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Over the last three decades, Craobh Haven skipper Duncan Phillips has voyaged eight times the equivalent of sailing round the world – and crossed the infamous Corryvreckan thousands of times.
At the helm of his motor launch Farsain, the 80-year-old has safely transported sightseers on boat trips daring the swirling whirlpool and out to the islands sitting out of the picturesque harbour that has been his home since returning to his native Scotland from Essex.
He has also run a water taxi service for appreciative residents at the north end of Jura and there have been numerous rescues out at sea and boats that needed to be towed back to a safe haven.
Just days before Christmas, Mr Phillips retired and handed over his boat and business to friend and new owner Tony Daley to carry on.
To wish Mr Phillips well, a social-distanced celebration with Champagne was organised by friends at the harbour on December 23.
Mr Phillips started up Farsain Cruises with encouragement from the Melfort Hotel and club in 1990 and for five years was the only tour operator working out from the harbour.
With 200,000 nautical miles now to Farsain’s name – Gaelic for rover, wanderer or open view – the boat has served him proud.
Mr Phillips bought Farsain new for the job and brought her up the Caldeonian Canal to get to Craobh Haven.
‘I’ve been in many a marina round Europe but for me Craobh Haven will always be the finest because of its stunning location,’ he said.
And added: ‘It’s been 31 years of enjoyable work, every single day has been different. Without a doubt I’ve had many adventures out there. There’s been so many nice people on the boat, including some stars from TV, like Robert Hardy, Bill Patterson, Muriel Gray – gosh, there’s been so many – also, Anna Walker on Walker’s World.
‘We’ve filmed the Corryvreckan several times. It’s difficult to count how many times I’ve crossed it – about 9,000 times. It’s always been different – different weather, different passengers, the state of the tide is different – and quite frightening at times that you steer clear of it. Other times you go in and get a spin in the whirlpool but always bearing in mind the sea is not to be trifled with.
‘There’s been a few rescues – there was a tragic kayak death out there. We couldn’t rescue them in time. There’s been boats broken down and needing to be brought in. I’ve pulled several kayakers away from the Corryvreckan and brought them back.
‘Biggest job we ever did was tow a 50-ton trawler through the Crinan Canal that took two days, that was an adventure in itself,’ he said.
And as for retirement plans, Mr Phillips will be mooring up happily at his Croabh Haven home and start planning a few jaunts for himself for a change.
‘I’m going to start taking holidays in the summer now. There may be boat holidays ahead but it’ll be nice just to get away in the summer because I’ve been tied to Croabh Haven – not unpleasantly so. In the past 30 years, the only time of the year I’ve been able to get away to visit friends elsewhere has been in the winter!’