A Vital Lifeline

Flights and sailings to islands such as Coll and Tiree are described as lifeline services. Transport Scovtland states, There are several Highlands and Islands air routes which would not be commercially viable without support, so Transport Scotland help to make these routes successful. We use public service obligations (PSOs), which are obligations imposed on a carrier to provide a set level of service on a particular route in order to ensure that the service satisfies fixed standards of continuity, regularity, capacity and pricing.

LOGANAIR TWIN OTTER AT TIREE AIRPORT

A week ago a national newspaper reported that Scotland’s biggest ferry operator CalMac has come under fire for wasting fuel and damaging the environment running a full service of empty ferries during the Covid-19 pandemic – a day after promoting its green credentials. During the first lockdown there was certainly a much reduced service. This past week it haas been reported that CalMac is reviewing the need to run a full service of empty ferries during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there is another perspective. For many islands the ferries are a vital lifeline service. Not all trafic is seen in passenger numbers for commercial vehicles are often shipped unacompanied.

The MV Lord of the Isles in the Passage of Tiree 11/02/2021

What is sometimes forgotten is that for islands such as Coll and Tiree the ferry service is literally a lifeline. Islands are no longer self-sufficient and have come to rely on the ferry for the importation and exportation of all kinds of freight including food. If the local shop has run out of something that you need you cannot simply pop round the corner to the next store.

LOTI turning towards Gott Bay – 11/02/2021

Thursday’s sailing from the Mainland Ferry Terminal of Oban was on an alert due to an adverse forecast of high winds. Normally it would have made at least one stop at the Isle of Coll, but it was sailing direct to Tiree with no guarantee of berthing. The ferry departed Oban on time, sailed up the Sound of Mull and proceeded south down the Passage of Tiree. The vessel made to enter Gott Bay, but she had no sooner made the manouvre than the skipper made the decision not to attempt a berthing. Thus the ‘MV Lord of the Isles’ swung round and headed back to Oban

The MV Lord of the Isles changes course
Ben More provides the backdrop

This year the ferry has been a LIFEline service in a very specific way. The Covid19 vaccine arrives on the island by ferry. Today, Thursday, those in in the 70-75 age group were being vaccinated – thankfully the vaccine arrived on Tuesday’s ferry.  This was fortuitous, as the weather is set to deteriorate over the next few days with winds gusting to over 60mph. There may well not be another sailing to Tiree until Monday at the earliest.  It is a good thing we have done the week’s shoppingI   Outbound the ferry was due to carry ‘bloods’ and other specimens for testing on the Mainland. 

LOTI with the Dutchman’s Cap as the backdrop

I suppose unless you live on one of the Hebridean islands you cannot fully appreciate just how vital the ferry is to daily life – to things that you take for granted if living on the Mainland.  This is simply a fact of island life.  How we appreciate living on Tiree and are thankful for the provision of both the daily flight service and the ferry service five times a week in the winter (weather permitting).  We are grateful too for an excellent Medical practice who have been able to go ahead with vaccinations. (We have to declare a vested interest – having been vaccinated today.)

LOTI returning to Oban

For several days now we have had sunshine on Tiree. During this time much of Scotland has been under a blanket of snow, experienced freezing conditions and had several days of related travel disruption.  Although we have had sunshine there has been a real nip to the wind from the east, but the temperature has been higher than on the Mainland. Last night the temperature in Braemar was -23C° (the UK’s lowest in 25 years) . On Tiree the temperature fell to 1°

A wintry afternoon on Tiree this past week

What a pleasureit has been to look out across the water to snow capped mountains on neighbouring islands and on the more distant Mainland. This has been a pleasure that many have commented on.

A Panoramic View of the Rum Cuillin at sundown
Looking over Gott Bay to Ruaig and the Rum Cuillin
From Scarinish – Ben More at sundown

This is ‘Life on Tiree’

The Distant Paps of Jura
Sunrise over the Scarinish headland 11/02/2021

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The Hours of Darkness

It is not often that the ferry arrives or departs Tiree during the hours of darkness. It is not unknown for the ‘MV Clansman’ to arrive after the sun has set, but it is much more unusual to witness the ‘MV Lord of the Isles’ arrive in Gott Bay in the last vestages of daylight and depart in the darkness.

The MV Lord of the Isles enters Gott Bay

With the ‘MV Isle of Arran’ out of action the ‘MV Lord of the Isles’ is operating to an amended timetable. Instead of arriving in Tiree at 11:00am she arrived at 5:30pm. There was just enough light to catch sight of her out in the Passage of Tiree and watch her swing to starboard in order to enter Gott Bay.

‘LOTI” in Gott Bay

In the presesent circumstances. when only escential travel is permitted. traffic is light. With tomorrow’s sailing cancelled there was perhaps slightly more traffic than might have been expected.

