17 January 2014
We chat to Donnie MacDonald, chief skipper at Skye Ferries, about his work guiding ferries safely between Skye and the mainland. ...
We chat to Donnie MacDonald, chief skipper at Skye Ferries, about his work guiding ferries safely between Skye and the mainland.
Each year, Donnie sails hundreds of passengers to and from Skye, offering an alternative to using the Skye Bridge. In the February issue of Scottish Memories, we focus on the Isle of Skye, with our special guide to what to do and where to stay on the island.
How did you first get into sailing ferries?
I first worked on the Glenachulish, the Glenelg to Skye ferry about forty years ago. I worked firstly with Murdo MacKenzie who owned the vessel at that time. I was the ropehand – jumping on and off the boat and tying her to the slipway.
I went back to deep sea working for SBM, a French Arabic company sailing boats and laying moorings around Africa, the Mediterranean and Singapore for ten years.
I have a family croft in Glenelg with sheep and cattle which requires a lot of my time, so I began to work once more on the local ferry as skipper this time. In 2006 Roddy MacLeod, who owned the Glenachulish at that time sold the boat and the local community were successful in buying her. It was important as it secured the ferry service for the locals and for visitors.
What makes the Isle of Skye special?
The North West Highlands of Scotland is home to an astounding array of wildlife and we are very lucky to be able to see so much of it in and around the waters between Glenelg and Skye.
We have a resident pair of White Tailed Eagles (sea eagles) who have fledged a chick for the last five years in a row. The male has been named Victor, due to his red wing tags with the letter V on them. He comes to the narrows every day to hunt for fish, often harrying the gulls to surrender their catch.
The recent BBC series ‘Hebrides, Islands on the Edge’ was filmed last year and got some spectacular footage of Victor in action. Tourists are fascinated by the eagles and are almost guaranteed to catch sight of one or both of the eagles, particularly on a flood tide which brings in the mackerel. There are abundant seals, birds and if you’re lucky you can spot otters as well. They are shy, so patience is required.
It is a very rewarding place to spend a day at work, I wouldn’t swap it for an office, that’s for sure!
It’s a great privilege to meet all of the visitors who sail with us, most of whom are amazed at the scenery and really enjoy the unique experience of travelling on the last manually operated turntable ferry in the world. They were once a common sight in the West Highlands and the Glenachulish is the last of her kind.
Find out more about Skye Ferries at their website, Facebook and Twitter (@FerrytoSkye) pages.