This morning we boarded a small 1940 era passenger vessel out of Fort William for a 90 minute cruise of Loch Linnhe. At the start the skipper of this well narrated tour declared the day to be the finest he had seen in the last 5 years. We were believers.
From the start, photo opportunities were overwhelming!
Fort William stands on the shores of Loch Linnhe, a saltwater tidal sea that opens through a narrow passage to the Atlantic. While that passage presents hazards to ship navigation with its 35 foot average depth, 12 foot tide range, and resulting tidal currents, the Loch itself is over a mile wide and up to 600 feet deep. The waters have a yearly average temperature that is barely above freezing. For these reasons, Loch Linnhe hosts one of the world’s premier schools for deep water divers and operators of remotely controlled deep water submersible vehicles.
The yellow object amidships in the above picture is a deep sea submersible. Students learn to pilot and control the vessel, in coordination with deep sea divers, accomplishing complicated construction tasks. The work is extremely challenging as one wrong move by the operator not only risks the life of the diver, but catastrophic expense to a project. A trained operator earns the same salary as the diver, $70,000.00 a MONTH.
The 4 round buoys in the above picture mark the training area for helium gas deep water divers. The students come to the school as highly skilled divers. This 3 week course, and its $25,000.00 tuition take these divers to the highest level of their profession. Students spend the first and last 5 days of the program pressurizing and then decompressing to and from the pressure of being 500 feet underwater. That is over 16 times sea level air pressure, and over 30 times the air pressure contained in the tires of most automobiles. At that pressure, ordinary air becomes so toxic that divers must breath a mixture of 98% helium and 2% oxygen. The first 5 days are necessary to acclimate to the mixture/pressure and then the last 5 days to return to the sea level environment. The other 11 days are spent living on the sea floor and operating out of a submersible habitat. The pay is great, the conditions not so much.
Our tour also took us by an active salmon farming operation. Salmon fry are raised under controlled conditions. At two years they are removed from the pens by sophisticated vacuum devices that do not harm the fish. They are then transported alive to the fish factories in nearby Mallaig where they are flash stunned, gutted, and smoked.
The following facility with its seven lines of supporting buoys is a mussel farm. Thousands of lines dangle to the depths below. Mussels naturally attach themselves to the lines and thrive without further intervention of the “farmer”. Every 2 years the operator returns to harvest 800,000 pounds of the delicacy from this “farm”! The owner of this farm is reported to be 21 years old.
The other sights we enjoyed included a rare view of Ben Nevis mountain nearly clear of clouds (see yesterday’s post),
A modernized crofters homestead,
“ordinary” seals basking in the rare sunshine,
and some of the most beautiful scenery of this entire journey.
Peace Everyone. Pete