Ships of the Fleet
IONA was the first of a new,
second generation of major car ferries completed in the 1970s for the Scottish
Transport Group companies. She was also the first drive-through RO/RO ferry
built for the fleet and in fact would be the only drive-through ship laid down
for the Company until 1983. Fast and extremely versatile, she would enjoy a
far-flung career and inaugurate more endloading linkspans than the rest of the
fleet put together. For much of her career her galley was reputed to produce the
best food in CalMac and her crews always praised her as an excellent sea boat.
But very basic and
distinctly soulless she is remembered with very little affection by the
Highland public and was assailed throughout her career for her cramped
facilities and entire lack of character. There were also serious design faults
which, when MCA regulations were ferociously tightened after the ESTONIA tragedy
in the mid-1990s, hastened her demise from CalMac service. PIONEER, though no
less Spartan and by most standards even more hideous in profile, was genuinely
loved by the end of her CalMac career; few regretted the passing of IONA.
IONA's early career was thrown
entirely askew because she was unable to operate on the route for which she was
built. Islay and its satellites were not blessed by MacBrayne's car ferry
revolution of 1964 and the Company quickly set about plans to build a fourth
dual-purpose car ferry to replace the ageing 1939 mailboat LOCHIEL, which still
chugged to Islay, Jura, Gigha and Colonsay from her pier high in the shallow
reaches of West Loch Tarbert. Islanders, though especially on Islay were
massively divided on what form a new car ferry service should take. Apart from
the extremely unhelpful rivalry between Islay's competing ports, Port Ellen and
Port Askaig, many thought the island was best served by an overland
solution, using Jura as a stepping-stone between the shortest points from the
Argyll mainland to Jura and from Jura to Port Askaig.
Early in 1968 the
Secretary of State for Scotland, William Ross, finally dismissed the overland
solution on the grounds of cost and authorised MacBraynes to order the
building of a large new car ferry for the Argyll Hebrides. The contract was
awarded to the Ailsa yard on 10th December, at a cost of £740,000,
and Argyll County Council was instructed to proceed with building suitable
terminals; as a deep-drafted vessel was on the stocks at Ailsa, new facilities
were required much further down West Loch Tarbert, and a site at Redhouse was
identified. The new ferry was expected to enter service in the spring of 1970
and if the Redhouse terminal was not ready for use she would serve Port Askaig
and Colonsay from Oban. (MacBraynes seemed happy to abandon Jura to Western
Ferries their bowloader SOUND OF GIGHA provided a frequent service at Feolin
Ferry, across the narrows from Port Askaig - and it is not clear how the Company
planned to look after Gigha.)
The County Council must be judged as the villain
of the piece because in January 1969, after preliminary test-borings, the ruling
fathers of Argyll gaily declared they would not, after all, proceed with works
at Redhouse, abdicating on grounds of cost. They also had a powerful alibi a
private concern, Western Ferries Ltd., had started its own roll-on/roll-off
ferry service to Islay, cheap and cheerful in the extreme but backed by powerful
haulage interests in Port Askaig and Jura. Yet the Islay people still demanded a
continued service by David MacBrayne Ltd. - whose well-crewed vessels had far
better passenger facilities despite this highly unhelpful competition. It
was the start of a painful saga which would stalk the Company for a decade;
Western Ferries were not slow to exploit a well-disposed press and taxpayers
were readily roused to ire by the thought of public money being squandered in
contest with private enterprise.
The new Scottish Transport Group had taken control
of combined CSP and MacBraynes shipping services that New Year and so inherited
the entire controversy. The tipping-point was the deep draft of the new ferry
building at Troon. She could certainly not operate from MacBrayne's existing
West Loch Tarbert pier. Nor in 1969 would either the Treasury, or public opinion,
bear the heavy cost of building new facilities at Escart Bay the latest site
identified on the Kintyre peninsula when they would all but duplicate
Western Ferry's base at nearby Kennacraig.
STG bosses felt the route from Oban to Port Askaig
and Colonsay was simply too long and so in a turn of events that dumbfounded
MacBraynes the entire scheme was abandoned in August 1969. Instead, it was
intimated, one of the pioneering Clyde car ferries would replace LOCHIEL at
Islay the following spring; the hoist-loading ARRAN could, after all, use the
existing piers and counter the Western Ferries enterprise at very little cost.
