However, that still means that landings for June, July and August of this year were higher than the total landings for the year to March 2022! The challenges for the fishing industry are ongoing though. The Delivery Plan for the Fisheries management strategy 2020 to 2030 has recently been published, and the Chair of the Inshore Fisheries Group, Simon MacDonald hosted a meeting for interested parties in Mallaig on Wednesday 28th September.

Things have really quietened down at the Marina, so it will no longer be staffed at the weekends from now until the end of the season. It’s been a busy year, and we were pleased to feature in a list of the ten best UK boating destinations, as chosen by a ‘sea-faring mum who has spent the last five years exploring Britain’s coasts’ – Heather Kemp. The article named Mallaig as a ‘must-visit location, known for its stunning sunsets and wildlife including dolphins, whales and sea eagles.’ We can’t disagree with that!

On the 1st September I attended the Scottish Ports Group meeting, organised by the British Ports Association and hosted by the Port of Ayr. It was great to be able to go and meet people working in similar jobs again, and we were given a tour of the port in Ayr. They operate in a very different way to Mallaig – with mostly bulk cargos being loaded and unloaded. This included huge wind turbine blades when we visited – something we’ll never have the space for in Mallaig!

I then finished off the month talking to Board Members and staff of UHI about the Harbour’s development plans, and the potential for the proposed Marine Training Centre to support these plans. It’s always great to be an advocate for the marine training that goes on in Mallaig – there are so many people involved in marine industries around the Harbour who have started their training over at the Learning Centre, and so many other opportunities that could be available locally if there was a dedicated centre. Again, it comes down to space! If UHI’s plans come to fruition, the new centre would be in the area of the old Marine World – which is the first area you see as you come to the roundabout to enter Mallaig – and it would be great to see this redeveloped.

Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: March 2022

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I started last month talking about the storms, and it feels like there has been nothing but storms since. Although our weather hasn’t been as extreme as other parts of the country, we’ve had our fair share of wind and rain, so much so that the boats have hardly been as sea for the last month. Let’s hope March is a better month!

Storm Dudley disrupted the harvest schedule for MOWI on 16th February, and instead of being overnight the harvest started at 2pm. Gillie kindly invited Mallaig Harbour Authority staff over for a tour round the factory, showing us how the fish are harvested. Some of the longer serving staff had seen the process before, but for me it was a first, and really interesting to see. Whilst people may have different opinions about the merits of farmed salmon, there is no question that the welfare of the fish is at the forefront of the harvesting process.

I also mentioned last month the publication of the Summer timetable for the Skye and Lochboisdale ferries, and the intention that the Small Isles timetable would be published imminently. As I’m writing this, the timetable for the period from 25th March until 6th May, utilising the Larven and Spanish John to sail to Rum and Canna on a Saturday to support the Loch Nevis, has just been published, and Saturday sailings for the peak summer period have not been finalised. CalMac have also issued a statement that the Lord of The Isles will not be available for the Mallaig – Lochboisdale route for March, as she is covering an alternative route. In the meantime we have moved ahead with the proposals to provide a bit more marshalling space. Working with CalMac, three shipping containers have been moved onto the Breakwater to enable us to create a one-way system and utilise part of the car park between the snack bar and the Loch Nevis berth to provide additional marshalling. CalMac have also been talking to us about the project to build a replacement vessel for the Lord of the Isles, which is in its early stages. As part of their community consultation, they will host a public webinar on 16th March, and we will publish more details on this on our website and Facebook page.

Parking is going to be a hot topic for the next few months, as the new Parking Enforcement Officer has started work and we are all going to have to think a bit more carefully about where we park. We’ve been getting lots of enquiries about parking permits on the Harbour. All our spaces are allocated and we have a long waiting list so unfortunately we can’t provide a solution for everyone.

We have taken the opportunity this month to tidy up some of the Harbour area, disposing of old nets and fishing gear from the Harbour and the area around the West Bay Stores. It took two 16 tonne skips and a further smaller skip to achieve this, so we are hopeful that the area remains tidy!

