SoC Crew Diary - Al's April (2005)

The first day of the holidays found the SoC Chief News Reporter getting up at the back of 5am for the trip north to Oban. We set off on the A82. The road would take us up the side of Loch Lomond through Crianlarich and Tyndrum on to the A85 to Oban.

When we arrived in Oban, the Lord of the Isles was at the linkspan and the Bruernish at the Lismore berth. We rounded the Bay to Oban ferry Terminal to find it empty. We were extremely early for the 9 am departure, so the ramp had not yet been lowered. As we waited, I decided to go and have a nosy at the new Terminal building. When I returned I found the Ramp being lowered. There were only 4 cars and a van going on this sailing, I realised that the trip out would be quiet We were ordered forward to board the ferry, down the linkspan and on the Bow ramp, as the car deck was empty, we were parked at the stern, ready to drive off first.

After climbing the stairs, we found a seat in the bar. As the Captain came over the speaker announcing the soon departure to Tiree, I consulted the Timetable. The Previous night I had noted that the Isle of Mull would be returning to Oban from her overnight stay at Craignure. So I preceded to gather the camera and head up on deck to catch her in the Firth of Lorne. On the way I made a slight detour via the Cafeteria to grab myself a sausage roll, with plenty of ketchup.

Up on deck, as we sterned effortlessly out of the linkspan, the safety message came over the loud speaker informing us of the safety procedures in place on the vessel. We crossed Oban Bay and swung round the Corran Ledge marker buoy before passing the northern end of Kerrera and heading out into the Firth of Lorne. As expected, in the distance, the Isle of Mull was making her way to Oban, so I prepared myself, in the perfect position, waiting for her to approach. She passed very quickly, as she was sailing at 15 knots in one direction and we were sailing at 16 knots in the opposite direction, this makes for a very short and tense photo opportunity.

As the Isle of Mull passed, I turned my attention to the ever nearing Lismore Light. I am always fascinated by this Lighthouse as every photo I have taken turns out amazing. With the mountains of the northern glens under a very unusual light, I snapped, capturing the lighthouse in darkness, with the glens in full sunshine.

We continued on our journey passing Duart Castle, and then Craignure further up on our left, the main port on Mull, where the Isle of Mull sails to from Oban. Unfortunately where I was standing to take the pictures of Lismore Lighthouse, I was adjacent to the galley ventilation duct, where I was overcome with delicious smells from the deck below. So with my camera switched off, I went below for a well deserved feast.

When I surfaced from the cafeteria, a good few pounds heavier, we were now in the Sound of Mull. As we sailed through the narrows we came across Lochaline, and another photo opportunity, this time the Loch Fyne. I consulted the timetable to see if she would be out in the Sound, but she was not due for another hour. However I decided to go up on deck anyway to see if I could get a glimpse of her at the slip. After getting a few shots of her until she went out of sight, I decided to make my way back indoors, when something moving out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. Low and behold the Loch Fyne was crossing to Fishnish. I did not waste time on wondering why the heck she was doing this, so I switched on the camera, holding the zoom button until the noise had stopped, and began clicking. Only when I finally went in doors and consulted the timetable for a third time did I realise I was looking at Saturdays timetable and not Sundays. The attraction of a few hours sleep until Coll was now warranted so I headed for the lounge.

I awoke after one of the best sleeps, to the captain informing us we would shortly be arriving at Coll. I grabbed the camera and made a run for the upper deck of Loti, for some pictures of our approach. The weather was fantastic. With ease the Captain swung us around into the berth, for the brief call at the linkspan. I decided that because it was only 50 minutes until we arrived in Tiree, and it was such a nice day, I would stay up on deck.

On our arrival at Tiree we swung round the point into Gott Bay, the pier was now in view. The Captain came over the loudspeaker warning us that shortly the stabilisers will be pulled in to let us along side, so she may roll a bit in the swell, so would everyone be seated while this manoeuvre was being carried out. As I was halfway down a flight of stairs at this point in time, I had no hesitation to make a beeline for a chair. After docking was complete, I made my way towards the gangway, as I wanted to walk off the vessel. Once I was off the gangway, and safely on dry land, I noticed a giant hole in the side of the passenger building on the pier, I eventually concluded that one of the gangways must of gone through it in the storm back in January.

After unloading and loading her cargo for the return journey to Coll and finally Oban, the Lord of the Isles restarted her engines. Powering up, the Captain came back on the loudspeaker welcoming everyone for the return journey, and asking them to listen to the safety announcement. While this was going on I was making a run for the rocks next to the old pier. As the tide was out, I was able to get right up close to her as she was leaving and get very unusual pictures of her on this fantastic day. With the ropes loosened, under the Captains guidance, she pulled effortlessly off the pier and out into the bay. Rounding the point and setting the course for Coll, she was away.