And the new ferry building at Troon would, as a temporary quid
pro quo, take up service on the Clyde for
all very unfair, and hard for MacBrayne officials to swallow; the Company had,
especially in the 1960s, shown much more professionalism and flair than the CSP.
For their pains, it would be two years before the state-of-the-art ferry on the
stocks at Troon would enter MacBrayne service and almost a decade before she
would be permanently stationed at Islay.
was launched, in brilliant sunshine, on 22nd January 1970 and named
by Mrs P M Thomas, whose husband Patrick was Chairman of the Scottish Transport
Group. The new vessel thus acquired a historic MacBrayne name which though
conserved carefully for Company use by a succession of wee Iona launches had
last been borne by the celebrated paddler of 1863, finally scrapped in 1935 at
the splendid old age of 72. Otherwise the ship bore not the least resemblance to
that much-loved steamer.
ferry's fitting out took longer than expected, owing to delays by
subcontractors, and rather than the week or two confidently expected for proving
runs before the start of the Clyde summer timetable, IONA finally set sail just
a day before it began. She was still missing a plate-glass window in in her
lounge, due to a glaziers' strike; and assorted saloon fittings, such as a clock
IONA eventually ran trials on Monday 25th May from 11.30 am to 9 pm.
After two days for adjustments at Troon there were more trials from 8.30 am on
Thursday 28th, and the new ship attained a remarkably high speed on
the Skelmorlie measured mile 17.51 knots. At 7.45 pm that day she was handed
over to MacBraynes and left Troon at 8.30 the following morning for Gourock. At
18.10 that same evening, Friday 29th May, she left Gourock under the
command of Captain Archie Downie on her first public sailing to Dunoon and
in the service of the CSP. IONA thus displaced CLANSMAN on charter from
MacBraynes until the newcomer was ready for service; CLANSMAN was at last free
to dash to Mallaig for the Armadale service and assumed the Gourock-Dunoon
crossing with BUTE as her consort. Only four days later the MacBrayne red on
IONA's apology for a funnel was painted yellow.
IONA passing BUTE off Gourock early in her career.
was emphatically a car ferry and positively bristled with ramps her high bow
incorporated a bow visor and, aft, she flaunted a low stern with stern-ramp,
behind her hoist and side-ramps originally intended for Colonsay. The hoist
could handle loads of 27.5 tons greater capacity than the 1964 MacBrayne
ferries and, like theirs, incorporated two turntables. Traffic for the hoist
was marshalled not by sliding trellis gates, as on the pioneering car carriers,
but by automatic barriers similar to those used in commercial car-parks. The
car deck itself was the height of two decks; it could take vehicles up to 16 ½
feet in height and was specially strengthened to carry 32-ton loads. IONA could
take 47 large cars or, records G E Langmuir, 11 30-ft vehicles and seven cars.
bore four large lifeboats and two nicely raked masts. Her tiny funnel, though,
was a dummy the bridge-controlled engines (another Company first) vented
through twin exhausts immediately forward of her lift, and these also
incorporated the hoist-control cabins - and housed the vessel's battery room. It
looked distinctly silly. She was ten feet longer than HEBRIDES and her sisters,
and of greater draft if of slightly less beam; but her twin rudders gave her
greater manoeuvrability. She enjoyed a bow-thrust unit and retracting
stabilisers; a thruster was now standard for a major car ferry, but the
stabilisers were not operational while she remained on Clyde service.
IONA's profile view as launched.
vehicle facilities certainly impressed; IONA's passenger accommodation, though,
compared very poorly with the 1964 ships. For a start, there wasn't much of it
and no one could describe her saloons as spacious. There was a full-width
lounge, with seating for 101 passengers, forward on the boat deck. It was quite
pleasantly decorated, with seats upholstered in shades of violet and blue: by
the end of her career these had been recovered in sick-coloured vinyl. However,
seated passengers enjoyed but poor views her high bows obstructed the
outlook forward and in event winter-boarding seemed to cover those windows
almost all rear round.
this, a deckhouse held a cafeteria for 97 passengers. Below the boat deck and on
either side of the car deck but raised 8 ½ feet above that level were
two gallery decks, incorporating gangway entrances for use at high tide,
and her officer's berths. IONA's grim smoke-room/bar was situated below the car
deck at least Clyde commuters were used to this by now and could seat fifty
people; on this lower deck, too, were the quarters for her crew.
bid to economise and most unusually for a big MacBrayne ship the new
ferry had no sleeping accommodation for passengers. She was nevertheless granted
a Class V certificate for 581 passengers, though the Islay station did not
require a passenger capacity greater than 400 on a Class III. Designed to
Lloyd's Class + 100A1, for service in exposed Western Isles waters (or the
Clyde, downfirth) IONA had BoT IIA and III Certificates for 160 and 403
passengers in winter and summer respectively.
was more single-berth officer accommodation on IONA's navigating bridge deck.