During the storms this month we were also made aware that some people had decided it was a good idea to jump into the water from the harbour while all the boats were tied alongside. It goes without saying that this is never a good idea – jumping into cold water in amongst ropes and moored vessels is not a sensible move – especially not in the middle of a storm. We are extremely lucky that there have been very few incidents around the Harbour and we’d like to keep it that way! We don’t want to have to close off parts of the harbour because of the actions of a minority but we also have to take our Health and Safety responsibilities seriously.  

Our Marine Licence for the works in the Outer Harbour is now being processed by Marine Scotland, and alongside these works, the Board took the opportunity at our February meeting to consider the future strategy for the Harbour Authority, and to look again at our Masterplan, which was published in 2016. Lots of things have moved on from then, and we wanted to take the opportunity to consider what we might add to the original plans. This is a work in progress, but we realise that there has been lots of activity within some of the communities served by the Harbour since 2016, and that we should be engaging with the wider community to see what other future demands there might be if more space was available on the Harbour. We hope to get the opportunity to do this over the next few months so watch this space!

Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: February 2022

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We were lucky on the Harbour to not incur any damage from the storms over the weekend of 29th and 30th January. It will be interesting to see what wind speeds were recorded here, as although it was wild, I suspect it wasn’t as wild as elsewhere. There were fears for some of the more exposed buildings, as there were lumps of sea crashing over them, but thankfully all have survived!

January has been pretty miserable weather wise, but looking forward to the summer, Sail Scotland have launched a series of aerial videos, including one of Mallaig. You can find them all on their website,, and we have shared the Mallaig one on the Harbour Authority’s website and Facebook page.

Last month we were still hopeful of a late sprat fishery, but unfortunately this didn’t materialise, and the pump has now been removed for another year. At this time of year, we always do a review of the fish landings, and the graph below shows how this has changed over the last ten years:

Although landings in 2021 have improved on 2020, which was so badly impacted by the pandemic, the overall trend is still downwards. In part this reflects the reductions in the fleet based in Mallaig, and there are implications from both the pandemic and Brexit, so it will be interesting to see what the trend is in another five years!                              

The Summer timetable for the Skye and Lochboisdale ferries has now been published, and by the time you read this the Small Isles timetable will also have been published. We are looking at some temporary improvements that can be made to the marshalling area for this season until more permanent works are possible. The Loch Bhrusda is due back for the third year of the trial of additional sailings in March, and, because Easter is late and affects the MCA certification, the Loch Fyne cannot start operating until 1st April so the Loch Bhrusda will service the route on its own until then. The hope is that the Coruisk will have returned by the start of May.   

North West Marine’s ‘Meercat’, which is a fairly regular visitor to the Harbour, undertook the last of the investigative works in the Outer Breakwater on Friday 29th January and Monday 1st February, so work is still progressing in the background. We have also been granted planning permission to replace the portacabin at the Marina, and are awaiting the building warrant. Ideally we would like to have this done before the Marina opens for the season, but that might not be achievable now!

The work to create office space from the old Denholms office is also almost complete. Our intention is to lease two of the offices, and to keep the third as co-working space, which people will be able to use to hot-desk, or to book out for a meeting if required. We have some interest in the two offices at the moment, but to be open and transparent about the process, you will find an advert for the offices elsewhere in West Word. We’d like to gauge overall interest in office space locally as there may be other opportunities as we undertake the larger developments.

Sometimes it feels like I spend a lot of time filling in surveys and questionnaires to support various pieces of work. There are two of particular relevance that are open for public consultation at the moment. One of these is the Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2), which will inform transport investment in Scotland for the next 20 years (2022-2042). One of the recommendations is around Port Infrastructure, and in particular supporting ferry vessel renewal and replacement and progressive decarbonisation of the ferry services. Anyone can contribute to the review, which is open until 15th April 2022, via the website

The second review is on an updated marine litter strategy for Scotland, which has an earlier closing date of 22nd March 2022. There are five objectives for the strategy, which can be found at . These objectives include; Improving public and business attitudes and behaviours around marine and coastal litter, in co-ordination with the national litter and flytipping strategy; Supporting the removal of marine litter from the marine and coastal environment; and reducing marine and coastal based sources of litter.

