Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Suilven History

The new shorter route to the Northern Outer Isles was becoming ever popular with both tourist and commercial traffic and the aging, lengthened and underpowered Clansman was struggling to keep up with the pace in 1973. It was obvious that another vessel was needed for the Stornoway crossing. CalMac always on the look out for second hand vessels as well as new, came across a Norwegian built ferry and announced on the 12th December 1974 announced that they had acquired her, and named her Suiven after a mountain on Lewis. She was originally intended for a service across the Oslofjord in the country of her builders. To be named Basto VI she and her sister ship Basto V were designed to take 120 - 180 cars, ample enough for the Lewis crossing. Her Norwegian owners had problems with the twins new terminal length and had to put her up for sale while she was still on the stocks.

 With her sister layed-up and herself left with just the keel laid in the yard, CalMac jumped at the chance of an inspection of her completed sister. It was found that to increase capacity vehicles were loaded onto a lower deck under the main deck via lift ramps. This space usually filled with bilge and ballast equipment would not be accepted by the British Safety Standards Board. Along with being below the fire line it was known that these were required to fill the entire beam of the ship and not just the side compartments that Basto V had. Along with a few minor standards across the ship it was decided that the time and cost would be far greater than could be allowed. They then turned to the keel of her twin sister - now this was a better option, a few design changes here and there and hey presto!

BASTǾ V at Moss

She was completed in a three way contract between her builders, the Norwegian ferry operator and CalMac to the fit the new British safety standards. After a brief stall when the electrical contractors striked, she made the crossing of the North Sea to her new home on the western seaboard of Scotland and Gourock on the 19th August - in no way her longest crossing of her career to come!

On arrival at the company HQ onlookers were outstand by her sheer size for a vessel in the fleet at that time. Calling briefly at Oban to 'show the flag' she took over from the grateful Clansman on the 27 August 1974. Very much a state of the art vessel for her time, she set new standards for the Lewis service and was to remain there for most of her career with the company. When entered service she had the highest vehicle capacity in the fleet which was well utilised on the Stornoway service which attracted heavy numbers of commercial traffic. She settled down to operated two crossings per day in summer reducing this to mainly one during the quieter winter periods. She berthed bow in at Stornoway and stern at Ullapool - a tradition that continues today. There wasn't many faults with the proud new ship but she did now and again have the tendency to switch one of her engines to reverse through her complex electrical controls - resulting in a circular motion. This was quickly rectified by experts from the German company who fitted them in the vessel originally.

Later in her career covering at Lochmaddy

The Norwegians also designed her with a combined passenger / catering / bar saloon which didn't really suit the new passengers requirements and a screen was erected to cordon off different areas. Later in her career she was fitted with stabilisers at a annual overhaul at Greenock which gave passengers an even smoother ride across the sometimes choppy Minch.

She worked to a pretty tight timetable in her lifetime with CalMac, she was given 3 1/2 hours to complete the passage and a 1/2 hour to turn around and return back. In 1979 the single day winter crossings were increased to two return sailings per day (except Sabbath Sundays) to keep up with the amounts of traffic she was generating. Traffic levels had grown so much in fact that she had to offer two more single returns per week. These were carried out on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the off season. Nothing much changed as she continued her set pace back and forth from Stornoway except the timings between 1981 - 1984 but these settled down after the latter and she got back into place serving the most northern route in the network.

Picture: StewartM (SoC Forum)
In Garvel Dry-Dock

Relief's before 1983 were always carried out by her predecessor the 1964 Clansman until 1984 when the new Isle of Arran  was used along with the winter relief from Hebridean Isles  in 1985. While on another annual overhaul in 1983 she was the first ship in the fleet to have 'Caledonian MacBrayne' fixed to her side with huge white metal letters. She was also fitted with aircraft style seating (including the lifejackets!) in her lounge along with being carpeted through out. She also interestingly became one of the official all weather ships supplying metrological information to the Met office.

Berthing at Craignure, Mull

Up until 9th of October 1989 she had not served on any other route apart from her much loved Lewis roster. However the Isle of Mull's extra passenger capacity was required for a National Mod gathering in the Hebridean town and until the 15th of October she switched places with her on the Oban - Craignure crossing and joined the Pioneer to make up capacities. This was not her only wander however, as she was sighted at Lochmaddy, Tarbert and Uig in a short space of time. Sadly for most of the folk that came to lover her on the crossing she was much suited to she had become a victim of her own success and a replacement was drawn up and entered service as the Isle of Lewis in 1995.

The ships dramatically passed each other in Loch Broom on respective first and last days in service. However it was not all over for the faithful fleet member and her seaworthiness was quickly spotted by another respectful company in New Zealand, so yet another epic chapter in her stared career was about to begin. Strait Shipping vowed to keep her name and Suilven made her way under her own power to the other side of the world. She was destined to sail between Wellington and Nelson between the north and South Islands of New Zealand and lasted there for many happy years - respected as much as she was in cooler Scottish waters. Her last sailing from Wellington to Nelson began on the morning of 26 March 2004, and she returned to Wellington on 27th March for lay-up at Aotea Quay whilst air-conditioning units were fitted for yet another new venture. She had again become a victim of her on success and was sold onto Bligh Water Shipping, of Suva, Fiji, a new shipping company with no previous ships. They are to trade as Suilven Shipping, and that name was painted on the port side of the ship in large white letters to replace the previous Strait Shipping logo.

Passing her replacement, Isle of Lewis in Loch Broom near Ullapool

Showing her seaworthiness, hitting heavy swell exiting Wellington Heads 6 February 2002

Her registry was changed from Wellington to Suva on 16th April 2004, and she sailed from Wellington as Suilven in the late afternoon of 16th April 2004 on a five day voyage to Suva. She is to retain her name Suilven a tribute to her successful career. She was initially planned to sail with up to four hundred passengers on a regular service between Suva (on Viti Levu), Savusavu (on Vanua Levu) and the island of Taveuni, about 150 kilometres east of Savusavu. Other routes may be also considered later. Her voyages continue to provide lifeline services, albeit to slightly different islands from her original role! However her current owners, crew and passengers look after her with the same respect that Western Isles folk did on her dedicated route. It is now possible to enjoy the finest local cuisine available onboard her whilst she ply's her trade around Fiji - even a barbeque on deck! May 2005 saw her one year celebration working for Suilven Shipping, a event that the company hopes to see again for her continuing years. Recently fitted with new large air-conditioning units and a continuing internal and external refurbishment her career looks set for a while to come.

Its pleasing to know that such a wonderful ship with such a character is still making her way in the world as a successful 'new' vessel for many companies and is being well treated for her service. Long many her career continue...

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)

More Interesting Pictures In Service:

Passing Duart Castle, Isle of Mull

Alongside another new 1974 vessel, Pioneer at Craignure

All material on this site Ships of CalMac 2001 - 2017, unless otherwise stated.
Join us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Join us on Flickr View us on YouTube SoC AIS SoC Forum Site NOT linked to Official Company
This site is NOT connected to the Official Company Site -
Contact Us
Read our Privacy Policy