The Needles is an iconic UK landmark and, as owner of Needles Pleasure Cruises, Peter Lemonius has the pleasure of seeing it every day
What makes The Needles so special?
This row of distinctive chalk stacks derives its name from a needle-shaped rock that collapsed into the sea in 1764, the stump forming a dangerous reef that can still be seen at low tide. There’s nothing quite like seeing The Needles close up from one of our boats. The short cruise is a geologist’s dream — you can make out 21 different colours of sand at Alum Bay. Plus you can see the lighthouse close up, not to mention plenty of birds and sea life — cormorants, peregrine falcons, guillemots, gannets and razorbills, and a pod of dolphins is not uncommon.
How did you get into pleasure cruises?
I worked as an engineering officer for the Merchant Navy and then as an engineer on superyachts. In 2006, an opportunity came up to buy Needles Pleasure Cruises, which has been operating since the 1970s. Being Isle of Wight born and bred, I went for it — and I haven’t looked back. From March to October, we operate seven days a week offering two larger boats each with capacity of 90, and two faster RIBS [rigid-hulled inflatable boats] carrying 12 passengers. The trips are short so even when it gets a bit choppy, you are back on land before you know.
Why is The Needles channel so tricky to navigate?
There’s a chalk ledge to one side of the channel extending from The Needles lighthouse and, on the other, there’s a dangerously shallow shingle bank extending northeast towards Hurst Castle, with only a 300 metre strip through which deep draught boats can pass, so it’s hardly surprising that boats come unstuck from time to time and there are some shipwrecks in the area. I’m the second coxswain of the Yarmouth Royal National Lifeboat Institution and have seen it happen many times.
When is the best time to come?
If I had to choose, then close to sunset on a Thursday evening in August. We run the boats a bit later then, to coincide with the fireworks at The Needles Music & Magic in the Skies fireworks extravaganza, which happens every Thursday in August. That’s very special.