It is not by any accident that the MV Clansman is known as ‘The Mighty One’ and today, Wednesday 19th December 2019, under Skipper Lewis MacKenzie she was ‘the Mighty Conqueror’.
Under the winter timetable, when vessels take their turn to go for their annual overhaul, there are only 5 crossings a week to the Isles of Coll and Tiree. Crossings are Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. If for any reason there is no crossing on a Thursday it means two days before the next opportunity to travel.
On Wednesday the wind speed gradually rose throughout the day and as darkness fell it was clear that it was going to be a wild night. And it certainly was wild.
By midnight the gusts were just over 60mph and at 1:00am the gusts peaked at 70mph. Had those who put off travelling on Tuesday made a wise decision or were they going to regret it?
On Wednesday afternoon, at 3:15, CalMac issued an alert that due to adverse weather conditions Thursday’s Oban/Coll/Tiree service was liable to disruption at short notice. When we went to bed for the night around midnight, when the gust were 61mph, we well expected to waken to an alert that the ferry had been cancelled.
But No! At 5:30am the alert only stated that due to adverse weather conditions the service was liable to disruption at short notice. It seemed almost unbelievable. The next question would the ferry turn back when she left the more sheltered waters of the Sound of Mull and felt the force of the Atlantic in the Minch?
The next point of significance was the attempt to berth at the Isle of Coll. Through the ‘Marine Traffic’ website it was clear that the MV Clansman had successfully berthed.
The ‘Clansman’ had berthed at Coll but would she be able to berth at Tiree? Looking out to the Passage of Tiree she could be seen making her way towards Gott Bay. She was rising and falling and even from the viewpoint of the Memorial off Pier Road, her bow wave was impressive.
The wind was from the SSE and the gusts were 31mph and that combined with the swell resulted in the vessel leaning to starboard as she proceeded into Gott Bay and towards the pier. As she approached the pier and turned to berth the roll was most pronounced.
For several minutes she lay off the pier before the anchor was dropped after which the vessel was brought alongside and her stern aligned with the linkspan.
The ramp was lowered and the vehicles rolled off the ferry and onto the island. There was no gangway so foot passengers had to use the stern ramp and linkspan.
The ashen faces of the foot passengers told their own story. It had been a rough sail down the Passage of Tiree and Terra firma was most welcome.
There was never any question of the ferry spending any unnecessary time alongside the pier.
As soon as the ramp was up and the vessel secured the stern ropes were released and her thrusters deployed to push the stern away from the pier.
The bow ropes were released and the anchor raised.
Once again the safe berthing of the Clansman was a testimony to the skill of the skipper, officers and crew – as well as the skill of those handling the ropes on the pier.
The skipper on this occasion was Captain Lewis MacKenzie. He began his career as a deck officer cadet on a deep-sea ship before joining CalMac in 1995 as Second Officer of Hebridean Isles.
His first Captain’s post was as relief skipper of Lord of the Isles in 2004. He became a permanent Master in 2006 of ‘LOTI’ and has since commanded all the major CalMac vessels in the Western Waters.
As the MV Clansman headed out to sea bound for Coll and Tiree her bow was to be seen rising steeply out of the water before plunging down once again.
There was no doubt today that the ‘Mighty One’ Conquered thanks to the skill of all on board and on the pier.
This is ‘Life on Tiree’.