‘LOTI’ approaching the pier

There was a definite nip to the air as we watched the ferry’s arrival. The wind was from the South East and the temperature was 3 degrees C, but it certainly felt like -2 degrees.

LOTI’ prepares to berth with her stern to the link-span

For much of last year we felt it unwise to visit the pier, but with everything much quieter and with fewer people around we consider it safer. Obviously we observe propoer social distancing measures. The latter is not difficult with so few travelling on the ferry.

‘LOTI’ alongside and preparing to draw back to the link-span

The bow ropes were thrown first and then with the stern to the link-span the stern ropes were secured. The ramp was lowered and the traffic rolled off. It certainly did not take long.

The bow and midship ropes secured

The ferry brings a touch of colour even in grey days, but there is something special about the ferry alongside the pier during the hours of darkness. Even ‘LOTI” is like a floating palace of light.

A floating palace of light

With the traffic light it was not long before all the vehicles were safely on board. HGVs and Tankers need to be lashed to the card deck during the passage. This was something we had to remember when we moved to Tiree over seven years ago.

A tanker being lashed to the car deck

With the stern ramp raised and the vessel was secured in readiness for heading out to sea. There was no hanging around this evening and in no time at all the ferry was heading out of the bay on her way to Oban.

The pier staff getting ready to release the ropes

Thankfully we don’t live far from the pier and so as soon as the ‘MV Lord of the Isles’ made her exit – bound for Oban – we headed home for a warming cup of coffee.

It is dark!

This is ‘Life on Tiree’.

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A Crisp Monday

We have been living on Tiree now for over seven years and it feels that this is one of the most prolonged spells of icy weather. We have it on good authority that the island’s roads in many places were like a skating rink this morning. Tiree’s position out in the Atlantic and the fact that it is low lying means that in the winter the weather is generally much milder than on the Mainland. The other side of the coin is that we are more conscious of the wind.

Meals on Wheels

Todasy as we set out for our morning constitutional we had to be extra careful because of the icy conditions. We did not want slip on the ice and fall and have to visit a hospital in Oban or Glasgow, Hospitals are under enough pressure without us adding to it!

The gulls had an eye on a ready meal

As usual we made our way down to the pier and then back up the road and across the Machair to the old harbour. As we stepped onto the Machair we saw a crofter out feeding the sheep – and the gulls with an eye towards a ready meal.

Looking towards the Isle of Mull

Over the past few days, even when the sky has been blue over Tiree, Ben More on the Isle of Mull has been hidden from view, shrouded by menacing clouds. This mornng the clouds parted suficently to give us a hazy, wintry view of the Munro. Oh! These clouds add something to the view.

The Peak Peeking Through

From our south facing windows we loook out across the Passage of Tiree towards the Paps of Jura. At first light today we had a clear view of the Paps but soon the clouds built up and obscured our view. We don’t have to walk far from our home to look out across the Passage towards Ben More. As we walked across the Machair we caught a glimpse of the peak peeking through the clouds which wrapped around the Munro like a scarf.

The Memorial – A Great Vantage Point

Later after a warming cup of coffee it was time to head across to the Memorial situated off Pier Road. The ‘MV Lord of the Isles’ (LOTI) was just heading out to sea bound for the Isle of Coll and then onto the Ferry terminal at Oban. The Memorial and its surrounds afford a great view across the island and out to sea.

A view of the Lighthouse from the Memorial

Although later in the afternoon the clouds began to build up over Tiree, earlier in the day there was blue sky over the island. The clouds that hid the Paps of Jura and the Rum Cuillins had a fascination all of their own. Only the other day someone remarked to us how dramtic the clouds were – and with all manner of formations.

Thr MV Lord of the Isles

On Saturday we said farewell to the ‘MV Clansman’. It will be several weeks before her return to service. On Sunday she made her way to Liverpool for her annual overhaul and certification. On Sunday we welcomed the ‘MV Lord of the Isles’ as the relief vessel. Recently she paid a visit to Tiree when the ‘MV Clansman’ had to undergo a deep clean.

A Wintry Setting

In the past 10 months we have rarely ventured far from Scarinish, the crofting township where we live, but each day there appears a freshness to the land and seascape. We may see the same view but often with a different perspective, We are so grateful that we felt the call of God to live on Tiree – and its a great community to belong to.

This is ‘Life on Tiree’.

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Welcome LOTI

Today the Isle of Tiree welcomed the arrival of ‘LOTI’, otherwise known as the ‘MV Lord of the Isles’. For operational reasons Tuesday’s sailing had been cancelled and there is no timetabled sailing on a Wednesday. So the arrival of the vessel was most welcome and especially as the Skipper was a ‘Tiree Man’.

