At a first glance the headline photograph looks picturesque with the ‘MV Isle of Mull’ alongside the pier at Tiree and the moon was already high in the deep blue sky. However, a closer look at the photograph reveals that all is not as it appears.
What a start to the year it has been with one ferry cancellation after ferry cancellation. For CalMac it is must feell like an ‘annus horribilis’ (Latin for horrible year). There have been problems with the ageing fleet, forced extended annual maintenance schedules, and stormy weather that has brought high winds and swell conditions.
The series of interruptions to the advertised sailings to Tiree continues. The ‘MV Lord of the Isles’ required attention that took it out service on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and the intention was for the ‘MV Isle of Mull’ to cover sailings on Saturday and Sunday’. Sunday’s sailing was cancelled due to the sea conditions. There was no vessel to cover the route on the Monday and Tuesday’s advertised sailing was also cancelled due to the weather and related sea conditions.
For normal there is not a sailing to Coll and Tiree in the winter, but today due to the spate of cancellations two sailings were organised. The first let Oban at 7:00am and visited the Isle of Coll en route to Tiree. So far so good! However, an alert was issued for the second sailing due to leave Oban at 12:30. This was due to crew availability following Covid protocol.
Thankfully a replacement crew member was found and the ‘MV Isle of Mull’ departed Oban late at 13:20 sailing directly to Tiree. The ETA for her arrival was given as 17:30 – she in fact berthed at 16:55.
As stated the sky was a deep blue and the moon was already high in the sky. Nevertheless the skipper announced that all was not peaceful due to swell conditions. With the bow ropes secured and the stern ropes thrown and caught the vessel could be seen to rock and roll. It was some time before the “Mull’s” high stern ramp was lowered.
The traffic for Tiree rolled off and up the link-span and then the foot passengers came off the ramp and those bound for Oban boarded via the ramp. As the vehicles rolled on the swell was evident. Every so often loading was halted to wait for a more stable time.
The “Mull” normally berths stern first in Oban and this was perhaps the reason that lorries were obliged to reverse on. For a long articulated lorry this is not at easy and requires the lorry to drive onto the old pier.
As the final articulated lorry was manoeuvring in order to reverse down the ramp one of the stern ropes snapped with a loud crack.
Under such circumstances there is no hanging around. The stern ramp was immediately raised and the remaining ropes released under the direction of the bridge.
As the ferry headed out to sea is was a beautiful sight and it was hard to believe that only minutes before a rope had snapped. Already Thursday’s sailing has been cancelled with the reason given as ‘weather’.
‘This is ‘Life On Tiree’.