Who would have thought that when it came to writing this month’s news for WestWord that the world would have turned so upside down in a month!
March started for the Harbour Authority with a Board Meeting on Friday 6th, with an Agenda full of all the things that were going on, both in terms of maintenance and development. Some of you will have noted the works going on at the Loch Nevis berth. The metal facings have all been taken off and re-galvanised before being replaced. Unfortunately, the work is not quite finished, as local accommodation providers were forced to close, and the workmen had to leave before the work was completed. They have left the berth safe to lie alongside so that it doesn’t matter when they get back, but if any of you are wondering why the crane seems to have been down there for weeks, there is your answer!
I mentioned last month the additional sailings to Skye, and these were relatively busy for the first two weeks, until the travel restrictions were put in place. Sailings to Skye are now all cancelled until 14th April at the earliest, the Loch Nevis is on an amended timetable for essential travel only, and the Lord of The Isles is sailing to Oban, so the ferry pier is much quieter than normal, as is the whole harbour. You might also be wondering why the Loch Nevis is going back to its berth each night when there is no other ferry traffic, and the answer to that is in case the linkspan is needed to transport the ambulance to one of our remoter communities to deal with a case of Coronavirus.
The weather finally improved at the beginning of the month, and the boats managed a few days at sea. Unfortunately, with Italy, France and Spain in the grip of Coronavirus, there is no export market for their catch, and the cold stores in this country are full, so they are now all tied up. This has meant that we have emptied the ice plant, and switched it off for the time being. Now would be an ideal time for the planned maintenance that it is required, but the engineer can’t get here, so this will have to wait. All the parts have finally arrived, so we are hopeful the work will be done quickly when restrictions are lifted.
When the restrictions were initially implemented, we were asked how it would impact the Harbour. At that stage, things were running pretty much as normal – salmon still being harvested and fed, ferries still in operation, the Marina gearing up for the season ahead, and the fishing boats finally at sea for the first time this year. However, in a fortnight, much of this activity is now reduced, and although the Harbour is still open for essential services, we are running on a skeleton staff. Pimmy, Audrey and I are working from home wherever possible, and those pier staff who are still working are only onsite when required to be, not their normal 8am-5pm. We are trying to share as much relevant information as possible on our Facebook Page, and if you email us, we’ll respond as soon as we can.
Following the guidance from the Government, the Marina is closed to all but essential traffic. In line with the Road to the Isles Marketing Group, and the Small Isles and Knoydart, we are asking people not to travel to the area. We’ve added a statement to the website, https://mallaig-yachting-marina.com/news/, which includes links to guidance from Sail Scotland and the RYA, and our local communities only accessible by sea. For local residents, with a vessel moored on the pontoon year- round, then we recognise that it’s less straightforward. The guidance recognises that it’s important for people’s mental and physical well-being that they should be able to go out and exercise if they possibly can, the Government has made it clear that this exercise should only be taken locally to home and within the guidelines for social distancing.
Please take this into consideration before deciding whether to use your boat, and please be mindful that the Small Isles and Knoydart are asking non-residents NOT TO VISIT at this time.
I’m not going to bother with my monthly plug for the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, as events have overtaken us. In partnership with the Road to the Isles Marketing Group, we had submitted a funding application for a programme of events leading up to a Maritime Day in June, but this involved the local schools and other community groups, so is not really feasible in the current climate. The funding was due to be announced by the end of March, so we are hopeful that the whole process can be postponed rather than cancelled altogether.
On a more positive note, the Strategic Transport Appraisal (STAG) for Mallaig and Armadale is now complete, and we had a positive meeting with Transport Scotland about the way forward for Mallaig Harbour. CMAL, as the pier owner at Armadale, will take forward the infrastructure works for Armadale, and Mallaig Harbour Authority will have to take forward any works for Mallaig. There are a few differences between the preferred option in the STAG, and the preferred option from MHA’s Masterplan, and we were keen to impress on Transport Scotland the need for commercial opportunities to be included in any development, a message that seemed to be understood. I’ve included artist’s impressions of the two schemes so that you can compare them.
I hope this month’s news is not too depressing! We realise that we are more fortunate in the Harbour Authority than many of the local businesses who rely entirely on Tourism, and we are definitely all lucky to live in such resilient communities, and in communities where everyone takes care to look out for one another. We’ve been receiving a range of information and updates about support for business through the Coronavirus crisis, whether financial or in terms of policies etc. so if anyone locally would like us to share any of these with them, then please just get in touch.
Jacqueline McDonell , CEO