The MV Lord of the Isles in Gott Bay, Isle of Tiree

Few people appear to refer to the ferry by her full title, most calling her ‘LOTI’. She was not due to visit Tiree until the 24th of January when she replaces the ‘MV Clansman’ while the latter goes for her annual overhaul and inspection or to replace another vessel due the same treatment. The official explanation for the present visit is ‘operational reasons.’ Since Monday evening the ‘MV Clansman’ has not left her berth at Oban Ferry Terminal other than to allow the ‘MV Isle of Lewis’ to use the berth.

LOTI prepares to come alongside the pier.

When a ferry breaks down the status refers to the cancellation or delay as due to ‘technical reasons’. When the cancellation is down to the weather or sea conditions the reason is clear. However in this instance the reason given was ‘operational reasons’ – make of that what you may.

LOTI coming alonhside the pier

Tiree, like many of the Hebridean Islands, is under the Scottish ‘Level Three’ resitrictions. The Mainland and the Isle of Skye are under Scottish ‘Level Four Plus’ restrictions. This week the Island of Barra has reported a few cases of the virus and the Island of Coll, Tiree’s near neighbour, has reported at least one case of the virus. It would be so easy for the virus to arrive on Tiree and perhaps more than at any other time during the pandemic there is a need for vigilance and observation of the Goverment guidance intended to stop the spread of the virus. It is an ever present danger.

The vessel alongside – the stern ropes are secured before the ramp is lowered

In the winter months the ferry traffic is light and this is especially so in the present circumstances. However, with no sailing on Tuesday inbound traffic to Tiree was up, but nothing compared to normal. Any additinal traffic was mainly freight.

Local drivers board the ferry to collect lorries etc

As the day has gone on the weather has improved and LOTI sailed in to Gott Bay with her bow facing blue skies. By the time she departed for Coll and Oban she took the blue skies with her. What a contrast today has been compared to yesterday. Most unusually we never ventured outside yesterday.

The stern ramp raised in preparation for sailing

With the vessel movements complete and foot passengers transferred the stern ramp was raised in preparation for sailing. Although the ferry would visit Coll on its way to Oban to take Coll traffic on board, all the traffic, vehicle and foot passengers, boarding at Tiree was bound for Oban.

Waiting to cast the stern ropes

It would be a pleasant sail to Oban with a flat sea and hardly a breath of wind. It was low tide and with LOTI’s low stern care has to be taken with the stern ropes. Tiree remains snow free but those arriving in Oban today would get quite a shock if they were travelling any distance. Much of the Mainland is under a blanket of snow.

Clear evidence of low tide

By the time LOTI arrives at Oban Ferry Terminal it will be more or less dark. Today’s sailing was 45 minutes later than normal – for operational reasons. ‘LOTI’ her skipper and crew were a welcome sight today. Perhaps the ‘Mighty One’ will be back on duty on Saturday, even if it is only for a few days. Those who serve on the ferries and who work on and at the pier are indeed on the frontline.

A watchful eye from the wings of the bridge

Thank You!

LOTI’s Departure

This is ‘Life on Tiree’

LOTI heads out to sea
Haste Ye Back

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With Gratitude

As I stood watching today’s ferry come into the bay and as I watched her approach the pier and berth I felt a deep sense of gratitude. I could not help but think of the skipper and crew of the ferry. Then my mind went to those who handle the ropes. Then I thought of […]

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Please – Now Grateful

“Please can you come quickly the camera battery is flat.”  “Where are you?” “Near the pier but not too close!” “OK.” “Keeping my distance.” “Be down soon.” Yesterday the ferry was the ‘MV Lord of the Isles’ and due to the low tide and the wind gusting from the SSE around 38mph she struggled to […]

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Uncharted Waters

Right now, it feels that all of a sudden we have been catapulted into a strange new world – a threatening world. It is a world of rapid change, sometimes not just by the day, but sometimes by the hour. Change for many can be a cause for anxiety and at present it feels that […]

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Shipping Forecast

Tiree is one of the coastal weather stations which features in the now famous shipping forecast. However this afternoon it is the Shipping Forecast for Tiree. She is on her way! No! Not the latest named storm. The MV Clansman is presently departing the Clyde. Earlier today she underwent sea trials and is now Oban […]

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“It’s Island Life”

Tiree is surrounded by amazing beaches, large and small. Add to that the island is one of the sunniest places in Britain. When the sun shines on the shallow waters that wash the beaches the sea turns the most wonderful shades of blue. It is consequently sometimes referred to as the ‘Hawaii of the North’. […]

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A Wee Reminder

Once again the slates on our roof have been doing a merry dance. More than once during the the early hours of Friday we were wakened by the sound. A mixture of hail and rain added to the cacophony and lasted well into the morning. In fact the sound of rattling tiles carried on throughout […]

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