In a move which will appeal to outdoors and sea life enthusiasts, and which is certain to boost visitor interest in the area, Mid-Argyll boat operator Venture West recently introduced a new programme of wildlife cruises based at Crinan.
In late April, the family-run firm, which for the past 5 years has run boat trips from Tayvallich on Loch Sween, expanded its operation to include a series of daily cruises offering passengers the chance to explore the natural heritage of the Sound of Jura and the waters around the Corryvreckan Whirlpool.
Venture West proprietor and life-long boating enthusiast Sandy Campbell has a wealth of experience of the sea around Mid-Argyll, Kintyre, and Jura. Now he and his brother Neil have teamed up for the firm’s expansion, and each will skipper one of the company’s boats.
Over time, the brothers have formalised their existing boat handling skills, adding qualifications in relevant, and often highly technical, aspects of seamanship. Sandy holds Yachtsman Offshore and Advanced Powerboat qualifications from the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), authorised for commercial operations, and Neil is due to reach the same level by the end of May.
Venture West operates two boats, of which “North Star” is the latest addition to the company’s fleet. A sturdy Offshore 105 built in the early ’90s, it is powered by a 350hp Caterpillar diesel built in 2009. Operating out of the canal basin at Crinan, it offers wildlife-spotting trips lasting typically between 2 and 3 hours, and Sandy points out that the boat’s high sides and weather protection make it particularly family-friendly.
Sandy reports that North Star passengers have a good chance of seeing porpoises, seals, sea eagles, and wild goats, but he emphasises that neither he nor Neil can guarantee sightings of specific species.
North Star’s cruising area contains dolphins, basking sharks, and minke whales, and bird sightings often include ospreys, cormorants, puffins, and golden eagles. When the vessel skirts the shoreline, it’s not uncommon for passengers to see red deer in their wild habitat.
Unrestricted by a fixed timetable, North Star’s sailing times are determined largely by customer demand. The boat carries 12 passengers, and fares for a wildlife trip work out typically at £30 per person.
In addition to wildlife-watching, North Star caters for skate fishing and club diving, and can be booked also by film crews and naturalists.
Complementing North Star is “Venture West”, bearing the company’s own name. It is an 11m rigid-hulled inflatable boat, built in August 2009 by respected Northern Ireland firm Redbay Boats. With twin Yamaha 250hp inboard diesel engines and sterndrive power delivery, it’s the faster of the two vessels, and can cruise at up to 30 knots.
For the past few seasons, this boat has supported the Jura Passenger Ferry, both as a stand-in vessel and as back-up during busy periods, and it has been used also for wildlife trips to locations throughout the Sound of Jura. In 2010, the vessel appeared in the BBC TV programme “Three Men Go to Scotland”; just one of several occasions on which it has been employed for media work.
Like the North Star, “Venture West” is certified by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and by the RYA.
The Campbell brothers intend that this boat, which is on standby for charter out-of-hours, will continue to operate out of Tayvallich, but that, when required, it will be available also for Crinan-based operations.
Advance bookings of “Venture West” can be made for sightseeing and private ferry duties, for distillery visits, and for transporting walkers and cyclists to and from island locations.
Both boats can carry bicycles, and well-behaved dogs are welcome on board.
Passengers travelling on either of the company’s vessels are provided with appropriate safety equipment, including lifejackets.
In addition, Sandy advises passengers to bring warm clothing, particularly a warm jacket, as temperatures on the water are generally lower than on dry land. He emphasises that, as skippers, he and Neil are keen to ensure that their passengers, of whatever age, feel safe and secure throughout their trip, and he recognises that an important element in achieving this is an appreciation by the skipper of what his passengers are looking for from their journey.
Bookings may be made by telephone to 07789 071188, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org