4th July 1985
Eileanan Innse Gall
Current / Last Route
5th December 1985
HRH the Duchess of Kent
The Hebridean Isles are the Islands to the North West of Scotland which she was built to serve
Cochrane Shipbuilders Ltd, Selby
Mirrless Blackstone Diesels (Stockport)
Hoist & Lifts:
1x vehicle hoist fitted with side ramps
1985 - 2000: Uig - Tarbert - Lochmaddy
2000 - Present: Kennacriag - Port Askaig / Port Ellen
2001 - Present: Kennacriag - Port Askaig - Colonsay - Oban
Ardrossan - Brodick / Oban - Lochboisdale / Oban - Coll - Tiree / Oban - Craignure / Ullapool - Stornoway
By 1983 the vast majority of Calmac routes had been brought up to date and modernised. Hoist loading was slowly but surely being eradicated from day-to-day life on the west coast. One area where hoist loading was still the order of the day was on the so-called Uig triangle, linking Skye with Tarbert on the Isle of Harris and Lochmaddy on North Uist. For almost 20 years the faithful Hebrides had kept these routes open, however she had a tendency to run late, given the distinct lack of speed in her hoist system.
At the launch of Isle of Arran in 1983 it was announced that a new ship was to be constructed for service on the Uig routes. She would be of broadly similar size to the Isle of Arran and although intended for one specific route, would be suitable for use anywhere within the current network.
Constructed at Cochrane’s yard in Selby, Hebridean Isles was launched sideways into the Ouse in 1985, creating a large wave in the process. Following her delivery voyage and acceptance by Calmac, one of the first tasks performed by the new vessel was to conduct trials at various ports around the network.
Hebridean Isles’ design incorporated a bow visor, bow and stern ramps as well as a vehicle hoist and side ramps, therefore making her suitable for all the routes served by the large fleet units. In terms of capacity she could accommodate almost 70 cars on her spacious car deck whereas her passenger accommodation was situated on two decks above the car deck, forward of the hoist. Internally her layout on one deck comprised the cafeteria furthest aft, then the entrance concourse, shop and information point with the reclining lounge and bar towards the bow, whilst upstairs, above the cafeteria was the observation lounge. Forward of this there was crew accommodation with the bridge on the next level at the bow. Externally there was ample deck space and, like the Isle of Arran, she incorporated a deck area forward of the bridge, giving passengers a view ahead.
It was not until spring 1986 that the Hebridean Isles took over the Uig routes from the winter relief ship Columba. This was due to delays in getting the necessary construction works at the various piers completed. New linkspans were required at all three of her regular terminals, so in the period before the works were complete the new ferry found temporary employment as a winter relief vessel on other crossings such as Oban – Craignure where she stood in for the Caledonia and Glen Sannox. When she eventually took over at Uig, she still had to continue using her hoist at the Skye terminal whilst the finishing touches were carried out on her new berth at the end of the long pier.
Once she settled into a new routine she became a popular member of the fleet – especially with those who used her regularly and remembered the old Hebrides. The new ferry brought vastly improved standards of passenger comfort as well as slightly reduced sailing times although most saw her largest benefit being the greatly reduced turn-round times at each pier once she was able to use her bow and stern ramps. (Incidentally she used her stern ramp at Uig and her bow visor and ramp at both Tarbert and Lochmaddy.
Over the next 15 or so years the Hebridean Isles, like her predecessor, spent almost all of her time on her intended crossings – only overhauls saw her leave the Minch, during which time relief tonnage would keep the routes open. And like her predecessor, no Sunday sailings to Harris were carried out due to objections from islanders on religious grounds.
Hebridean Isles remained on the triangle station for nearly 15 years before the inevitable happened and demand became too much for her. She was replaced in 2000 by the new Hebrides – reviving the old traditional name – and she in turn headed south for a new role as the dedicated Islay ferry, operating out of Kennacraig on the Kintyre peninsula. Her new role saw her taking over from the Isle of Arran and she sailed to Port Ellen on the south side of the island as well as Port Askaig in the Sound of Islay. On Wednesdays during the summer season she extended her morning Port Askaig sailing through to Colonsay and Oban before returning to Kennacraig in the evening, as had been the case on her particular timetable since 1989 when the Claymore operated the route.
Hebridean Isles initially worked Islay on her own however from the summer of 2003 she was joined by Isle of Arran in order to provide a greatly increased service. The two ships alternated rosters and ran mostly simultaneous departures from the mainland and island. The new setup also led to big improvements on Wednesdays as it meant that Islay was still served while Hebridean Isles headed up to Oban. The sailings carried out by Isle of Arran were subject to withdrawal at short notice if she was required elsewhere in the network to cover for breakdowns and they were advertised from the outset until 2007 as extra sailings rather than forming part of the basic service.
In 2007 though the extra sailings became encompassed in the full service provision and were no longer marked as liable for short notice cancellation. The reality was that things carried on much as they were and if there was a serious breakdown elsewhere, Isle of Arran would be called upon to go and cover, leaving Hebridean Isles to soldier on, picking up the shortfall by way of long days and on occasion sailing through the night.
In 2011 the former Uig ferry was joined at Islay by the brand new Finlaggan - the first purpose-built ferry for Islay since the Pioneer. For one summer only, in 2012 Hebridean Isles handed over the weekly Oban run to the new ferry but every summer since she has taken it as part of her duties. From 2014 onwards, all year round, Saturdays also saw a return trip to Oban (the Wednesday run operating in summer only).
With Finlaggan in place the Hebridean Isles now saw a fair bit of variety in the winter months, once again becoming part of the winter relief effort in tandem with Isle of Arran on the Ardrossan - Brodick crossing and back in her old haunts on the Uig triangle. She has also found herself dispatched to Stornoway while Loch Seaforth has been away on her overhauls, to act as back up to Isle of Lewis and to carry out freight sailings.