Calum Mackenzie started boat trips in Plockton using a former River Thames Police Launch having bought the boat for the princely sum of £30.
With the reputation of Plockton growing as an ideal spot for seal watching, Calum realised that a better boat was needed: the police launch had served its time well but was not big enough to cope with the visitors that were now coming to Plockton for the summer.
The second boat was called the Rhibbin Og which had been used as a prawn fishing boat in Plockton but was later moved by its owner to Fort William. After shaking on the deal with his old friend Finlay Finlayson, Calum had to go to Fort William to bring the boat back. So a motley crew was selected for the hazardous voyage of the Rhibbin Og which included Johnda Byrne, Finlay Finlayson, Colin Macandrew and Dave McGhie, the highlight of which was passing the Mishnish Hotel in Tobermory.
The next boat was a 31′ Yorkshire coble which was bought from a local boatman in Plockton.
Following that was the Amanda C, an AquaStar 27 from Christchurch in Dorset.
When the BBC chose Plockton to film three series of the now cult television programme ‘ Hamish Macbeth’ in the mid 90’s it soon became obvious that a bigger boat was needed. The success of the show bought a massive surge in visitors to the village to see the scenes and meet the people some of whom starred in many of the episodes. Calum himself starred, and was the inspiration for one of the episodes.
As the earlier boats had only been licensed for 12 passengers the search was on for a boat that could take the increasing number of visitors to Plockton who wanted to go and see the seals. After a nationwide search the ‘Argus’ was purchased locally from Mick Coe who had been operating out of Kyleakin Harbour on the nearby Isle of Skye. After much work and a lot of new paint the maiden voyage of the ‘Argus’ took place on July 6th 1999 and served well for nearly 10 years.
Sadly in the terrible storms of October 2008 the ‘Argus’ was lost, slipping her moorings and being dashed on rocks at Kishorn. Fortunately it was the last week of the season, but undeterred, Calum set off once again to find a new boat, bigger and better than ever before the search took him to Tobermory, where the Sula Mhor ( big gannet ) was up for sale. This was just the boat that Calum had been looking for, well suited to the inshore waters of the West Highlands. ‘Sula Mhor’ arrived in Plockton in February 2009, with Calum bringing the boat himself from Mallaig to where it had been delivered.
The ‘Sula Mhor’
Operating from Plockton for the first time in 2009 the MV ‘Sula Mhor’ is a 51 foot wooden vessel. She is of carvel construction, pitch pine planks on oak frames . She was built in southern England in 1947, possibly as a naval tender. She later saw service working for the St. Mawes FerryCo in Cornwall, and prior to coming to Plockton sailed the seas around the Isle of Mull on wildlife cruises. For some earlier pictures of the ‘Sula Mhor’ when she was the New Princess Maud click here.