Our Skippers are now Accredited OCN Tour Guides, providing an enriching and authentic storytelling experience on our boat tours. We’d like to share our own story of how our business began and evolved.
Abhainn Cruises is a business born of curiosity. Our head Skipper Tim would drive over the bridge at Toome on his way to and from work everyday and wonder what was around the bend of the river, what lay beyond what we could see from the road everyone travelled. The only way to sate this curiosity was to get a boat, and when he got a boat he realised that the curiosity was not sated but rather piqued. He wanted to explore more, see more, learn more, and eventually share this experience with others.
When Abhainn Cruises began over 10 years ago we provided ‘boat trips’, first along the River Bann, Lough Neagh and then along our beautiful coast. As Tim’s knowledge grew about the areas, their ecology, history, geology and quirky stories, these ‘boat trips’ became ‘boat tours’ and now have evolved into unique and authentic Northern Irish experiences enjoyed by both locals and visitors from further afield.
Tim’s son Ben had been crewing for him and driving the boat under his supervision from a young age so with that wealth of experience behind him it wasn’t long before he was a qualified commercially endorsed skipper and joined the business whilst also continuing his education with an International Travel and Tourism Management BSc (Hons) at Ulster University.
Improving and evolving through learning new skills and honing existing ones is an essential part of any business so it was always a goal to improve the storytelling and tour scripts that accompany our carefully designed routes. We first started talking about accredited tour guide courses years ago but time was always a hurdle. The Covid 19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown restrictions forced us to cease our tours. The boats were grounded, literally, in our back yard sitting on trailers. It was a worrying and sad time for many businesses. But this also presented an opportunity.
All the maintenance work due on the boats, trailers and equipment was undertaken. Research was conducted, authorities and councils consulted with, and a Safe Covid Operation policy was constructed for our boat tours. We would be ready to resume operations safely as soon as allowed. And we did so in late Summer 2020, but another lockdown was just around the corner for Autumn and Winter and it was during this time that we found the OCN Tour Guiding course advertised by the North Regional College.
This was an opportunity not to be missed.
The Business Engagement director Nicola Olphert guided us to the Skills Focus programme which fully funded the course for both Skippers Tim and Ben. There was guidance and support at every step, from filling in the applications to getting set up on Zoom for the first class. Their teacher Karen McCleod welcomed everyone into this new mode of learning with ease. Karen’s professionalism and friendliness guided each lesson, making it informative and fun. The Zoom classes were something to look forward to during lockdown, keeping the skippers busy and motivated. We could not praise Karen, the tourism contributors and Nicola from Skills Focus highly enough. They did everything they could to make the course an enjoyable and enriching experience. We would not hesitate to engage with NRC again to up skill and would recommend them to any other business.
The result is that our Skippers are now fully Accredited OCN Tour Guides with a deeper understanding and appreciation of their role as storytellers and ambassadors for Northern Ireland. They’ve had fun honing their ‘scripts’ whilst keeping them flexible to suit each groups interests and if our reviews this summer are anything to go by, they’re doing a great job and the lessons learned during the tour guiding course have really served to enrich the experience of our customers on the North Coast tours, Lough Neagh Tours and River Bann Heritage Tour.