The new ferry's machinery certainly impressed. The Denny-Brown retractable
stabilisers complimented the diesel-driven 3-ton bow-thrust controllable-pitch
propeller, and her main machinery consisted of twin Paxman engines each driving
a fixed-pitch propeller through a gear; this, noted Mr Langmuir, gives propeller
speed of 300 rpm, compared with the engine speed of 900 rpm, and a speed of 16
knots at 80 per cent continuous rating. Control can be had from the consoles in
the engine-room, in the wheelhouse, in the bridge wings, or at the aft end of
the navigation bridge deck, for astern working.
normal service speed proved to be just over 15 knots, with something useful in
reserve. IONA was in fact the first ship in the Company's history to have her
screws powered via geared transmission, instead of direct drive, but these
gearboxes were to be a regular source of trouble throughout her career. She had,
in fact, two serious design faults. The first was trivial, but annoyed a host of
travellers over the years: IONA boasted very little open deck space for
passengers, and what little there was was pretty cluttered with mooring bitts
and so on. She was the Company's first vessel without traditional teak decking
and, as years went by and paint encrusted, her composite decking hosted an
annoying number of puddles.
more serious was her bow-visor; it was an extraordinary design, raised not on a
hinge but by an odd racking system. The visor wasn't even watertight and, when
regulations were tightened so fiercely late in her career, the IONA's sphere of
passenger-carrying operation became very limited. In addition the bow-ramp was
so foolishly designed several sections, coiling back into the vehicle deck
like a dragon's turn that it consumed several car spaces.
there was to be no shortage of trouble in these early months; even schedules had
been deliberately eased for the newcomer on the Dunoon service there were
still no linkspans at either port and CLANSMAN, with her 50-car capacity, had
always struggled to keep to the traditional 20-minute turnround times. IONA was
leniently scheduled on the service, providing eight return crossings daily
through the week and six on Sundays, with 45 minutes allowed for most of her
early as 30th May, on only her second day in service, the IONA had to
be despatched to Troon for repairs to her starboard ramp, which she had damaged
at Dunoon the previous day. Hoist repairs took a whole day and she did not
return till Monday 1st June GLEN SANNOX had dashed to relieve her
and the two vessels briefly consorted one another. On 2nd June, IONA
was again out of service her forward capstan needed repairs. Later in June
her bow-thrust unit gave up the ghost; by this time Clyde traffic was such that
IONA could not be granted any more time off, and she had to operate without it
until able to retreat to dock in October. (It broke down again four days later.)
Her automatic steering failed as soon as she left Gourock on 1st
November by now IONA was doing special once-weekly Gourock-Brodick runs, in
the absence of the new CALEDONIA, to collect long commercial vehicles beyond the
capabilities of GLEN SANNOX and after sailing in helpless circles she
finally managed to berth back at Gourock, with all the greater difficulty as her
capstans seized their moment to break down too.
this was duly fixed; then, on Wednesday 11th November, IONA suffered
the first of what was going to be a regular crisis in her career, the failure of
her (starboard) gearbox. She lay out of action for two days at Gourock while
repairs were effected, but then managed to complete 1970 without incident;
indeed, she remained almost constantly on the Gourock-Dunoon station until
November 1971, apart from occasional assistance at Arran. The shallow waters
around Wemyss Bay precluded her use on the Rothesay station.
real problem was that she was operating a service for which she was not built
and by means a side-loading hoist which had never been intended as her
primary mode of operation. Nevertheless Iain C MacArthur quite fairly describes
her architect's failure to add a turntable at the forward end of her car deck as
a careless omission, and this made the management of on-board traffic
especially long vehicles and trailers all the more difficult. Between that
blunder, and her unfortunate run of mechanical breakdown no doubt
exacerbated by all her hi-tech equipment, beyond the experience of CSP officers
IONA struggled to keep to her timetable. Once she was able to end-load at
Gourock she hanselled the new linkspan on 26th July 1971
matters considerably improved, but as she had still to hoistload at Dunoon she
was unable to freight the 32-ton vehicles for which she had been designed.
