It's a whale of a safari with Orca!
A new eco-tourism partnership is getting ready to launch its exciting marine sea-faris from Falmouth, offering maritime and Celtic legends, whale and dolphin and ornithological voyages around the South West coast of Cornwall, plus both the sheltered estuaries of the Fal and Helford rivers.
Orca Sea-Faris will take small groups on three-hour trips to look for the fin, minke and other whales that pass through Cornish waters on their annual migrations between Artic feeding grounds and warmer seas further south.
The £125,000 venture has been set up by ornithologist Captain Keith Leeves and his partner Suzi Gilpin and made possible by a partnership of investors, including Objective One Project Finance Cornwall, NatWest and the South West Investment Group (SWIG).
Keith, who ran a similar business in New Zealand for many years, says Orca Sea-Faris will be the first venture of its kind in the country. He said: "There are a couple of similar ventures in Wales and Scotland but we're the first in England and we're hoping to begin operating our trips from the August Bank Holiday weekend."
Although Orca Sea-faris, is dedicated to wildlife, its founders have spent many years researching the history, geography and culture of Cornwall so that if their sea-fari passengers aren't fortunate enough to spot a dolphin, porpoise or whale they will still be educated and entertained by Keith and Suzi's informative and interactive commentary about the geology of the coast-line, shipwreck sites, traditional Celtic/Cornish legends and smuggling tales.
Orca will operate from a deep-water pontoon in A&P Falmouth's dock, using a custom built 36 ft rigid inflatable boat (RIB) called Seaquest 1 that is in the final stages of completion. When in service, Seaquest will be the largest RIB operating in South West waters.
Capable of carrying 12 passengers, powerful diesel engines will allow the boat to cruise at 30 knots – meaning Seaquest 1 will be able to reach anywhere between Dodman Point and Land's End within an hour. Once at its target area, Seaquest 1 will switch to quiet, non-polluting electric engines while those on board watch for wildlife.
In addition to individual, forward-facing seats, passengers will also each be supplied with a pair of binoculars and laminated identification charts. The RIB will also carry a hydrophone to help detect the sound of sea animals and individual headsets will allow all on board to talk to each other, as well as listen to Keith and Suzi.
As well as providing passengers with a fascinating insight to the region's marine and bird life in their natural habitats, the whale-spotting trips will also have a valuable conservation role. Keith said: "We will be going out to document, correlate and photo-ID all our coastal marine mammals and ornithological wildlife from the largest fin whales to the smaller estuary/sea birds that inhabit our south west waters. A whale's fin is like its fingerprint and so by documenting whale movements we will be helping to build up an important picture of cetacean movements around British waters."
Keith and Suzi who are both also keen ornithologists, added: "We are both totally dedicated to eco-tourism and wildlife conservation, our greatest hope is that by making our business successful we can raise awareness of the plight of our coastline's marine mammals and the damaging fishing practices of pair-trawler fishermen from outside the region.
"Our passengers can feel that in addition to learning more about the region's marine life they are becoming 'guardians of the coast', by playing a active role in documenting all dolphin movements/sightings which could prove to be invaluable to marine conservation bodies."
Keith said the waters of the South West are a 'cetacean hot-spot'. All of the British species of dolphin are to be found around Cornwall and fin whales – the second largest whale in the world – regularly pass Land's End in December and January, while minke whales pass through during the summer months. Humpback whales, one of which was seen in St Ives Bay last year, also migrate past Cornwall on their way from the Arctic to the Canaries.
Able to cater for all ages of marine enthusiasts, passengers onboard Seaquest 1 can have their observation skills sharpened and put to the test with a range of inter-active quizzes and games, from 'I-Spy' to 'Spot the Bird' competitions.
In addition to its whale-spotting trips, Orca Sea-faris will provide cruises up the Fal and Helford estuaries to look for birds and seals.
Keith said: "The waters here are an eco-wonderland. Apart from all the resident birds, we get young ospreys coming through on their way from Scotland to Africa. We know of two peregrine nest sites and 40 % of the British diver population is to be found in Carrick Roads and the local bays."
In addition to Orca's marine and bird spotting trips the company has also agreed an exclusive deal with the Tregothnan Estate to take boat trips up to visit the 85 acres of gardens, which are the largest private gardens in the country and home to one of the oldest herds of fallow deer to be found in the UK. For more information about Orca's trips, see their website www.orcasea-faris.co.uk.
The investment package that has made the establishment of Orca Sea-faris possible includes £25,000 from the Business Loan Fund provided by Finance Cornwall, the £20 million investment fund for business in or locating to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
Finance Cornwall's business loan fund manager, Jeff Lenihan, said: "This is a fascinating venture. Keith and Suzi are both absolutely dedicated to wildlife conservation and they have harnessed that passion to come up with a unique business that is likely to be extremely popular both with local people and visitors.
"Being a new start up business, ventures like Orca Sea-faris can often struggle to secure all of the funding they need because they do not benefit from a proven track record. This is where Finance Cornwall can assist and we are very much looking forward to seeing the company get off the ground and take advantage of the unique business opportunities offered by the county's picturesque marine and wildlife rich environment."
Of the remaining funding, £35,000 is being provided by NatWest and nearly £19,500 from SWIG's Cornwall Business Enterprise Fund.
Paul Trevelyan, Keith and Suzi's locally based NatWest Business Manager said: "Keith and Suzi have put a lot of time and enthusiasm into setting up this business and I am as delighted as them that they are ready to set sail. Small businesses are vital to the UK economy and at NatWest we are there to help them in every way we can. As a result I'm thrilled that Keith and Suzi have chosen NatWest to help turn their business idea into a reality."
SWIG managing director Peter Casey said: "We are delighted to be contributing towards the start of this exciting new venture. Environmental businesses are a priority for us and we are very keen to support projects that benefit and educate people about our environment, as well generate income and employment locally."
Winter Rule, Cornwall's largest firm of Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers, also played an important part in getting the business off the ground by working with Keith Leeves and Suzi Gilpin to pull together the company's business plan and recommending sources of additional finance.
Winter Rule partner Scott Bentley said: "I am delighted that Winter Rule has helped bring such an exciting business venture to Cornwall. When we met Keith and Suzi, whilst their business was a totally new concept to us, what impressed us was their level of conviction and commitment. We went through their business plan and helped them to refine their business strategy. We quickly identified a need for a bespoke finance package and worked with the business funders to help ensure not only the birth of the business but hopefully its future prosperity."
Finance Cornwall has three investment funds offering a combination of loans and investments ranging from just £5,000 to £650,000 to small and medium sized businesses that cannot source all the funding they need from elsewhere.
Funding is available to businesses whose principal place of operation is, or will be, in Cornwall or the Isles of Scilly. The funds are managed by Alliance Fund Managers Ltd, which is regulated by the Financial Services Authority in the course of investment business.
To find out more visit www.financecornwall.co.uk.
Finance Cornwall background
Finance Cornwall is a £20 million investment fund backed by £9 million from the Objective One European Regional Development Fund.
For more information contact:
Business Loan Fund Manager
Objective One Partnership Office
Truro TR1 2UD
Tel: 01872 241379
Fax: 01872 241388
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