Happy Birthday! We have been here on the Isle Tiree for just over six months. One of the questions we were asked when we announced to someone on the ferry that we were moving to Tiree was, “Have you had a winter yet?” It was said with such feeling!
We arrived on the island as Summer was passing and soon Autumn was upon us, to be quickly followed by Winter. Living on an island with wide open skies, you are very conscious of the weather. Apparently, the winter storms came early, arriving in November; in fact the highest winds, were recorded that month. We have been told that they do not normally arrive with such intensity until February. The winds may not have been as high in the past weeks, but there has been no let up in the rain. It is not just the water feature in an adjacent field, or the lochan that has appeared at the top of the road, so much of the island is under water. It must have dramatically reduced the grazing for the cattle and the sheep. No one that we have spoken to can remember so much lying water. Thankfully there is no flooding of homes. No wonder then that we have become weather watchers, consulting our ‘weather apps’ for the day or week ahead, as so much, including the ferry, is weather dependent.
Ferries are regarded as a ‘Lifeline Service’ providing a vital link to the mainland. Hospital visits involve leaving the island. Stock for the island’s shop and and at present fuel for the island’s generator come in on the ferry. (It appears there has been a set-back with the sub-sea cable, and we are going to be relying on the generator a while yet.) However, this winter, throughout the ‘Kingdom of MacBrayne’, or CalMac as it known nowadays, there have been many cancellations because of the high winds and swell. Only today, the ferry managed to visit Coll, our near neighbour, but had to turn back without berthing at Tiree.
A retried captain living near Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis recently wrote, ‘Over the winter I have heard various comments on the cancellations throughout the ferry system due to weather and often the comment “Captain Smith of the old Loch Seaforth never missed a sailing .’ His reply confirmed my thoughts, when he said, ‘To compare the old Loch Seaforth with today’s ro-ro vessels is ludicrous as they are vessels of completely different construction. The old Loch Seaforth was a conventional solid-hulled vessel and compartmentalised as per the classification society regulations. Today’s ro-ro ferries have bow visors which can, in heavy weather, fail and in some cases also have open sterns which leave them vulnerable to being pooped from astern in a heavy following sea. Once water gets on the open car deck the vessel’s stability is catastrophically reduced due to what is known as “free surface effect” and this very rapidly leads to the capsize of the vessel as happened with both the Herald of Free Enterprise and the Estonia.’ Captain Morris Macleod adds, ‘Every ship now has a Safety Management System Manual which gives clear guidance on operating the vessel in inclement weather. This was introduced in order to enhance the safety of passengers and crew. . . . ‘When members of the public and those with a vested interest in pushing for a vessel to sail regardless of the receipt of a dodgy forecast do so, they are clearly unaware that the Master and ferry operator are obliged to comply with the contents of their approved Safety Management System.’ For the full text of the post visit ‘Ach, the Loch Seaforth would have sailed in that’. Not only are we weather watchers, we are ferry watchers too!
Yet, there are hints that Spring is slowly coming.This past week we saw snowdrops in one garden, and crocuses and daffodils are definitely beginning to appear, even if they are not yet in full bloom. How we look forward to seeing the Machair in all its glory. We have this assurance in the Bible, “As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night. (Genesis 8:21-22)” And the one, true and living God always keeps his promises.