Work on the £400k development of Lochmaddy harbour is almost complete and already yachts from around the world are flocking to the pontoons.
It is expected the offshore facilities, with the capacity to berth 26 vessels, will be completed in the next few weeks and plans are in place for a second phase focusing on onshore facilities.
Although a few finishing touches still need to be completed the pontoons are already buzzing with sailors keen to explore Lochmaddy, North Uist and beyond.
“There have been yachts from France, Sweden, a lot from the South of England, from everywhere really,” explained Angus Macaulay, Chair of Comann na Mara, the society responsible for the development. “We’re getting about seven in a day and a lot are deciding to come ashore and stay for maybe two or three days.”
It was just two years ago when initial conversations between the Society of the Sea and the Crown Estate took place. Comann na Mara is the first organisation to secure what is known as a Local Management Agreement (LMA) - giving the group control over part of the foreshore as well as access to funding.
“At that particular time,” explained Mr Macaulay, “the Crown Estate wanted to do more in Scotland, and we had a project that was being looked at here.
“That agreement was unique, and indeed historical. I was pleased that Comann na Mara had been chosen - somewhere in the Western Isles.
“People have been looking for a marina here for the last 30 years, I took it on as something I thought Comann na Mara could do.”
The Crown Estate had originally put up half the funding but later decided to provide the full amount, £400,000, to install the pontoons and initial offshore works.
“It was so important for us to have these facilities here,” explained Mr Macaulay. “And it’s not just for us. We have paved the way for everyone else throughout Britain to do this. People who would say ‘we can’t go down this route’ are now seeing that it can be done. ”
Gael Force Engineering and local contractors Mcinnes Bros Ltd have been responsible for the construction of the pontoons and floating walkways, installing lighting and electricity and building a car and bus park.
With that phase almost complete Comann na Mara are now looking ahead to the next stage.
“We are speaking to the Comhairle and Highland & Islands Enterprise to see where we are at the moment and how we can progress,” continued Mr Macaulay.
“We’re keen that by next season Lochmaddy stands as a first class marina that’s comparable to any.”
The response from both the local community and visitors has been very positive with trade already on the up in the hotels and local shops.
“The hotels have seen a great increase in turnover because a lot of the people using the pontoons are coming in and having lunches and evening meals, having dinner and using shower facilities onshore, the local shop is getting on average four to five people a day spending £20 upwards.”
Plans for small cruise ships to us the facilities will also see large numbers of people visit the island so further development of the onshore visitor experience is something the Comann na Mara Chair plans to look at next.
The Directors of Comann na Mara, along with George MacDonald who is the Company Secretary and Mr Macaulay himself have all worked hard to get the facilities installed at Lochmaddy, but they don’t intend to stop there.
They are pleased with what has been achieved to date, explained Mr Macaulay, but believe it is equally important that what has been created will be appreciated and used to its full advantage.
“The thing is,” he said, “it is no use just having the marina here, people have got to seize the opportunities from it because this is not just to do with the economy of the coastal community in Lochmaddy, it’s to do with the inter island economy as well.
“That’s what marine tourism is about. We are in a very unique position because we are here [have built the marina]. The inter island community must see it as an opportunity also.”