Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Lord of the Isles History

Around the same time as the launch of Isle of Mull at Ferguson’s, it was announced that the yard was to begin construction of a further vessel for Western Isles service. The new vessel would be a replacement for two other units in the fleet, namely Columba of 1964 and Claymore of 1978. The new ferry would combine the timetables of both vessels and allow a cascade to take place within the fleet.

The plan was that the new Lord of the Isles would take a new, combined roster which would take in both the Coll and Tiree and the long haul to the Outer Isles. This meant that she would be on the move practically all the time. Also in the plan, the Claymore would move south to take over the Kennacraig - Islay service and in turn the Iona would move north to Mallaig to take the hoist-loading service to Armadale on Skye. The Pioneer would then become the fleet's spare unit, thus allowing the old favourite; Glen Sannox to be withdrawn.

It was March 1989 when the new ship was named Lord of the Isles and subsequently launched. Upon entering the waters of the Clyde she was fitted out prior to running trials. In terms of appearance the new ferry was broadly similar to Isle of Mull at the forward end, while her aft end resembled that of the slightly older Hebridean Isles as her duties in service would require the use of a vehicle hoist. The car deck was capable of holding up to 56 cars whilst the passenger accommodation above provided space for a maximum certificate complement of 506. In addition to the need for a vehicle hoist, Lord of the Isles’ duties called for sailings at antisocial hours, and as a concession to passengers she was equipped with cabins and sleeping berths.

Handover took place a short while later and the ships entered service in time for the high summer season. With Oban as her home base, Lord of the Isles entered service on the Coll – Tiree and Barra – South Uist route, giving three sailings a week on the former route and up to four return sailings a week on the latter. This new roster meant the Lord of the Isles was seldom off duty and often sailed at all hours of the day.

With a service speed of 16 knots, sailing times to the Outer Isles were considerably reduced from those achieved by the previous vessel, Claymore. Likewise the journey time between Oban and the northern entrance of the Sound of Mull was reduced to just over 100 minutes, another improvement on the previous vessel.

Launching from Ferguson's, Port Glasgow

Turning to berth at Scarinish, Tiree

For the next nine years the Lord of the Isles remained in charge of the two routes. Occasionally she would switch places with her Oban consort Isle of Mull when passenger demand required the larger vessel’s superior capacity on the Barra route and would consequently end up taking the Oban – Craignure sailings while her Port Glasgow sister was away north. Due to the nature of the Outer Isles service, this was sometimes subject to disruption at the hands of the weather in the exposed Minch, and it was not unknown for the ship to set off from Barra or South Uist and make straight for the far side of Canna, Rum, Eigg and Muck before making a dash for Ardnamurchan Point and the shelter of the Sound of Mull. This was a far more passenger-friendly route to take in the gale-driven swells of the Minch, rather than the usual direct route south-east, past Oigh-sgeir and to the Sound of Mull.

In addition to her regular duties, Lord of the Isles was also used as relief vessel on various routes such as the Uig triangle and the Ardrossan – Brodick service while the regular vessels were undergoing maintenance during the winter months. She was chosen for this thanks to her general all-purpose specification and ability to berth and load traffic at any of the major terminal locations in the network.


Picture: SoC Crew
Loading at Castlebay

Arriving at Lochboisdale

In the late 1990s it was announced that a further new vessel was to be built as a replacement for Lord of the Isles at Oban. It was then announced that she herself was to be transferred to Mallaig where she would replace the veteran Iona. Due to her out-of-date design, the latter required extensive and costly modifications to keep her in the fleet so it was decided to replace her and put her up for sale. Lord of the Isles was scheduled for the transfer in early 1998, however she was required in Oban until July of that year, until the new and much larger Clansman was available. Upon the replacement’s arrival, the smaller ship went north to Mallaig where she replaced the temporary relief ship Pioneer on the seasonal Mallaig – Armadale crossing.

It is now said that she was far too nice a ferry for a short sailing such as that service. Nevertheless the people of Mallaig and regular users of the service took her to their hearts and still regard Lord of the Isles as the best ships to serve the route to this day. With a crossing time of just under half an hour, Lord of the Isles could provide many return sailings each day. In addition to this, another duty was brought in on a trial period. It was decided to try and revive the old Outer Isles sailings from Mallaig, something which had previously ceased under the reign of the Iona. Unfortunately these were not successful and were ceased before long. Once again the isolation of Mallaig compared with Oban proved to be the downfall of the route.

Head-on, approaching Kerrera

The former Outer Isles ferry remained at Mallaig for just a few seasons, and during the winter months she returned to Oban and her original routes to assume a relief role while the Clansman went off covering for other large units. In 2003 however, with a new sheltered-water vessel on order from an English shipyard, the Lord of the Isles was transferred and returned to full time service out of Oban, having left Mallaig in the temporary care of PIONEER once more.

This move was with a view to bringing about general improvements to all the routes based from Oban. She was the third large ship to be permanently based there, alongside Isle of Mull and Clansman and provided various extra sailings to Mull, Colonsay, Islay, Coll, Tiree, Barra and South Uist as well as introducing the popular Castles Cruise. In previous summers the Isle of Arran had carried out these additional sailings, but she was now secondary ship on the Islay service, alongside Hebridean Isles.
The situation is still the same today and Lord of the Isles continues to provide additional sailings to a wide range of routes. That said, the draft proposals regarding the Mallaig - Lochboisdale route (see here) may well see Lord of the Isles returning to Mallaig at some point in the future. Watch this space...

With seven islands appearing regularly in her routine, she is easily the most-travelled vessel in today's fleet, having also seen service on the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay route over the May Day holiday weekend in 2004. She can also claim to have carried out sailings on the Gourock - Dunoon route, although these were only for the purposes of berthing trials.

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)

In service at Wemyss Bay

Lying overnight at the north pier

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