IT WAS the sighting which spawned a legend, not to mention a multi-million-pound tourist industry.
On 14 April 1933, Mrs Aldie Mackay, manageress of the Drumnadrochit Hotel, spoke of seeing a “whale-like fish” in the loch.
Alex Campbell, a water bailiff and part-time journalist, recorded the sighting in the Inverness Courier, under the headline: “Strange spectacle in Loch Ness”, and so began the modern myth of Nessie.
Yesterday, a group of monster enthusiasts headed out on to the water to raise a toast to the woman whose sighting 80 years ago sparked a phenomenon that continues to captivate the world.
Although previous sightings had been made, the Mackay episode became the foundation for the modern following.
Adrian Shine, leader of the Loch Ness Research Project and designer of the Loch Ness Exhibition in Drumnadrochit, led the excursion yesterday, which also included Edinburgh Fortean Society president, Gordon Rutter, Loch Ness investigator Dick Raynor and a number of other noted Loch Ness specialists.
Two boats made their way to the site of the Mackay sighting.
Mr Shine, a marine biologist, said it was a remarkable occasion.
The 63-year-old said: “More than 1,000 people would have been involved in the active investigation [over the years], and if they’ve had fun, they owe a lot to Mrs Mackay with that first heavily-publicised sighting. It wasn’t the first sighting of course, but is widely recognised as the beginning of the modern sensation.
“But one might also reflect that in 80 years, we haven’t really got much further forward to what’s going on.
“One woman couldn’t have imagined that the story of what happened would carry around the world and echo for 80 years.
“That tells us a great deal about the human psyche, that it should have lasted so long in the absence of conclusive evidence for large creatures in Loch Ness.”
First accounts of a “water beast” date back at least to the seventh century, when the Irish monk Saint Columba saw a creature in the River Ness. There have since been about 1,000 recorded sightings.
Mr Shine was marking his own 40th anniversary at the weekend of when he travelled to Loch Morar to discover the truth behind rumoured sightings of a creature there. He saw a large “hump” rising from the waters, and when he rowed closer, found it to be a rock.
“I’ve seen plenty of things through my work and experience has often shown me what they are,” he said. “In terms of the amalgam of illusion which is the Loch Ness monster, it’s not one thing, it’s many different things bonded together by our expectations.
“The absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.
“It can be a good indicator. If people want something to be there, then at least in the cultural psyche, the Loch Ness monster will remain.”
A dinner was held on Saturday night at The Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition in Drumnadrochit, meeting in Mrs Mackay’s old dining room, now the foyer to the exhibit.
VisitScotland said Nessie tourism brings more than £1 million per year to the area.
Malcolm Roughhead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Mrs Mackay’s sighting of the Loch Ness Monster to tourism in Scotland. There are few places in the world where people haven’t heard of the phenomenon.”