Crossing Time: 6 hours
Last Ship Iona
Mallaig - Tobermory - Coll - Tiree
Mainland - Mull - Coll - Tiree
1991 - 1994: Iona
Mallaig: Linkspan fitted in 1994 at main ferry berth. Train station located close by. Vehicle marshalling area and office facilities.
Tobermory: Hoist-loading berth at the pier face.
Coll: Pier and linkspan are located at the islands main village; Arinagour. Terminal office contains usual facilities and ticket sales etc. Nearby is the pick up point for island tours.
Tiree: Ferry terminal comprises the office, vehicle marshalling area, pier, linkspan and passenger gangway. The main village on the island is Scarinish.
The early 1990s saw a new emphasis on improving services across the network. During this decade new routes were opened up and many others saw improvements in one form or another, be that by building new ferries with greater capacities, or increased frequency of sailings. The Inner Hebridean islands of Coll and Tiree were among the first places to receive an improved service. Since 1989 the two islands had been served by Lord of the Isles from Oban, and before that the 1964-built Columba had been in charge during the summer months, with Claymore doing the honours in winter.
The timetables had called for three sailings a week from Oban, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. As a new initiative, and utilising the 1970-built Iona, Coll and Tiree were granted a fourth return sailing each week during the high summer season of 1991. The Iona was at this time based at Mallaig for her Skye duties and it was from there that the new service would run.
Although the mainland port was actually a shorter sailing-time from Coll and Tiree, the timetable did include calls in both directions at Tobermory on nearby Mull – something that added to the crossing duration as it involved deviating into the Sound of Mull on both outward and return sailings. Another drawback the new route suffered from was the location of Mallaig itself and the difficult access to it. This did not win any favours with commercial customers, and the vast majority of these vehicles still used the midweek sailings from Oban which is easier to get to and from.
Coupled with this factor was the issue of hoist-loading. At that time, Mallaig did not possess a linkspan and the Iona relied on her vehicle lift in order to load cars and vans from the pier to her car deck. Through 1991, neither Coll, Tiree nor Tobermory possessed one either, so if there were vehicles to be offloaded or taken on at all three calling points then the journey could be a lengthy one indeed.
Loadings were light for the summer-only crossing and the majority of those who used it were tourists or residents of Mull nipping over to Coll or Tiree and returning on the Monday sailing for example. Nevertheless, the Iona continued throughout the summer of 1991 until the timetable expired in autumn and winter service was resumed.
1992 came around and the summer timetable once again advertised the Mallaig – Coll – Tiree sailings on high summer Sundays, although this year saw the opening of linkspans at Arinagour on Coll and Gott Bay, Tiree. The Iona could now operate on a semi drive-through basis, although she still required her hoist for her home port of Mallaig. In fact she would require this until 1994 when the linkspan was finally installed there, along with one at Armadale on Skye.
By this time however, the service to Coll and Tiree had been withdrawn. Loadings had not proved sufficient to warrant the additional sailings from Mallaig and the situation returned to as it had been previously, with all sailings now departing from Oban.
In some ways this particular route was doomed to failure from its very beginnings. Mallaig is very isolated compared to Oban and has poor transport links. Perhaps if the route had been modernised years earlier, with linkspans enabling quick unloading and reloading, and perhaps if the sailings had been retimed for late afternoon / evening time during the week, minus the call at Tobermory then more people may have taken advantage of this interesting route past the Small Isles, Ardnamurchan Point and north west Mull.
As things stand at the moment, there are no plans to reintroduce this service. Coll and Tiree are currently served by the Clansman every day from Oban during the summer months, and five times a week during the winter, with additional sailings occasionally laid on if demand requires it and a vessel is available. Mallaig continues to be the base port for just three routes; Mallaig - Lochboisdale, Mallaig – Armadale and Mallaig – Small Isles, and the Mallaig - Coll – Tiree route remains consigned to the history books.
Text thanks to John MacLeod
Dhuirnish approaching Rhubodach
Dhuirnish and Eilean Buidhe
Bruernish and Dhuirinish, Inchmarnock, 1985
Dhuirnish laid up at Port Bannatyne