that design bore scarcely any resemblance to a previous Ailsa car ferry like
GLEN SANNOX only thirteen years before or even the 1964 trio of
MacBrayne car carriers. The most obvious influence on the darkly utilitarian
IONA was her intended rival SOUND OF JURA, built in Norway for Western Ferries
in 1968 the first drive-through ferry in west coast waters and of frankly
IONA's own overhaul, she had two bursts of Clyde relief early in 1972
Ardrossan to Brodick, and back on the Dunoon station and was at last
released from CSP charter. On 4th April 1972 her funnel was painted
MacBrayne red and IONA set sail for the Western Isles.
began MacBrayne service on the Port Askaig and Colonsay run for which, after
all, she had been built but from Oban, not West Loch Tarbert. From 1st
May she displaced the ageing LOCH SEAFORTH as Stornoway mailboat, and IONA duly
offered a car-carrying service thereafter to Kyle of Lochalsh and Mallaig. This
was to be but a temporary expedient as Ullapool had now been designated the most
suitable mainland port; though lacking a rail connection, the passage to
Ullapool was a shorter crossing and much more convenient for drivers, especially
with its relative proximity to Inverness. The change was just as well, for
IONA's basic passenger facilities and lack of sleeping berths were
ill-fitted for the very long sailing to the West Highland railheads.
Leaving Kyle of Lochalsh for Stornoway
terminal and linkspan were finally completed at Ullapool and these were
inaugurated by IONA on 26th March 1973; the very old Stornoway
service to Mallaig and Kyle passed into history. IONA still had to hoistload at
Stornoway as the Lewis linkspan took another two months to complete; it finally
opened on 23rd May, and thereafter the IONA (and, indeed, her
successors) bowloaded at Stornoway and sternloaded at Ullapool. She was now, of
course, part of the Caledonian MacBrayne fleet all the MacBrayne car
ferries, bar the second SCALPAY, passed into CalMac on 1st January
1973 but her wee funnel was never adorned by Caley lions.
Caledonian MacBrayne, though operating and advertising all passenger services,
at first only owned the pleasure steamers: the car ferries were transferred to
Caledonian MacBrayne Holdings Ltd. (the former Arran Piers Ltd.) and David
MacBrayne Ltd. still owned the SCALPAY and assorted passenger and cargo-boats,
continuing to operate the surviving cargo service to Stornoway, and certain
loss-making passenger runs, such as Tobermory-Mingary and Mallaig-Small Isles.
The plan was that David MacBrayne Ltd. would run any service requiring a
subsidy, with CalMac operating on profitable lines. It proved to be a pipe dream
and everything was integrated under Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd in 1980; David
MacBrayne Ltd. survives on paper only, with two Directors, no ships, no services
and no function.
not a popular Lewis mailboat - The facilities on the IONA for vehicles are
good, but her passenger accommodation is indifferent, sniffed Francis Thompson
in 1973 but from 13th June IONA was enmired in difficulties that
proved, to this day, to be the most humiliating episode in CalMac history.
began on 13th June 1973 when the Stornoway linkspan broke down. IONA
had to hoistload, again, for three days; there was great relief that the
converted CLANSMAN's entry to service had been held up, as she would have been
unable to load vehicle traffic at all. The ramp had only been repaired for five
days when on 22nd June IONA herself broke down, and for several days
offered but deplorable service, sailing at 10 knots on one engine. (A
passenger-carrying ship would not now be allowed to leave Stornoway or Ullapool
on only one engine.) Naturally, her arrivals and departures soon bore no
recognisable relation to her timetable.