Both of these surveys are important to the Harbour and to the industries using the Harbour, but also to the wider community, so please, if you have an interest in either or both of these topics, take some time to complete the consultations.

Finally for this month, we are looking at implementing some traffic calming measures on the road in front of the West Bay net stores, and we would remind anyone using this road that they should do so with caution as there may be fishermen working at gear outside the stores.

Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: January 2022

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Happy New Year everyone! For those lucky enough to have had a view of the Harbour at midnight on Hogmanay, we were treated to another amazing firework display by the Ronja Commander, which this year was supplemented by some young local residents who had clubbed together to organise a pretty spectacular display. Between the two, some being set off from the Harbour, and some from the end of East Bay, it was a real treat to see in the New Year.

There has been no Sprat fishery to date this year, although the Caralisa changed gear again and set off on 4th January in the hope of finding some. The weather has certainly turned colder, so let’s hope this is a good sign!  

There is a bit of Déjà vu in writing this, as I’m not sure that anyone would have predicted that we would start 2022 still with the guidance to work from home where possible. The increase in Covid cases is impacting some of the services from the Harbour, including the ferries. There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment around the CalMac timetable, which in the short term has been reduced to an Essential Services temporary timetable from 3rd to at least 23rd January.  Looking ahead, the Summer timetables from Mallaig are due to be published on 17th January. This is later than elsewhere in the Network and, while it should result in a better service from Mallaig to the Small Isles, Lochboisdale and Skye, it is causing some frustration for tourism businesses as it is making future planning, a challenge. If all the proposed services are implemented there will be up to 25 sailings a day from Mallaig in the height of the summer, using four different vessels, which is quite a logistical challenge for CalMac, and potentially for us on the Harbour!

Although 2021 was another disrupted year in terms of restrictions, the Harbour is fortunate to have a number of income streams, and the quieter times have allowed us to press ahead with some developments. We were lucky to receive funding from the Scottish Government towards the installation of shore power in February, funding which was made available as a result of the difficult conditions facing the fishing fleet. Although the power points were installed quickly, it took several months to get the whole system commissioned as we required an upgrade to the Harbour’s capacity.  However, all the points are now up and running and being well utilised by vessels. We were also able to install a passenger waiting shelter for the Knoydart ferry, with support from Transport Scotland’s Ferries Accessibility fund. This has been much appreciated and is a wee splash of colour on the Harbour. We also installed our LED lighting around the harbour, the start of a range of energy efficiency measures we hope to be able to implement over the next few years. Those of you who read this column regularly will also know that we have bigger plans for the Outer Breakwater, and we have almost completed the detailed design phase for these. We had to make some last-minute changes prior to submitting the Marine Licence, in order to incorporate plans for a new berth for CalMac ferries. The bathymetric survey of the Outer Harbour was undertaken in December, and there is still a small amount of investigative works to be done, hopefully in January before the works can go out to tender. Putting together a funding package for these works will be the priority for 2022, along with a replacement of the existing portacabin at the top of the Marina pontoon.

We had our final Board Meeting of the year on 10th December and were able to invite our previous Chair, Charlie King and previous Board Members, Jackie Wright and Michael Foxley to join us for a meal in the evening to mark their retirement. We had hoped to mark the occasion of Charlie’s retiral from the Board with a larger celebration, but with ongoing restrictions this was proving impossible. Gavin Davis, as current Chair, said a few words of thanks to Charlie, Michael and Jackie, and reflected on some of the highlights of Charlie’s 37 years on the Board before presenting each of them with a token of the Board’s appreciation. The Scottish Government’s ‘Modern Ports – Guidance for Good Governance’ sets a limit on the number of terms and therefore the length of time that a Board Member can serve now, and while this is good in lots of ways, and ensures there are always new ideas being generated, it does mean that no-one will have the chance to develop the same level of corporate knowledge and history that some of our previous Board Members, including Charlie, were able to. In looking through the minute books to gather some dates for Gavin’s speech, I was struck by how much some things have changed (in 1985 the Harbour Board agreed to write to the Health Authorities ‘regarding the indiscriminate wandering of sheep through the Harbour Area’) and by how much some things have stayed the same (in October 1998 ‘Mr C King intimated that a parking review of the village was currently being undertaken by The Highland Council’)! One thing that has definitely changed is the make-up of the Board. On 1st October 1993 Alison MacKenzie from Scotrail was welcomed as the first woman to sit on the Harbour Board, and now, including myself, the Board is two third’s women. I’ll leave others to make comment on that!

Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: December 2021

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Although we were hopeful at the end of last month that the Sprat pump was in place, to date it has not been needed – no Sprats have been landed, and the Caralisa has taken off their Sprat gear and gone back to the prawns for now. This is disappointing as a good Sprat fishery always gives a wee boost at the end of the year, and a bit of obvious activity on the Harbour, which we are missing.

We had ‘battened down the hatches’ in advance of the storm forecast for Friday 26th November – the school children had all been sent home early (ironically on the Western Isles boat ‘Arwen’, given that was the name of the storm), and the vessels had all been moved around the Harbour and pontoons to provide as much shelter as possible. In the end, although it was pretty stormy for a time, we didn’t have it nearly as bad as the East Coast, and we are pleased to report no damage was sustained anywhere within the Harbour.

The works to convert the old Denholms office in the Harbour Buildings are ongoing, but they are really starting to take shape now. There has been a bit of disruption as we are taking the chance to upgrade some of the other facilities, so we have been without a ladies’ room for the last week or so – thankfully the gents have been very gracious about sharing with us!! We’re all telling ourselves that the long term benefits will be worth the short term upheaval!

I attended a virtual meeting of the Northern Lighthouse Board Users Group at the beginning of the month, and one of the topics for discussion was the replacement of one of their vessels, and how this might be powered in the future. This was timely as there was lots of discussion around COP-26 about the development of Hydrogen as a fuel of the future, and Hydrogen is certainly one of the options for vessels. The International Maritime Organisation aims to make shipping ‘net-zero’ for carbon emissions by 2050. Although this seems like a long way off, any vessels built by 2030 are likely to still be sailing in 2050, so the transition has to start soon! It’s interesting how quickly the world can change – in 2016 when we published our Masterplan, there was very limited discussion about alternative ways of fuelling vessels, and what infrastructure this might require. However, this has to be very much at the forefront of any development plans now. COP-26, although it might have felt quite remote to Mallaig, has encouraged us to put some thought into future options for reducing the carbon footprint of the Harbour and our wider users.  We have started this process in a small way with the installation of the LED lights, and the shore power points, and I’m glad to say that the upgrade to our power supply mentioned last month is complete and we now have sufficient capacity for all the shore power points to be operational. We’re really grateful to HF Group who have been very helpful throughout the process, and who worked alongside SSE to ensure everything went smoothly.  

I mentioned last month the plans for the Coruisk to return to Mallaig next season. At the moment, there is still no clarity on this, and the proposed timetables are not due to be published until mid-January. This is causing concern for Tourism businesses locally and on Skye, who are fearful that the uncertainty will lead to reduces business, especially from coach parties who like to book well in advance. At the moment, it looks like the season will start with the Loch Bhrusda and Loch Fyne covering the Mallaig/Armadale run, and the Lord of The Isles only sailing between Mallaig and Lochboisdale, but with two sailings a day on three days of the week, allowing those travelling from Lochboisdale to the mainland to make a ‘day trip’. There will be some challenges for us as a Harbour in accommodating all these vessels, so we are looking at options for some minor works that can be done to improve berthing and marshalling space in the short term.

We had another visit from the Screen Machine on the 3rd and 4th December. One of the films shown was ‘Launch! – On the Seas with Scotland’s Lifeboats’. Directed by award-winning curator Shona Thomson, the film has been two years in the making with unprecedented access to the RNLI’s own archives. 1920s film is woven with 1960s colour promos and breath-taking digital video captured by RNLI crews’ 21st century helmet cameras whilst out on the wild sea. Launch! celebrates the dedication of Scotland’s volunteer crews and the communities that support them. If you didn’t get the chance to watch it in Mallaig, you can find out more information on the website,

Finally, I’d like to thank the Harbour staff who have once again supported the Community Council to put up the Christmas decorations, and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year when it comes!

