View From the Bridge - MIKE DEEGAN

Mike Deegan and Hebridean Island Cruises

Hebridean Island Cruises

Mike Deegan has spent virtually his entire career in the shipping industry. After 20 years in the Merchant Navy, he came ashore into ship management 11 years ago. Initially he managed three high quality passenger ships based in the Middle East but in 2001 he became involved with Hebridean Island Cruises - operators of the small 5-star vessel Hebridean Princess.


By Mike Deegan

Hebridean Island Cruises long ago set the benchmark for luxury cruising and the waters round the Western Isles of Scotland have been home to the 49-passenger Hebridean Princess since 1989 (actually we call them guests – passengers are en route somewhere: our clients have arrived!). Each year she has appeared out of her winter hibernations in March and cruised this unspoilt and largely inaccessible region until late October.

The ship itself was designed for the very waters in which she now sails and plied her trade as the outer isles car ferry MV Columba before she was bought by Hebridean and converted for luxury cruising in the area in 1988. This gives a distinct advantage over any other vessels trading here in that she is designed for the confined lochs and sounds of the area and has a draft and manoeuvrability that enable her to access remote and rarely visited locations throughout this region of stunning and unspoilt scenery. In addition her low passenger number allows her to visit very small, isolated and remote communities without overrunning them as would be the case with larger vessels. 

In fact we are very proud of our “green” credentials: not only do the smaller distances we cruise and smaller passenger numbers mean our carbon emissions are very small, we use local suppliers and guides in almost every case. For example, the oysters we serve on board are farmed at Colonsay, one of the islands in the south of the region. The salmon comes from the Inverawe Smokehouse close to Oban the base port of the vessel and the majority of meat served aboard is supplied by butchers in Lochgilphead in Argyll. Local fruit and vegetables are often picked up en route, all of which means only the freshest local, seasonal ingredients are used in creating each meal. 

Local guides bring this area rich in history, heritage, flora and fauna to life for guests and I personally learn something new from them about this amazing region every time I visit the ship.  Stories of clan battles, religious sites, rare breeds of creature (some unique to the particular location) or plants abound and it is only by using local guides that the true flavour of the area is brought to life.
On board, the surprisingly large staterooms are decorated and fitted out in the style of a Scottish Country House Hotel with elegant drapes and soft furnishings. The Tiree Lounge boasts an Inglenook fireplace where guests gather after their excursions ashore to relate their experiences.
So what challenges do we face operating in this remote but stunning landscape? Well the vessel itself is an old lady and the engines stopped being manufactured long ago. The team of specialised engineers that attend them have unique challenges in the shipping world as they often have to fashion replacement parts themselves in the onboard workshop. Specialised local knowledge not only of the waters and port approaches throughout the Hebrides but also local weather patterns and trends is essential and here we have cornered the market in local Navigators who also have deep sea experience: one of the two Masters (Captain Michael Hepburn) appointed to the vessel has worked aboard her for 19 years so knows the region intimately. His colleague (Captain Ian Stevenson) is local having lived in Oban all his life where he has “messed around in boats” with his father locally all his life. After trading deep sea in cargo vessels, he returned to the area 10 years ago and is delighted to command his local cruise ship – truly, he reports, the best job in the world! 

The vagaries of the Scottish weather often play their hand in our operation but we never let it beat us! Such is the experience in the region of our captains we always know a sheltered anchorage or which island to hide behind. Being a small vessel, Hebridean Princess is able to take advantage of sheltered lochs and narrow sounds - we can avoid open water passages if we need and always apply the maxim "seasick guests are not happy guests" the obvious outcome of having to react to such local factors is that our itineraries can, on occasion, read like a Jeffery Archer novel but that is the charm of a cruise aboard this delightful little ship. Indeed we have to be truly inventive when it comes to operating luxury cruises so far off the beaten track! 
One of the highlights of my career was assisting in the planning of the charter of Hebridean Princess to the British Royal Family for a family holiday cruising the Western Isles of Scotland in 2006.  We often operate private charters so working with a private individual or organisation is not an alien concept to us. When that organisation is as prestigious as the Royal Family, there are aspects such as security and protocols we had to employ. The Queen had of course used to cruise this area annually in the former Royal Yacht, Britannia, so she knew the locality as well as us. That made planning the route very enjoyable. The planning was executed in minute detail over two years and the cruise was operated very successfully.
My involvement with this unique ship has been the most enjoyable part of my career to date and I hope I am allowed to continue this association for some time yet. 

For more information visit Hebridean Island Cruises at


• Naomi Kabak
Senior Vice President
Group IST

• Guy A Young
President & CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

• Larry Pimentel
President & CEO of Azamara Club Cruises

• Cdr Mark Gaouette
Maritime Security Consultant
Department of Homeland Security

• Rick Sasso
President and CEO
MSC Cruises

• Diane Moore
Windstar Cruises

• Paul Strachan
Pandaw River Cruises

• James Rodriguez
Senior Vice President, Marketing
Oceania Cruises

• Colin Stone
Managing Director
Swan Hellenic

• Mike Deegan
Managing Director
Hebridean Island Cruises

• Derek Banks
European Waterways Ltd

• Ken Carver
International Cruise Victims Association (ICV)

• Terry Dale
President and CEO
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)

• Lawrence Dessler
Executive Director
Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance (NCMA)

• Ross A Klein

• Bob Levinstein
Cruise Compete

• Alan Lewis
Grand Circle Corporation & Grand Circle Cruise Lines

• Albert Peter
Chief Executive Officer
Silversea Cruises

• Dietmar R Wertanzl
President and Chief Executive Officer
Cruise West