Tuesday 27th June, in a bid to end this ordeal, COLUMBA was at
lunchtime dispatched from Mallaig to relieve her. She left Ullapool with a load
of vehicles that evening 3 ¼ hours late but, forced to hoistload at
both ends, had no hope of maintaining the timetable either. COLUMBA's absence
caused much difficulty on other routes Lochboisdale traffic was diverted via
Uig, and the LOCH ARKAIG had to make extra calls at Armadale and she had to
sail back to her own schedule on Friday 29th June, IONA still
undergone repairs at Stornoway and still out of service.
newly rebuilt CLANSMAN (two months late) was due to reach Ullapool and take the
evening run that night. In fact, CLANSMAN did not arrive until lunchtime on
Saturday 30th June, and sailed an hour later the first departure
from Ullapool since Thursday, where feelings were now running quite high: there
were still no facilities whatever for waiting passengers. On passage, CLANSMAN
promptly developed an electrical fault. She had difficulty berthing in Stornoway
and then had serious problems with her bow-visor. The first car was not unloaded
until 7.45 am on Sabbath morning, almost 24 hours after her arrival at Ullapool.
By now CLANSMAN had completely broken down and there was no ferry sailing from
Stornoway on Saturday: she and IONA lay uselessly by the quayside, a calamitous
advertisement for the newly merged Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd.
had proved a dreadful year for the Company, stalked by delays, breakdown, and
even shipwreck (LOCH SEAFORTH had foundered at Tiree in March; and the MORVERN
briefly sank in the Crinan Canal); and Stornoway proved such a crisis point
for CLANSMAN was plagued by mechanical troubles that summer that the management
seriously investigated the possibility of putting veteran turbine steamer KING
GEORGE V on the Ullapool crossing, in the absence of any conceivable
11th July before IONA's port engine was repaired and she could
proceed to Oban; it broke down again in the Sound of Mull, and it was Friday 13th
July before the fault was definitively fixed. For the rest of that season, IONA
was Oban-Craignure ferry and opened the new Oban linkspan on on 15t5h October.
But she had still not found a permanent role. On 29th April 1974 she
started a new fast Marine Motorway service from Oban to Castlebay and
Lochboisdale, inaugurating a Lochboisdale linkspan that July and berthing there
overnight. The 1955 CLAYMORE took over Coll, Tiree and Colonsay duties for that
season; IONA added Coll and Tiree to her winter roster thereafter, with COLUMBA
serving these small Inner Hebrides every summer from 1975. IONA's winter
timetable also included a non-landing call at Tobermory. She had still, of
course, to use her lift at Barra, Coll and Tiree.
IONA entering Oban Bay mid 70's
from the Outer Isles.
without Coll and Tiree, the sail from Oban to Barra and South Uist was still a
long one and, with very early morning departures, IONA's lack of sleeping berths
was greatly criticised. And so her 1975 refit saw considerable reinvention. A
new deckhouse was added to her upper deck, aft of the officers' accommodation
and incorporating eight double cabins. There were many other minor improvements
such as the installation of a crane by her hoist for flitboat duties at
Tobermory, or as emergency dictated - but the most striking was the demise of
her silly little funnel. Instead IONA's exhausts were lengthened six feet and
painted in CalMac colours.
passage from Oban to the Outer Isles remains the longest in the CalMac roster
all the longer when calls at Coll or Tiree are scheduled, and can never have
been very much fun on such a cramped and ill-fitted ship as IONA. It is doubtful
if anyone has ever described her in such viciously funny terms as the novelist
Allan Campbell McLean, who devoured IONA in his column for the West Highland
Free Press on 6th June 1975. (Mr McLean, who died in 1989,
is best remembered for such classic boys' romps as The Hill of the Red Fox;
this glorious hatchet-job was reprinted, by permission of Free Press director
Brian Wilson, in the West Highland Steamer Club newsletter of October 1975.)
IONA later in her career at Coll.
day of the family amphibious saloon has not yet come. We are spared the sight of
tourists yachting caps at a jaunty angle driving off the end of the pier
at Ullapool and setting course for Stornoway. The seaways are happily free of
the omnivorous car, which is devouring all that is best in the urban
environment, and increasingly fouling the countryside.
disguised as your friendly local councillor connive in the urban
destruction by sanctioning the construction of multi-storied car parks in town
centres. These monstrous concrete mausoleums invariably disfiguring the
centre, no matter how small and attractive the town only succeed in adding
to the already chaotic traffic congestion. Henry Ford thought he was liberating
the peasants when his mass-produced Model T rolled off the first primitive
assembly lines. In fact, he was shackling Western man in servitude to the car.
Even naval architects have fallen under its baleful influence, as anyone who has
travelled aboard the IONA can testify.
comparatively recent addition to the CalMac fleet, the IONA is a floating
car-park, expressly designed for the comfort and convenience of the automobile.