Jacqueline McDonell

News from Mallaig Harbour: November 2021

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The year has flown in and it’s already November. The ferries are back on their Winter timetable, and although it’s welcome news that we should have the Coruisk back in Mallaig next year, there is still some uncertainty about when the Utne will enter service on the Oban-Craignure run, enabling this to happen. As a result, it is unlikely that the Summer timetables for services from Mallaig will be published at the same time as other routes. This is frustrating for our tourism businesses, as it has knock-on effects for tour companies etc. At the moment, the intention is that the Lord of the Isles will provide a dedicated service between Mallaig and Lochboisdale, sailing twice a day on some days, and that the Mallaig-Armadale route will be served by the Coruisk, supported by the Loch Fyne. I don’t envy whoever has the task of making up the timetables – our wee linkspan in Mallaig will be in constant use with sailings to the Small Isles, Armadale and Lochboisdale all having to be timetabled in!

It’s the end of the season at the Marina as well, and our seasonal staff have stopped for the winter. We’re grateful to have had Gena looking after the shore facilities again, and Ruairidh stepping in to cover days off through the height of the summer. Although we still had social distancing restrictions in force for the start of the season this year, it has been a busy season, almost on a par with 2019. Overall, there were 1,405 nights occupied at the marina and 987 vessels used the facility in total this year, compared to 1,429 nights occupied and 1,125 vessels in 2019. We’ve seen a change in the usage this year, with very few foreign boats (understandably!) and more visiting yachts from the South of England who might not normally venture this far!

The Sprat pump arrived on Thursday 28th October, and was set up on Friday 29th, which is a sure sign Winter is on its way. The weather still feels quite mild for sprats, but there has been lots of birds visibly feeding in the waters round about so hopefully this is a good sign, and there will be a good fishing of Sprats!

It’s almost a year since our public meeting about the development proposals for the Outer Breakwater, and by the time you read this, our Marine Licence for the works will have been submitted. The next stage is to agree a final design and get the project out to tender. Although we had an idea of costs in January, construction prices have gone up so much since then that it’s difficult to know what the total cost might be. Putting the project out to tender will give us an accurate cost to seek funding early next year.

I had a week off in October to correspond with school holidays, and wasn’t in work when the Dunan Star foundered on rocks in Loch Nevis. Thankfully the crew were all safe, but unfortunately, when the vessel was being recovered, it sank. We have liaised with the UK Hydrographic Office to mark the position of the wreck.  We’re also pleased to report that our Lighthouse is back up and running – the replacement bulb was fitted on 15th October.

In more positive news, we are delighted that the works to convert the old Denholms office in the Harbour Buildings has started. Some of you will have seen the skip at the rear of the building, and lots of the initial work has been to strip out existing windows, walls and other fittings – including three safes – two of which were concreted in! Our plan is to make three smaller offices and a communal kitchen, with the intention that two of the offices will be leased long term, and the third will be used as a ‘co-working’ space where people can come and work for an hour, a day or however long they want, and there will also be scope for hosting small meetings.  

We weren’t organised enough this year to make our own Scarecrow for the Scarecrow trail, but we did host two jellyfish on the dinghy at the roundabout – so hopefully you spotted these. Thanks to Anna Fothergill for making them and sharing them with us. 

Some of you will also have seen SSE working around the pier over the last few weeks. Those of you in Mallaig will know that the power was out on 8th October, due to a number of faults, and as a result of this, the sub-station opposite the CalMac office is having to be completely replaced. We’re hopeful that the upgrade to our power supply to enable all the shore power points to be operational will happen on the back of this by mid-November.

Finally, just after I started at the Harbour, my news for September 2019 included a welcome to the soon to be renamed ‘Lucifer’ which was bought by Damian MacDonald. Damian renamed the boat the ‘Boy Harris’, and this week we watched her leave the harbour with her new owners, bound for a new home in Girvan, having been sold.    

Jacqueline McDonell