Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Hebridean Isles History

By 1983 the vast majority of Calmac routes had been brought up to date and modernised. Hoist loading was slowly but surely being eradicated from day-to-day life on the west coast. One area where hoist loading was still the order of the day was on the so-called Uig triangle, linking Skye with Tarbert on the Isle of Harris and Lochmaddy on North Uist. For almost 20 years the faithful Hebrides had kept these routes open, however she had a tendency to run late, given the distinct lack of speed in her hoist system.

At the launch of Isle of Arran in 1983 it was announced that a new ship was to be constructed for service on the Uig routes. She would be of broadly similar size to the Isle of Arran and although intended for one specific route, would be suitable for use anywhere within the current network.
Constructed at Cochrane’s yard in Selby, Hebridean Isles was launched sideways into the Ouse in 1985, creating a large wave in the process. Following her delivery voyage and acceptance by Calmac, one of the first tasks performed by the new vessel was to conduct trials at various ports around the network.

Hebridean Isles’ design incorporated a bow visor, bow and stern ramps as well as a vehicle hoist and side ramps, therefore making her suitable for all the routes served by the large fleet units. In terms of capacity she could accommodate almost 70 cars on her spacious car deck whereas her passenger accommodation was situated on two decks above the car deck, forward of the hoist. Internally her layout on one deck comprised the cafeteria furthest aft,  then the entrance concourse, shop and information point with the reclining lounge and bar towards the bow, whilst upstairs, above the cafeteria was the observation lounge. Forward of this there was crew accommodation with the bridge on the next level at the bow. Externally there was ample deck space and, like the Isle of Arran, she incorporated a deck area forward of the bridge, giving passengers a view ahead.

It was not until spring 1986 that the Hebridean Isles took over the Uig routes from the winter relief ship Columba. This was due to delays in getting the necessary construction works at the various piers completed. New linkspans were required at all three of her regular terminals, so in the period before the works were complete the new ferry found temporary employment as a winter relief vessel on other crossings such as Oban – Craignure where she stood in for the Caledonia and Glen Sannox. When she eventually took over at Uig, she still had to continue using her hoist at the Skye terminal whilst the finishing touches were carried out on her new berth at the end of the long pier.

Photo: J Aikman-Smith
Being launched into the Ouse

Picture: SoC Crew
Leaving Lochmaddy, North Uist

Once she settled into a new routine she became a popular member of the fleet – especially with those who used her regularly and remembered the old Hebrides. The new ferry brought vastly improved standards of passenger comfort as well as slightly reduced sailing times although most saw her largest benefit being the greatly reduced turn-round times at each pier once she was able to use her bow and stern ramps. (Incidentally she used her stern ramp at Uig and her bow visor and ramp at both Tarbert and Lochmaddy.

Over the next 15 or so years the
Hebridean Isles, like her predecessor, spent almost all of her time on her intended crossings – only overhauls saw her leave the Minch, during which time relief tonnage would keep the routes open. And like her predecessor, no Sunday sailings to Harris were carried out due to objections from islanders on religious grounds.

Hebridean Isles remained on the triangle station for nearly 15 years before the inevitable happened and demand became too much for her. She was replaced in 2000 by the new Hebrides – reviving the old traditional name – and she in turn headed south for a new role as the dedicated Islay ferry, operating out of Kennacraig on the Kintyre peninsula.
Her new role saw her taking over from the Isle of Arran and she sailed to Port Ellen on the south side of the island as well as Port Askaig in the Sound of Islay. On Wednesdays during the summer season she extended her morning Port Askaig sailing through to Colonsay and Oban before returning to Kennacraig in the evening, as had been the case on her particular timetable since 1989 when the Claymore operated the route.

Hebridean Isles has been the regular Islay ferry for four years now, although since 2003 she has been joined in the summer by the fleetmate she replaced; Isle of Arran, which provided a series of additional sailings throughout the week in addition to maintaining a service on Wednesdays when she herself would venture north to Oban. These additional sailings were subject to withdrawal at short notice if Isle of Arran was required elsewhere in the network to cover for breakdowns.

Picture: Soc Crew
Making passage down West Loch Tarbert

Picture: SoC Crew
Approaching Port Askaig
Picture: SoC Crew
Leaving Isle of Arran at Kennacraig

Picture: SoC Crew
Leaving Port Ellen bay

In 2007 though, Isle of Arran's sailings were not marked as extra sailings as a response to rising demand from the sland's whisky producers and it seems that the two-ship service is to continue for the coming seasons.

There has for some time been speculation about a new ferry being built to serve on the Islay routes. This was confirmed by CalMac in 2007 and it was revealed that the Remontowa shipyard in Gdansk, Poland (whose previous products included Argyle and Bute) was to build the new ship. She is due into service in 2011 as main Islay vessel, though the only change to Hebridean Isles is that it is likely she will switch to the secondary roster.

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)

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