MacPhail: Tiree fishing fleet nets benefits of new pier

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Tiree has suffered throughout its history from the lack of a good natural harbour.

To a large extent, it still does but this year a new pier at Milton Harbour has greatly improved the berthing capacity and safety for the island’s fishing fleet.

This type of long-term investment in a tangible and permanent asset is exactly the kind of project that will reap benefits far into the future.

As Storm Brendan put his immense power behind the high spring tides that happened to coincide with his tempest wrath this week, the value of this investment is already showing its worth.

In these conditions, the previous pier would have been two to three feet under water, posing a severe risk to any boats tied alongside.

In such conditions, it is perfectly realistic that the entire fleet could have been wrecked alongside the old pier. However, even at the peak of the high tides on Monday and Tuesday, there was still plenty of pier showing above the waves, keeping the boats safely on the outside of the pier and not getting bounced, battered and wrecked on the top and edge as was always the risk previously when spring tides and gales combined.

When my father started lobster fishing in the early 1970s there was no pier at all at Milton. However, he managed to seek funding from the Highlands and Islands Development Board and in 1972 a small concrete pier was built by D A Gillespie, father of Skerryvore brothers.

As the fishing fleet grew, it was clear that more berthing capacity was needed and in 1984/85, after many years of perseverance and with many knock-backs and stalls, funding was again secured and a higher three-berth pier was built and the harbour bed was also dredged to lessen the tight tidal constraints.

The activity of that building and dredging was a highlight of my childhood as we lived just at the top of the harbour road. The blasting, the boring, the huge lorries, the dumper trucks, the diggers and the constant din of metal against rock were all a great source of amazement to a five-year-old!

The kindness and patience of Danny Gillespie’s workmen is also very fondly recalled. Many an excited hour I spent in Lachie Brown’s digger in awe at the huge rocks he could move with ease. His wife, Sandra, even used to pack extra sandwiches and biscuits in his piece box for this hungry apprentice!

I didn’t carry on with the digger driving but what happy memories to look back on.

When I was home last week, it was with great pride and happiness that I stood on the new pier. The sense of positivity and hope of a bright future was amplified further by the arrival of a new boat to the harbour.

Iain Lamont’s Cygnus 26 is a very welcome addition to the fleet and is yet another pertinent piece of evidence as to the value of this small harbour development.

From a tiny concrete pier in 1972, five boats now work safely from Milton, with room for more. That represents a lot of jobs and potential revenue for a small island such as Tiree.

My father would be very proud if he was alive to see the small seeds he planted nearly 50 years ago still bearing fruit and allowing future generations to bring home the harvest of the sea.

Congratulations to all who were behind this latest step forward for Milton Harbour.