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The last of the Island Class to be built was the RAASAY. She entered the Clyde from Lamont’s slipway on 23rd March 1976 and was in public service a little over a month later.
 
Her introduction saw the completion of the Island Class – eight ferries in all, dating from the KILBRANNAN of 1972 right up to this latest ship. The name of the new ferry rather gave away her intended route; that between Sconser on the Isle of Skye, and the little island after which she was named. Consequently she replaced the CANNA and became the third Raasay ferry in two years. This time though the island gained a ferry for the next two decades.

RAASAY was based at the inner berth of the pier on the island as opposed to on Skye. This measure ensured that in an emergency there was always a vessel on hand to transport people off the island, for example when there was a medical problem. Raasay was also the terminal that boasted a proper berth, whereas Sconser merely provided a structure for the ferry to lie against whilst loading from the slipway.

Picture: Fladda (SoC Forum)
Arriving at Raasay on her original run


For the next 20 years the little RAASAY remained loyal to ‘her’ island. She was only ever off duty for her annual overhauls, when she would be relieved by RHUM or COLL or one of the other small ferries in the winter months. When she was based at Raasay she did not miss a full day’s sailings in all the time she was on station, be it through weather-borne disruptions or mechanical problems – something of a unique claim to fame!
 
Picture: Fladda (SoC Forum)
Arriving at Rona while on charter
Picture: Fladda (SoC Forum)
Loading for Sconser in the evening


In addition to her regular sailings between Sconser and Raasay, the island's faithful servant was also available for charter at certain times and as a result RAASAY occasionally saw variety in the form of charters to the neighbouring island of Rona to the north.
 

Picture: Fladda (SoC Forum)
Beached at Raasay for repairs
Picture: Fladda (SoC Forum)
Lying alongside relief ferry Rhum


As the years went on the island became more popular with visitors and in the late 1990s it was announced that Raasay would be getting a larger ferry – one of the 1986 ‘Loch Class’ vessels which were to be relocated as part of a fleet reshuffle. RAASAY was duly replaced by the 12-car LOCH STRIVEN in summer 1997 and then assumed the role of spare ferry for the first time in her career with Calmac. She spent much of her time lying at Oban or Tobermory, ready to relieve the EIGG or COLL respectively and did on occasion carry out sailings on the Lismore and Kilchoan routes when required. Thanks in no small part to the care and maintenance given to her during her years at Raasay, she was always one of the Island Class ships in the best condition; a feature that was obviously recognised when it came to selecting two vessels to be put up for sale in 1998 (RHUM and COLL were to leave the fleet for further service).

Picture: SoC Crew
Loading for Lismore with Clansman behind

Picture: SoC Crew
RAASAY seen on winter duties at Tobermory

In the years since then the RAASAY saw a fairly established routine develop. She would often be found at Gourock and elsewhere on the Clyde through the summer months before relocating to Tobermory in the autumn ready to take over the winter service to Kilchoan from LOCH LINNHE in October. This winter role would see RAASAY carrying out three return sailings a day during the week, with two on Saturdays and then a day off on Sundays. Generally her 6 car capacity proved to be more than adequate for the Tobermory - Kilchoan run at this time of year, although since the winter of 2006/7 RAASAY was only used when LOCH LINNHE was employed elsewhere. It was during her role as Kilchoan ferry that RAASAY found fame on the small screen, first in a Peugot advert and then in the BBC's Balamory show for children.


In her current role, RAASAY now lies in Oban during the summer months. She is the dedicated relief vessel on the Ballycastle - Rathlin run and heads south at the end of each summer to relieve the CANNA. She also relieves the EIGG in February or March and undergoes her own overhaul in August. 2007 saw RAASAY return to the world of charters when, in November, she was chartered by Argyll & Bute Council to cover for their own vessel EILEAN DHUIRA between Port Askaig and Feolin on Jura. She sailed south from Tobermory but was back within 48 hours, the regular vessel being repaired sooner than planned.
 

Picture: SoC Crew
Crossing the Sound of Islay while on charter
Picture: SoC Crew
Entering Mallaig harbour


There is also one other duty that RAASAY now has in her calendar. Following the departure of the PIONEER in 2003, the Small Isles lacked a relief vessel for when LOCHNEVIS went off for overhaul in mid-October. RAASAY was chosen as one of the relief ferries, running in tandem with the chartered ULLIN OF STAFFA on a special timetable for two or three weeks.

There was talk of the Island Class slowly being eased out of the fleet, however she has just received a new inflatable lifeboat in the place of her rigid lifeboat which would imply that she has a purpose still to serve yet. Indeed she is still providing much useful service despite being into her fourth decade of her CalMac career.

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)

Other Articles of Interest:
Fleet Feature: 'Island Class'

Picture: SoC Crew
Approaching Kilchoan


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