The photographs may have a nautical theme but the narrative is much wider. The latter is an explanation of why we have every reason to be grateful. The occasion was a brief visit to the Mainland port of Oban for an appointment at the ‘Lorne and Islands Hospital’.
The appointment was on the Friday morning and this meant leaving our island home on Tiree on the Thursday morning. Although it was dry, it was a dull day and not one for sitting outside on deck. Making our way at lunchtime to the Mariners Cafe we stopped to talk with a couple who regularly visit Tiree. They said how they held the Tiree Medical Practice in the highest esteem as during their stay they had cause to see the doctor.
The regular daily flights to Glasgow takes about an hour and by ferry the sailing to Oban normal takes about four hours. Some might well wonder what the medical services are on the island especially when they read and hear about the serious short comings in the availability of doctors, nurses and carers in the Highlands and Islands. They need have no fear for we are grateful for all those who work together as a team to provide a truly caring service.
There is no hospital on the island thus out-patient appointments are on the Mainland, generally in Oban, Glasgow or Paisley. The same is true of stays in hospital. In an emergency patients are flown off by air ambulance. The sound of plane or helicopter outside the time of scheduled flights is always a cause for concern. It is reassuring later to learn that it was a private plane and not an air ambulance.
On this occasion we stayed in an apartment at the Ranald Hotel in Oban. For those travelling by ferry it is ideally situated and you can choose between a room or an apartment. They understand the needs of those travelling by ferry and are most accommodating.
The weather forecast for our return journey was for gusts over 40mph and by Friday lunchtime (12:43) Saturday’s sailing was on an alert – ‘This service is liable to disruption or cancellation at short notice due to adverse weather.’ Those on reception went out of their way to be caring and helpful. We were most grateful and felt that a load had been taken off our minds.
Later on Friday evening there was an update to the status – ‘Due to a forecast of strong winds and sea swell, an amended timetable operates, with only one stop at Coll.‘ The amended timetable was that instead of departing Oban at 7:00am the ferry would now depart at 11:00am.
Thie 11:00am departure meant we no longer had to rise at 5:45am. What is more there would be time to have a leisurely cup of coffee at Roxy’s Cafe before heading to the ferry terminal. Thankfully in the morning the status remained the same.
For those who are ferry watchers Oban is a delight. In addition to the usual coming and goings the latest addition to the CalMac fleet, ‘Loch Frisa’’ could be seen undergoing trials and crew familiarisation on the Oban Craignure sailing.
On Friday afternoon the last remaining sea going paddle steamer in the world was berthed alongside Oban’s North Pier. The previous few days she had spent visiting the waters surrounding Skye and Loch Alsh and was timetabled for a cruise to Staff on the Saturday. Such was the weather conditions this cruise had to be cancelled.
When we arrived in good time at the ferry terminal we observed how busy it was and that we hardly recognised anyone waiting to board for Coll and Tiree. We soon discovered that in addition to holiday traffic many of those who had planned to cruise on the PS Waverley were taking the opportunity to take a non landing sailing to Coll and Tiree.
Low cloud hung over Oban greatly reducing visibility and in fact for most of our return journey visibility was poor. Those coming for the sailing were not going to see much of the scenery.
As soon as we left Oban Bay and entered the Firth of Lorn the full force of the wind could be felt if you venture out on the port side of the vessel. Additionally the swell was impressive. The question was would be able to berth at Tiree or Coll?
Sea conditions improved as we progressed north up the more sheltered Sound of Mull. We took the opportunity to have an early lunch anticipating what it might be like as we progressed south down the Passage of Tiree. As we were about to leave the more sheltered waters of the Sound of Mull we made the decision to relocate to the open deck at the aft end of the vessel. It was a wise move. Even there we were aware of the challenging conditions. Every so often there would be a bang and shudder and we were sure that the ferry was frequently experiencing what is technically termed a ‘full face wash’. For much of the time we enjoyed the company of young couple coming once again on holiday to Tiree.
Instead of heading directly to the Isle of Coll the ‘MV Clansman” was going directly to Tiree and would attempt to berth at Coll on the return journey. Those heading to Coll are not normally impressed by the ferry sailing directly to Tiree as it adds about another 2 hours on to their travel time, whereas for those travelling to Tiree it reduces their travel time.
Before entering Gott Bay the bridge warned that the stabilisers were being taken off and to take extra care when moving around the vessel. Remarkably the bay was unbelievably calm and the MV Clansman berthed without any real difficulty. We were grateful for the decision of Skipper Norrie MacDonald to sail when he did. He made the right call. Although it was more less high tide, with the wind from the South West the swell had dropped in the bay.
We were home and with every reason to be grateful – for the NHS – for a successful procedure carried out by the cheerful doctor at the hospital, for the friendly helpful service at the Ranald hotel – for the Skipper and crew of the MV Clansman – for the team at Tiree pier, for the Tiree Medical Practice and finally and importantly grateful to our loving Heavenly Father.
This is ‘Life on Tiree’.