In the eyes of her designer, human freight was clearly a secondary if not a
and promenade space on deck is virtually non-existent. The arrangement in what
is laughingly labelled the observation lounge is of so uncompromisingly bleak a
nature that it might have been lifted straight from a Victorian House of
Correction. In keeping with the reformatory atmosphere, on the day I crossed
from Tiree to Oban aboard the IONA the shutters remained firmly in
place on the for'ard windows. A drab expanse of shuttered windows does little to
enhance a long sea journey. Of course it may have been part of a none too subtle
plot to drive the disgruntled passenger to the bar.
The smoke-room/bar, deep in
the bowels of the ship, has all the charm, colour and gaiety and warmth of a
public lavatory. On the other hand, it could have been a faithful replica of the
traditional old-tyme Glasgow drinking den.
What a joy then to board an
older vessel, the HEBRIDES, and travel in comfort to Tarbert by way of
Lochmaddy. The HEBRIDES is everything that the IONA is not. There is every
facility for the human passenger on deck and below deck and the relaxed,
pleasant service that one remembers from earlier days when CalMac was simply
Given such an admirably
equipped and well-run vessel, it is curious that CalMac should go to such
extraordinary lengths to confuse the travelling public as to her whereabouts on
any given day. The essence of a good timetable, designed to cultivate custom, is
a simple regularity. 'Simple' is the last word that could be used to describe
the incredibly complicated timetable of the HEBRIDES. I defy anyone to commit it
to memory, even after an intensive study.
Obviously, this convoluted
schedule was devised by a malevolent dwarf with a grudge against humanity and a
mad passion for cars. He wants the HEBRIDES withdrawn from service and replaced
by an austere floating car-park, and has hit upon a beautifully simple solution
a timetable of such baffling complexity that CalMac returns on the
Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy run will suffer such a drastic fall that the service will
CalMac should scrap the
existing schedule and replace it with a sensible timetable. As for the
malevolent dwarf, I have the perfect solution for him. He should be given a
CalMac cardboard cup and plastic knife, and banished to the smoke-room of the
MacLean was quite kind in
ascribing the bar to the bowels of IONA. In his jolly Away
With the Ferries (1999), Stuart Craig suggests the facility lay in the
completed five seasons on the Oban-Castlebay/Lochboisdale service, but proved
increasingly too small, especially with the heavy year-round Army traffic to
Uist bases via Lochboisdale. She was at length liberated by two events in 1978:
the commissioning of a new CLAYMORE at year's end (with greater capacity and
beam) and the Scottish Transport Group's purchase of Western Ferries' Kennacraig
facilities in October; PIONEER had, in fact, been using the port since June. The
IONA was at last free to assume the Islay service, which she did on 15th
IONA Turning to berth at Lochboisdale June 1978.
first she gave three return runs daily between Kennacraig and Port Ellen, with
two on Sundays. From 24th October 1979, she was able to use the newly
extended pier at Port Askaig as well, and gave two calls weekly during the
winter. The Company had not timetabled a Port Askaig service since ARRAN's
withdrawal for conversion in 1972. At the end of September 1981 Western Ferries
finally abandoned their Islay service, though retaining SOUND OF GIGHA on Feolin
Ferry. Locals duly petitioned CalMac for more calls to Port Askaig, which were
duly granted, at the expense of Port Ellen.
the start of the 1985 summer timetable IONA lay overnight at the latter port,
rather than at Kennacraig, in a bid to placate Port Ellen's inhabitants
though the arrangement was not continued in 1986. Islay is a difficult service
and, despite providing excellent new facilities at Port Ellen (in 1981) and
Kennacraig (in 1983) CalMac were constantly re-inventing IONA's duties in a bid
to keep as many people as happy as possible.
IONA hoist loading at Armadale
In East India Harbour for repairs
winter IONA relieved CLAYMORE at her old haunts from OBAN (her own relief was at
first PIONEER, and later GLEN SANNOX) and usually had her own refit in February
or March sometimes at Govan, but more usually in Greenock. Losing her crane
in 1983 and a silly Perspex canopy on her limited passengers' open deck
space - she was extensively refurbished in 1984, with passenger lounges
reupholstered and redecorated and the Caledonian MacBrayne lettering
painted on her hull. She continued to be bothered with mechanical trouble
usually her gearboxes but herself helped out in emergencies; in 1982 she
spent two months on the Barra/South Uist run after CLAYMORE's serious grounding
that year spending her first week sailing to Lochmaddy, as the stranded
vessel was blocking Lochboisdale pier and two days assisting at Arran.
