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Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Hebrides (III) History

Following modernization of the Uig – Tarbert – Lochmaddy route in the mid 1980s demand grew at a steady rate and the then dedicated ferry, HEBRIDEAN ISLES was sailing full on more and more of her crossings. As with the majority of other routes throughout the Calmac network over the past few decades, the inevitable solution was to have a new, larger ship built.

The new ferry was ordered as part of a £20m investment in the development of several routes at the end of the 1990s and would not only bring improved service on the Uig crossings but also allow the HEBRIDEAN ISLES to be redeployed on the Kennacraig – Port Ellen/Port Askaig routes, thus freeing up the ISLE OF ARRAN to become the spare vessel and assist wherever she was needed (a facility which had previously proved essential and had been lacking since the government forced CalMac to do away with the valuable CLAYMORE in 1996).

The £15m contract was awarded to Ferguson Shipbuilders at Port Glasgow and yard number 708 gradually came into being. The new ferry was ready for launch at the start of August and was sent on her way by HM the Queen on Wednesday 2nd August 2000. After sliding into the Clyde she was taken to the nearby fitting out quay.

Picture: SoC Crew
Being fitted out at Ferguson's

The design of the new ship was similar to that of her half-sister CLANSMAN of 1998 although her designers had taken on board lessons learnt from the older ferry. For a start there was a vastly increased amount of open deck space for future passengers to enjoy – the majority of it also being covered which is always a plus point when the weather of the Little Minch is taken into account.

She was also the first vessel in the fleet to have done away with conventional lifeboats. Instead the new ship was equipped with an MES system of inflatable chutes leading evacuees down to several large liferafts. These were in addition to the pre-packed self-inflating life rafts which all other members of the fleet already carried. In addition to this, and following simulations and the success of the CLANSMAN’s design, her hull incorporated fewer escape gaps for any water which was to be found on the car deck as a result of spray etc. Her elder sister had been required to have many more of these fitted but the new vessel was permitted to sail with fewer.

Picture: SoC Crew
Leaving Uig for the Outer Hebrides

Picture: SoC Crew
Arriving at Lochmaddy

The new ship’s name was chosen to reflect the history of the route she was to be deployed on and it was indeed very fitting when the Queen named her HEBRIDES, after the faithful and very much favourite 1964-built ship which sailed from Uig for twenty years. Following successful sea trials the HEBRIDES made her way round from the Clyde to Uig, Tarbert and Lochmaddy where she conducted berthing trials at the three linkspans and delivered each terminal its new gangway, specially designed to fit her. Uig and Tarbert piers had to be specially extended to accommodate this new giant – indeed at Tarbert the HEBRIDES had to back out a considerable distance from the pier before she is able to spin round to face Scalpay and Skye!

Upon her entry into service on 24th March 2001 she supplanted the HEBRIDEAN ISLES, which in turn sailed south for pastures new. Continuing the trend set by her predecessor, the HEBRIDES loaded via her stern ramp at Uig and through her bow at the two Outer Isles ports. Also like the CLANSMAN, the new ship featured an open stern so as to be able to carry hazardous goods whilst still carrying foot passengers. This was a feature that prevented many such loads traveling from Ullapool to Stornoway as the ISLE OF LEWIS incorporated a totally enclosed car deck.

Her service speed was set as 16.5 knots and her crossing times were cut to around 100 minutes. There were still no Sunday sailings to or from Tarbert, so instead the HEBRIDES concentrated on serving North Uist. Her timetable called for practically all her sailings to go via Uig although in reality she did carry out direct sailings from Lochmaddy to Tarbert following times of disruption when she was needed to pick up her timetable and also for other special runs which were carried out at times.
Since her introduction there has been much more of a leaning towards serving Lochmaddy than Tarbert, especially in the winter months when the ratio is something like 2:1 in favour of North Uist. The introduction of the new LOCH PORTAIN in 2003 has meant that inter-island access has become far easier and this, in addition to Lewis and Harris being served by the mighty ISLE OF LEWIS at Stornoway, could be one of the factors leading to one terminal being served more than the other.

In the 5 years the HEBRIDES has been in service, she has rarely (if at all) deviated from the Little Minch. One notable exception to this occurred when the linkspan at Uig was closed for maintenance. The result was a detour to Ullapool (which was a pain in the neck for those wanting to go to Lochmaddy) and for a period of a week or so she sailed on a special timetable between Loch Broom and the Outer Hebrides. It was on this occasion that she found herself running in partnership with CLANSMAN at Ullapool as the older ferry was covering the Stornoway run while ISLE OF LEWIS was away getting some tlc. The only other times the two have met have been when CLANSMAN arrives in Uig and to cover for her overhaul and then following her conversion to burn oil in 2007 when she was tested on the long haul routes out of Oban. She was left in charge of the Coll - Tiree and Barra - South Uist sailings for a period of one week before being released to return to her regular roster. (Pictures of her on this duty can be seen here).
 


At Ullapool while Uig linkspan was shut


Arriving at Tarbert, Harris
Balephuil Bay (SoC Forum)
Arriving at Tiree
The HEBRIDES has not only revived a traditional name on this route but she has brought with her the highest level of passenger comfort ever seen in the fleet. Even with a passenger certificate for around 600, she never feels crowded unlike other ships and it is only at the peak times she has to use her mezzanine car deck which runs down the starboard side of the central casing. With a ship this size on permanent station at Uig there is lots of room for future increases in demand.

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)


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