Two Oban brothers hosted an open day today to showcase the latest addition to their maritime services business.
Cameron and Stsruan Smith of the busy Coastal Connection company had their fleet of, now three, RedBay Stormforce RIBS on the pontoon at Cardingmill Bay in Dungallan Park, below Oban Sailing club.
Called for Schiehallion, one of Scotland’s majestic Munro, the new addition to the fleet was being introduced to her commercial market, and with her two sister boats present, was demonstrating the variety of services Coastal Connection is now geared up to deliver.
Shiehallion is the first of the new RedBay Stormforce 12 metres – and one of only five or six of the entire RedBay fleet to be fitted with a jet drive.
She’s also the first to have a forward-raked cabin, leaning into the wind [and, today, the rain], giving her a jaunty and determined profile – and a lot more headroom at the front of the cabin.
Her two big Yanmar engines fuel the two jets and each of these has a sort of hood that can be lowered in varying degree over them, to brake the boat. The jet drive’s specific propulsion means that, when going astern, the boat has to be handled in the contra-direction you need to use if you’re reversing a trailer or a caravan.
The jet drive will be more fuel efficient, reliable in its greater mechanical simplicity, easier and less expensive to maintain.
Schiehallion has a rubber rubbing strake on her stern platform, which carries the hatches to the two jet drives; and she carries a detachable bow plate [above] – both allowing the boat to come safely alongside another boat or a pier at 90 degrees, to load, unload and walk on and off.
Her stern deck is huge – very spacious, designed for serious load carrying and, with fold-back stern rails, offering uninterrupted stern access to that great deck.
As well as cargo or gear for offshore vessels, this deck will support, for example, the carrying of sea kayaks, or a diving party, or a film crew – Coastal Connection has a right old track record in working with film crews. In one Ewan McGregor film, a local fish farm was the location for shots of what were supposed to be a very different species of fish. But film is always clever at such sleight of hand.
The Smith brothers are good businessmen. They identified an unusual market for the services they could provide and they have built the businesses carefully, gradually and strategically.
They do provide tourism services – like charters – to places like the Treshnish Isles, to see the puffins [but theyll take you anywhere] – and dive expeditions.
The principal thrust of their business, however is commercial – business to business,
They do crew transfers at sea for shipping companies. They move cargo and kit. They provide services for fish farms and are building a sound presence in serving the wind and tidal renewable energy sector. They carry wildlife survey teams, some on surveys taking a few weeks. [And for marine mammal surveys, clients prefer jet drive boats because there is no exposed propeller to put the mammals at risk.] They work with film crews. They also act as reserve boat for dive sessions, lying alongside on standby, ready to run any troubled diver ashore fast.
Aiming at the commercial market has several advantages as well as establishing a clear business position. Commercial contracts are costed ‘plus fuel’. This gives budgetary control, with known costs, reliable profit margins and protection from the ever rising costs of fuel.
This is very well considered business.
The new boat, Schiehallion, a 12 seater, has a diesel heater on board for winter work and a converter to give a 240 volt power supply with a microwave oven. It has a lavatory ['heads'] on board and seats 12 passengers.
With its rakish frontline on the cabin, it has standing room in the space inside of the door to the foredeck and the stepped bow.
She has the technical capacity to be held steady on the same spot in a tideway – a very useful capability for diving parties.
The oldest boat, Power of Scotland, is an 11 metre RedBay Stornforce, carries seven comfortably on jockey seats. 13 years old now, her well maintained looks and muscularity belie that age. Her demountable cabin makes her ideal for survey work and she has a sturdy track record in serving this market.
The middle boat, Rannochmor, also an 11 metre Stornforce, is 7 years old, carries 12 in high backed seats and has two bunks in the forecabin. These are for the Smith brothers themselves, if they are on a long haul delivering cargo.
There is a fourth boat, Fingal, an open 18 foot Sea Rover, built as a tender for the Northern Lighthouse Board’s buoyage vessel, Pole Star. Her large deck area can take 1.150kg and she can be trailered to sites around Scotland. Her rugged construction makes it feasible for her to land on rough structures and shorelines. Like Rannochmor she is fitted with camera mounts.
Schiehallion’s interior seating can be removed to create an open area for equipment; and her jet drive propulsion makes her safe and manoeuverable in shallow water, makes her wildlife friendly and diver safe.
The Smith bothers have an arrangement with a third skipper, a recently retired coastguard officer, giving them, where required, the ability to deliver a three boat operation – or to fulfil three separate and simultaneous commitments.
While the brothers run the business, this is very much a family operation and its inception was a strategic family decision. Mrs Smith was on the team this morning, very much part of the operation and clearly enjoying it.
Today was an open day for commercial clients and as we left, a rib came in to the pontoon, making one of many pre-arranged investigative visits on the day.
The Smiths envisage the next year as being a matter of carefully building his extension to their business and of absorbing the new capacity into the range of services they can provide, If this year does good business, next year they will be looking at job creation.
These guys work very hard, are endlessly resourceful, flexible, customer focused, well organised, entrepreneurial, open faced and open mannered – the very model of what Argyll folk could do much more and much better if they learned from this. And Cameron and Struan naturally smile a lot. This has to say something about their enjoyment of what they do.
We were glad to be at Dungallan Park today. The energy, the ambition and the business ethics put fuel in our own tank as well.
Note 2: While there were some sunny spells in Oban during today’s Open Day, much of it was pretty wet and we couldn’t wholly keep the rain off the lens – so apologies for some inevitably splotchy shots.