One of the busiest days in the summer calendar is expected tomorrow (Thursday May 9th) as three cruise ships enter Stornoway Port at the same time.

The five-star German-flagged Hanseatic Nature will be at pier no 1 from 8am, making Stornoway one of her first calls on her maiden season – she was officially launched only this month.

Alongside pier no 3 will be the French-flagged luxury yacht Le Champlain, almost as newly built – her launch was last summer. She’s due in at 7am and, like Hanseatic Nature, is arriving in from Portree in Skye, where they are both visiting today (Wednesday May 8th).

Both vessels will be visited by harbour-master Scott Campbell and Stornoway Port Authority’s marketing assistant Norma Macritchie Robb, who will be presenting the skippers with a plaque commemorating their maiden visit to the port of Stornoway. The plaques are made of wood from the Lews Castle grounds, created at the sawmill and personalised to each ship by Gordon Diesel on Seaforth Road.

The third vessel due is regular visitor Astoria, due to anchor in the outer anchorage. Between the three vessels nearly 1,500 visitors could come ashore – 878 passengers and 620 crew. The majority of Astoria’s 444 passengers are French, with Le Champlain bringing 162, mainly American, passengers and Hanseatic Nature 194, who are mostly from Germany. Small numbers of Australians, Canadians, UK and other nationalities are also among the passengers due in.

They’ll be met first of all by Stornoway Shipping Services (SSS), who will visit each vessel in turn to check immigration papers and legal matters. Alastair Macarthur of SSS told “They are due in at 7am, 8am and 9am so all will be well as long as they keep to time, otherwise I may have to be in three places at once.”

A team of 12 volunteers from Stornoway Port Cruise Ambassadors (SPCA) greet all landing passengers as they come ashore at Stornoway ferry terminal. Their chair Sandy Bruce told “We will be manning the terminal from 7am until the last passenger goes back aboard, probably around 5pm. Passengers tend to divide between those who go onto the organised coach tours laid on by the cruise companies, and the independent travellers who would rather find their own way around the islands.

“We greet them as they arrive, hand out a map and answer their initial questions. We are very careful not to promote specific businesses, so if they ask, for example, where to buy black pudding, we show them the locations of all the town centre butchers who sell black pudding.”

Common enquiries include how to get to Lews Castle, where to get a cup of tea and a scone, times of buses to Callanish and where to buy Harris Tweed. Cruise ambassadors also help to marshal the ferry terminal when the cruise ships are in, to prevent mistakes such as passengers boarding the lunchtime ferry!

A total of 16 coaches are expected to be lined up at the terminal during the day, including eight to service the passengers coming off the Astoria. On board these will be members of the Western Isles Tour Guides Association (WITGA) leading tours. 14 of their members will be working tomorrow, guiding coach tours around popular routes like the West Side loop, the Harris beaches and some more remote locations like Bosta Beach and Eilean Glas lighthouse in Scalpay.

WITGA chair Doro Rieder said: “Everybody at WITGA looks forward to giving all these international guests a very warm welcome and to helping them to enjoy this special island, many of us practicing our own language skills.

“Visitors from outside the UK often show a keen interest in things which are normal for us living in the Outer Hebrides. They are captivated by single track roads (and people actually waiting patiently for others to go first), sheepdogs at work, the process of peat cutting, sandy beaches without crowds of people and drivers on the roads who wave to each other.

“The questions we get most are not dates and historic facts, but inquiries regarding employment, the quality and quantity of schools and bilingual village signs. People are really interested in how we live and fascinated by the community spirit of past and present.”

For those passengers on board Le Champlain who are not coming ashore, a group of 28 young Highland dancers and their parents from the Sharon Mackinnon School of Highland Dancing will go on board to entertain and chat to the passengers.

By the end of the day the influx of visitors will have boosted the island economy by a significant amount and the islands, hopefully, will have had a positive impact on the visitors too. Sandy Bruce of the cruise ambassadors said: “They do spend money and its surprising how much they bring into the economy in a season.

“We do everything we can to make people welcome, though of course we can’t control the weather. Having said that, the weather is a favourite subject for conversation and I do remember one American professor, who came off a coach tour dripping wet and with her hair all blown about. I said how sorry I was about the Hebridean weather and she said ‘I really enjoyed it. It’s the first time for years that the heavens have washed my hair!’”


Pictures show: First time visitors Hanseatic Nature (Hapag Lloyd Cruises) and Le Champlain (Ponant), members of the Western Isles Tour Guides Association during their final training visit earlier this year (WITGA), members of Stornoway Port Cruise Ambassadors at the ferry terminal in 2018 (Stornoway Port Authority) and the front of their welcome leaflet for cruise visitors (SPCA)