Staying afloat for the whales

The larger boat Bubbles and True Blue, waiting for the start of the whale watching season at Merimbula Marina.
The larger boat Bubbles and True Blue, waiting for the start of the whale watching season at Merimbula Marina.

On Saturday, June 6 Simon and Jessica Millar will start whale watching tours in Sydney with reduced numbers to meet the COVID-19 restrictions.

The tours will take advantage of the northern migration and will be a precursor to the southern migration season starting in late August with tours run out of Merimbula.

Jessica said that the larger boat, Bubbles, was returning to Sydney. There had been hopes of getting the business going after the bushfires but COVID-19 put a stop to any plans.

But now they are hopeful that the tourists will want to go out whale watching both in Sydney and later from Merimbula.

"We plan to have two boats in Merimbula. With the reduced capacity (due to social distancing) we hope to be able to take out the same numbers but in two boats," Jessica said.

"Having two vessels will give us a little bit of flexibility. And we've got a lot of our regular customers indicating that they are keen to come back," Jessica said.

Already bookings are looking good for the first couple of days in Sydney, something that was very encouraging, Jessica said.

"As long as there are no flare ups hopefully things will improve."

They plan to start as early as possible in Merimbula but there is another issue that they have to contend with and that is the changing deep water channel and Merimbula Bar conditions.

The movement of sand at Merimbula Bar has meant a reduced window for crossing the bar.

"We've been in business since 2008 and it's always been a consideration but the last 12 months has really impacted on our ability to schedule tours.

"Thankfully most people are on holiday and relatively relaxed about the tour times and it is easy to reschedule when needed," Jessica said.

But on the good side, she said the channel and the bay were very protected.

"At the moment there's quite a lot of sand moving around the bar. At present the deepest part of the channel is not what is marked but we will try and make it work," Jessica said.

If it became too difficult Jessica said they could look to relocate to Eden but with an existing operator in Snug Cove, it wasn't ideal and they regard Merimbula as their home base.

"It does make it very challenging," she said.