April 1986 she made her first of several appearances on the
Uig-Tarbert-Lochmaddy service, after COLUMBA was whipped away for repairs
IONA celebrated her first arrival at Tarbert, that Monday lunchtime, by a
hoist-failure which delayed departure. She was not around to inaugurate more new
linkspans that spring, but she did relieve HEBRIDEAN ISLES for an overhaul.
1989 IONA was once again displaced by CLAYMORE cascading to the Islay
station on the commissioning of LORD OF THE ISLES and she herself took over
the Mallaig to Armadale service, as PIONEER was largely relegated to the role of
back-up on the Clyde following the disposal of GLEN SANNOX. For the first time
in sixteen years IONA was once again on a purely hoist-loading route; on 1st
April 1994, however, she opened linkspans at Mallaig and Armadale, and routine
hoist-loading operations passed into Company history. With the passing of GLEN
SANNOX and KEPPEL she was now the oldest major unit in the CalMac fleet.
She was a great success at Armadale and achieved a remarkable 94% increase in
car traffic and 78% increase in passenger figures. She also in assorted seasons
offered a varying routine of weekend sailings from Mallaig to Castlebay,
Lochboisdale and (less successfully) to Tobermory on Mull. In winter she
relieved widely throughout the fleet. IONA also on occasion was chartered for
special cruises to such exotic haunts as Tarbert Loch Fyne, Canna and even Tighnabruaich and she did eventually do some runs from Wemyss Bay to
Rothesay; she remains the only vessel to have bow-loaded at Wemyss Bay.
was knocking on; she was increasingly unacceptable on the longest ferry
crossings and considerations of deadweight and buoyancy soon demanded massive
works of alteration if she were to remain in CalMac year-round service. It was
not deemed worth it and with the arrival of a new CLANSMAN in 1998, LORD OF THE
ISLES would be free to take over the Mallaig-Armadale run. IONA was accordingly
placed on the sale list and she was formally sold, during the 1997 season, by a
company called Pentland Ferries newly reformed and eager to revive a
Pentland Firth car ferry service from Gills Bay in Caithness to Burwick or St
Margaret's Hope on Orkney. (This had been disastrously attempted by the
well-intended Orkney Ferries in 1989, using a badly designed new ferry between
quite unsuitable terminals and at the loss of millions of pounds in public money
hugely humiliating Orkney Islands Council, which squandered vast sums in
subsidising the ill-planned venture.)
saw out her last days of CalMac service at Armadale, finishing on Saturday 25th
October 1997. On Thursday 23rd the lions were removed from her
funnels and work began on painting out the Company's name.
left Mallaig at midnight that Saturday to be delivered to her new owners, duly
arriving at St Margaret's Hope at noon the following day. After berthing trials
she was left with a skeleton watch until sale formalities were completed that
it would be several seasons before PENTALINA B as she has been renamed
could take up the Gills Bay-Orkney service; she was, however, well maintained
and the seasonal service -b with much learned from the debacle of 1989 has
been a great success. And the former Iona, now in plain red and black funnels
and minus her hoist, did have an unexpected CalMac swansong: caught out in the
summer of 1998 when the ISLE OF LEWIS sustained a major breakdown and the new
CLANSMAN was still not ready for service, Caledonian MacBrayne saw nothing for
it but to charter the PENTALINA B. Accordingly
the ISLE OF MULL dashed to Stornoway and the PENTALINA B sailed south to
maintain the Oban-Craignure service for just under three weeks, in partnership
with PIONEER. She has not since served in West Highland waters. Throughout
her life she was never looked upon as being a 'star', concluded a scribe for the
West Highland Steamer Club, but rather was an efficient workhorse that
undertook efficiently all that was asked of her and so proved herself to be a
most worthy unit of the fleet. In truth, IONA was a small and rather ugly
ferry with a dodgy gearbox, an adequate rather than outstanding ship which never
inspired affection wherever she served.
Text thanks to John MacLeod (C)
PENTALINA B and PIONEER working at Craignure.
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