Lifeline Services

Photograph of lansman
The Mighty Clansman in stormy Gott Bay

At present we are keeping a close eye on the weather, particularly the speed of the wind. If the speed is close to 40mph it is unlikely the boat will be able to berth on Monday and we will be unable to cross to the Mainland. This past week many of the West Coast and Hebridean Islands have seen the ferry service badly disrupted and even cancelled. Our own ferry, at present the mighty ‘Clansman’, did not attempt the crossing to Coll and Tiree on Thursday, so CalMac scheduled an additional sailing on Friday morning. In the current winter timetable there is no sailing on a Wednesday or Friday. With a suitable weather window, on Thursday evening, the Clansman made what was a relief sailing for Castlebay (Barra) – a return journey of at least 10 hours – only returning to Oban at 6.15 on Friday morning. After unloading and reloading she then set sail for Tiree at 7.15am.

Living on an island that is at the least 3 hours forty-five minutes, and some times as much as 4 hours thirty minutes, from the Mainland, depending on the vessel, ferries are a lifeline service. Thankfully, we have the telephone and internet, the latter somewhat slow, but with a much faster connection speed than some experience on the island. Our connection is fast enough for us to made a video call to our grandson. Nevertheless, for us there is no bridge over the Atlantic, so we are dependent on the ferries and the daily flight to Glasgow (Monday to Saturday). Everything that comes to the island, people and goods, must either come by boat or by the small plane. There is no mail if there is no plane and groceries are in short supply if there is no ferry. Little wonder we take a great interest in the weather, consulting the Met-Office weather app, the Cal-Mac Service Status app and the flight departures from Glasgow International Airport. The ‘Marine Traffic’ app not only notifies when boats leave port, it is also gives us their current position, great fun when you have swapped train spotting for boat watching!

On at least two occasions, we have watched the storm tossed boat come into the bay, approach the pier (perhaps making two attempts) only to turn back for Oban without even attempting to “throw a rope”. We have spoken to those who have endured nine hours or more on the boat, returning to Oban, without landing at Tiree. In these days when health and safety considerations are paramount, perhaps ships’ captains are less willing to attempt sailing or berthing than was previously the case. Here’s hoping that on Monday the captain does not have a difficult decision to make.

This year CalMac celebrates its 40th birthday, although its origins lie in the 19th Century. Additionally, the company has collected a fourth award this year. forargyll.com reports …“West coast ferry operator, Caledonian MacBrayne [CalMac], has beaten 13 major ferry companies in being named Best Ferry Company in the prestigious Guardian and Observer Travel Awards – for the fourth year in a row. The award – the result of an annual poll of readers who are asked to rate the quality of service they received on their holidays across the world – is CalMac’s fourth award this year, 2013. In March it received an award from Scottish Union Learning in the Highlands and Islands, which supports trade unions in accessing skills and lifelong learning opportunities for workers across Scotland. In June it was named Public Transport Operator of the Year in the Scottish Transport Awards for the third time in four years. Also in June, it took the award for Customer Focus in the Scottish Business Awards.”