Loch Seaforth (II)
21st March 2014
MES system, inflatable liferafts and FRC
Current / Last Route
16th February 2015
Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd
Joan Murray, the eldest daughter of the late Captain John Smith, master of the original 1947 mailboat
The large loch on the Isle of Lewis and the 1947 mailboat associated with the old Mallaig - Stornoway mail run
Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft MBH, Flensberg, Germany
2x Wartsila Main Engines rated at 4000 kW each. 3x Generator Engines rated at 1600kW, 1x auxiliary generator rated at 700kW, 1x emergency generator rated at 700kW, 1x stern and 2x bow thrusters rated at 900kW each.
Hoist & Lifts:
2x Hoistable Car (Mezzanine) Decks
Children's play area
2015 - present: Ullapool - Stornoway
Loch Seaforth will forever be remembered as the reliable workhorse plying the seas between Mallaig, Kyle of Lochalsh and Stornoway on the old mail run. The new Loch Seaforth started out as an announcement back in June 2012 by the Transport Minister, that a new vessel was to be built for the busy Ullapool - Stornoway route. Vessel owning company CMAL placed the order for the new ship with the Flensburger yard in Germany. Being built to replace the Isle of Lewis, the new ship's design was required to carry out both the daytime passenger sailings as well as the overnight freight service, thus also replacing the chartered Muirneag and Clipper Ranger. Construction of the hull began in September 2013 in the giant covered hall of the Flensburger yard in northern Germany, near to the Danish border, while construction of the bulk of the passenger superstructure commenced separately - when it was completed it was brought in by barge.
It became apparent later that the yard offered CMAL a deal for three such ships for the price of two - a deal which would have seen three sisters built for less than £90m - a deal which would have allowed for major shuffling among the fleet, allow for great improvements across the network both in terms of capacity and sailing frequency and allow for the disposal of some of the oldest vessels in the fleet - a deal was rejected by the powers-that-be.
The new vessel was to be fitted with three back up generators to provide electrical power to the propellers in the event of a failure in one engine. This feature would intended to ensure that the ferry could continue in service while repairs are carried out. Another novel feature was the shape of the hull - designed as it was for superior efficiency and thus reduced fuel consumption. The bow was like nothing seen in the fleet before - gone was the traditional angled bow, ditched in favour of an almost vertical bow, very narrow an pointed at the waterline, more rounded further up and achieved by incorporating a flare in the hull. The car deck was of open-plan design similar to that found on the Finlaggan. The bow ramp was covered by clam-shell doors while the stern ramp, in another departure from the norm, allowed an opening almost the full width of the vessel. This was a particular advantage in her role as a freight ferry as it allowed car deck space to be maximised. Mezzanine decks were also incorporated port and starboard for the daytime car-carrying sailings.
Upstairs in the passenger accommodation there was space for up to 700 people. Internal accommodation was on two levels, the main one being deck 5 which contained the cafeteria, shop and passenger lounge, while upstairs on deck 6 was the observation lounge overlooking the bow. Limited open deck space could be found towards the after end of the ship on decks 6 and 7. No walk-around deck was incorporated - something of a failing given the stunning scenery that the ship was to sail through in and around Loch Broom and the Summer Isles. It has to be said that the views to be had from the outside decks were severely restricted, blocked by the funnels and by access for passengers being prohibited.
The name of the new ferry was, as had become the favoured method, put out to public vote. This time the names to inspire were: Loch Broom, Loch Ewe, Loch Seaforth, Callanish and Cape Wrath. Callanish would have been a name following the line taken with Finlaggan - a place of historical significance on the island to be served, so naturally it didn't get chosen! Loch Seaforth was announced as the landslide winner and the name was added to the hull over in Germany.
Launching took place on 21st March 2014 and fitting out followed. Sea trials took place out in the Flensborg Fjord over the summer and into autumn, before Loch Seaforth was handed over to CMAL and immediately chartered to CalMac Ferries. A three day delivery voyage then followed and the second Loch Seaforth ventured out around the north of Denmark and across the North Sea, arriving in Greenock on 7th November. It was still to be several months before the new giant would see any passengers though - the necessary pier works at Stornoway were incomplete and she was to be found undertaking further sea trials and familiarisation as well as a trip to Ullapool for berthing trials in mid November, followed by Stornoway a month later. Once the works at Stornoway were finally complete, Loch Seaforth was finally able to enter service. Her first sailing was on the overnight freight run on 10th/11th February, away from critical eyes. An open day was held in Stornoway on the 13th and then she gave her first passenger sailing on Valentine's Day. Public service commenced on 16th February when she took over from the Isle of Lewis.
As usual there were teething troubles over the coming weeks and the Isle of Lewis was kept as back-up vessel through the summer; something of a touch of foresight as she was called into action on numerous occasions. As the season progressed there were calls locally for more capacity at peak times. The background to these calls came from the original consultation into the future of the service to Stornoway, when it was made abundantly clear that the preferred option was for two ships of slightly smaller capacity providing a greater number of sailings. Naturally those in charge knew best and overruled the wish of the communities, opting instead for the one-ship solution. To pacify those they had frustrated, it was originally promised that the new ship was to be in constant service to offset the reduced total carrying capacity of the one-ship solution. Her predecessor had offered two or three return sailings a day in the summer months and this was in addition to the Muirneag/Clipper Ranger providing the overnight freight sailing. Loch Seaforth would only be providing a maximum of two round trips a day and then the freight run - and this despite reducing the crossing time to 2 hours 30 minutes. Tourism chiefs and accommodation providers were united in their calls for more sailings and so it was, the Isle of Lewis was brought in to carry out extra sailings at peak times during the 2015 season. This proved to be very much a one-off luxury, for the older ferry was redpoloyed elsewhere from 2016 and from then the Loch Seaforth has been running solo across the Minch.
The Ullapool service ran as a passenger only route for a few weeks in early 2016 when the original linkspan was removed and replaced with one of double width.. Isle of Lewis handed all vehicle traffic and ran on a special timetable from Stornoway to Uig along with the Clipper Ranger. Following the new installation at Ullapool, the Loch Seaforth's stern ramp was altered to widen the outer end now that it a double width linkspan to land on.
The original build was financed by the Lloyds Banking Group who then leased the ship to CMAL - it was revealed that the eight year lease would cost £36m, only £6m less than the ship cost and it would still be owned by bankers. 2019 saw the Loch Seaforth being purchased outright by CMAL and thus the long term future of the route was secured - no longer at the mercy of, or in a position to be held to ransom by a bank who would inevitably milk the 'asset' for as much as they could get.
And so to today, the Loch Seaforth has now been in service just over 5 years and is proving successful on the route - she has yet to deviate from the route for which she was built. Only in the worst of weathers does she remain tied up in port. Of course there will always be those who call for more - for the foreseeable future though it is unlikely she will either be going anywhere or be receiving a running mate.