New lease of life for former Oban lighthouse ship

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When you say the name Fingal, three things come to mind: poetry, a cave, or the former Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) ship.

While the cave remains unchanged since it was discovered in 1772, as do the poems, the ship has undergone an immense refurbishment.

Fingal – the NLB ship – was a common sight in Oban bay from 1963 until she was retired in 2000.

Based at the Northern Lighthouse Pier in Oban, with some referring to it as Fingal’s Pier, she spent decades maintaining lighthouses and transporting their keepers, equipment and supplies to some of the most treacherous locations in Scotland.

But now she been transformed into a floating boutique hotel, permanently berthered in Leith, Edinburgh.

After her retirement from the NLB, she was bought by a private owner, who maintained her for 14 years, before selling Fingal to the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust.

Following a £5 million development, the ship now boasts 23 luxury cabins and a ballroom that is fit for royalty. Each of the cabins are named after lighthouses.

Artwork featured in each cabin is by renowned Scottish lighthouse photographer Ian Cowe.

Bob Downie, 56, chief executive of the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, who oversaw the development of Fingal, said: ‘Ten years ago the previous owner got in touch with us to see if we were interested in buying it because I am from Oban. He had bought it in 2000 and fully maintained it for 14 years.

‘Because it is such a beautiful ship, I said we want to buy it and we then spent six years negotiating to buy it. He loved it that much. His original plans were to cut it in half and make it bigger, but he loved it that much he couldn’t do it.’

The trust were unsure about what to do with Fingal initially.

‘To maintain it as a heritage museum, we would lose money,’ Mr Downie said. ‘If you look at the heritage ships, apart from Britannia, they all rely on grants to survive. It had to be something that helped our charity make money.’

In the end, the the committee opted to convert Fingal into a floating hotel.

‘It’s a nice size,’ Mr Downie continued. ‘The feedback has been fantastic. We had phenomenal media interest. The story has been carried world wide.

‘We are delighted with the relationship we have with the Northern Lighthouse Board.

‘Everyone called the Northern Lighthouse Pier the Fingal pier. It was there for 35 years. This is the first time the NLB has let anyone fly its flag.’

Fingal has already been graced by royalty.

The Royal Princess, who has been a patron to the NLB since 2003, enjoyed a private viewing of the transformed Fingal ahead of the official opening.

Princess Ann then returned in May to have dinner aboard the vessel.

‘It was good that she came back to see it finished,’ Mr Downie said.

Head of hospitality and events for the trust, Andrew Thomson, added: ‘Fingal’s partners were carefully considered to provide the finest craftsmanship and amenities on-board. Our network of esteemed partners and suppliers reflects Fingal’s rich heritage and ensures each guest’s experience on Fingal is truly memorable.’

So when you say the word Fingal now, think of a floating hotel that is teeming with history.