A HIGHLAND cruise trip firm is celebrating the completion and launch of its new £1.5m vessel which is set to join its Loch Ness fleet.
Award-winning Cruise Loch Ness, which operates from Fort Augustus on the banks of the loch, custom designed and commissioned the build of the cutting-edge catamaran to service more passengers in peak tourist seasons.
The Spirit of Loch Ness was recently completed by Exeter Fabrication in England and launched on the Exeter Canal. Using a 400-tonne crane, the vessel was lifted 30 metres high to clear the ship building yard before being lowered into the water. It is now undergoing final sea trials in Dartmouth before beginning its journey up the west coast to Fort William and the Caledonian Canal for the final leg of its journey north.
The state-of-the-art catamaran can carry 220 passengers, which will see the cruise trip firm increase its overall passenger capacity by 30 per cent. Cruise Loch Ness currently operates two passenger vessels, which together can accommodate 228 passengers per trip, plus three high-speed RIBs. The Spirit of Loch Ness boasts cutting-edge sonar equipment to optimise passengers’ view of the famous loch with ten monitors on the main deck and saloon and a further five on the upper deck.
The firm secured 50 per cent funding from Clydesdale Bank to invest in the new-build project. The Spirit of Loch Ness will be replacing an older, smaller vessel, which was been sold to a cruise operator on Loch Lomond.
Cruise Loch Ness managing director, Ronald Mackenzie, said: “As an owner-operated business, we had the opportunity to custom design the new vessel and fine tune the details with Australian boat designer, Incat Crowther.
“Welcoming the Spirit of Loch Ness to our fleet will help us streamline the business, meet increased customer demand and provide a higher level of customer service for our passengers.
“It was certainly nerve racking watching your £1.5m boat dangling overhead before being launched but now it is safely completed and trialled, we’re very much looking forward to welcoming it to the Highlands once it navigates the 600-mile trip north to Loch Ness.”
The vessel was commissioned following a 20 per cent rise in passenger numbers in 2015. The firm carried 120,000 passengers in 2016 and 150,000 last year, with a further 20 per cent increase predicted for 2018.
The firm had approached three Scottish ship yards initially but none of them could commit to build the vessel in the required timescale, so the build project had to be awarded south of the border.
With the Caledonian Canal currently closed for maintenance, the Spirit of Loch Ness is expected to complete the final leg of the journey north by the end of February and will be operational for passengers from Easter onwards.
Cruise Loch Ness is currently at the planning stages of another new build with a vision to launching a second new vessel in 2020.
For more information – www.cruiselochness.com.
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