The return journey was exactly a week later. As we arrived at the pier, all was normal, or we thought. The weather was poor, wet and windy, as seen on many a day at Tiree. As I prepared myself for no photos on the return journey to Oban, I noticed out in the distance, a vessel was turning the point. This vessel was not one I recognised to be the Lord of the Isles, but rather her elder sister, the Isle of Arran. I was very intrigued to the cause of the Lord of the Isles not being here, so I went to investigate. I found out that Loti had a mechanical problem and the Arran was covering her while repairs were carried out. By this time Isle of Arran was round the point and vastly approaching the berth. In view of the weather I made for a sheltered spot. I could not miss this opportunity for photos of the Isle of Arran at Scarinish.

After making a very cautious approach to the berth, the Isle of Arran tied up, and the stern door was lowered onto the linkspan. Passengers and cars quickly disembarked and the queue at the top of the pier was ordered down to the Linkspan. She wasn't moving as much at the pier as I would of thought, seeing as the weather was so bad. We drove on to the newly strengthened car deck. On my way up on deck, I had a good look at the new car deck, noting the difference in height compared to the old one. Once up on deck I realised how old the Isle of Arran really was. I had not been on her in some time, so I did not appreciate the difference between her and the younger by 1 year, Hebridean Isles

Up on deck once more, we pulled away from Scarinish, and Tiree. It would be another 4 months until my return. The Captain came over the loud speaker welcoming us aboard for this journey to Coll and Oban. As we rounded the point, and the pier went out of sight, we made for the Cafeteria and some lunch. When we emerged from the cafe, we were approaching Coll, and once more the Captain came over the loud speaker announcing our immediate arrival.

Taking full advantage of the walk round at the front, I set up shop beneath the bridge wing, sheltering from the rain, with a great view. What else could I ask for! As we approached the berth, the Captain smoothly spun the vessel on the end of the pier to get the stern into the linkspan. This gave for a very unusual view of the back of the pier, a view you don't usual get from Loti. This side of the berth was also used long before the linkspan was built, when vessels including the Claymore (1955), Loch Seaforth and Columba were on the run. It was only used when the other berth was occupied.

Ropes untied, engines full ahead, we were off once more, this time for the Sound of Mull. After consulting the Timetable, I noted that Clansman would be outward bound to Barra, and that we would meet her at some point in the Sound. Until then, I thought a bit of quality time spent reading the paper was in order. Once the paper was read from front to back, then back to front, I proceeded up on deck once more to under the bridge wing as the rain was back on, and very heavy. After waiting for sometime, a shadow appeared through the grey clouds over hanging the Sound of Mull, so I zoomed full in to see what it was. I didn't notice that the Loch Fyne was also in the picture until I looked at them on the computer later that night.

The Clansman approached very quickly, which meant I had to snap like crazy. She was very close, which gave great photos, even in the wet and misty weather. As she passed, her brand new bridge windows were in full view. The middle of the side windows were lengthened to match the others. This was done to give the skipper a better view while berthing at piers. She powered past us at her usual 16.5 knots, give or take a few depending on the tide, creating that very unusual bow wave only produced by her and her sister Hebrides

With the Clansman now clear of our baffles and on her course to Barra I turned to see where the Loch Fyne was. With weather not getting any better, it took me a while to spot her through the rain and mist. She was sitting at Fishnish. As the Isle of Arran pushed her way down the Sound of Mull, I had visions of the Loch Fyne leaving early to get across in front of us.

When we approached to pass Fishnish, the Loch Fyne pulled her ramp off the slip and left for Lochaline. I thought my luck was in today, seeing all this ferry action. With us passing the Clansman where we did, it meant we were over the Fishnish side of the Sound. This made for excellent photos as the Loch Fyne came very close to the Arran as she passed round our stern. The walk round deck at the front of the Arran coming into full use once more

After the Loch Fyne went out of sight, I again returned for shelter at the bridge wing. I thought to myself I had seen it all. How wrong I was. As we did our turn at Lismore Light, for the straight course to the Red Lady, with Craignure to our right, the Lord of the Isles came into view. She was making a steady course for the entrance to the Sound of Mull, but she hadn't come from the north exit of Oban, but from the south, through the Sound of Kerrera. She was out testing her recent repairs to her stabiliser. This gave another great photo opportunity. The 6x optical zoom on my camera came into its own as she was far away from us as she passed. After slowing up to let the Isle of Mull out of Craignure, the Lord of the Isles berthed on the spare side of the pier for general maintenance, and additional modifications to her stabiliser. At this time we were carrying out the sharp turn into Oban Bay, passing Dunollie Castle to our left.

On the shore near the lighthouse was SoC Crew Member, Dave Wolstenholme, with camera in hand. Thankfully snapping the unusual event of the Isle of Arran entering Oban Bay. As we waved our hellos, we slowly approached the linkspan and the visor opened. The Captain came over the loud speaker for the last time informing us of our arrival in Oban, and the end of my Holiday.

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