Current / Last Route
David MacBrayne Ltd.
Forth in Her name, Two Serving Islay
William Denny & Bros, Dumbarton
Davey Paxman & Co Ltd, Colchester
2 x 8-cylinder, 4-stroke, 880 bhp Paxman-Ricardo diesels direct coupled to twin 3-blade propellers
Hoist & Lifts:
Accommodation – originally two-class – comprised the usual lounges, dining saloons and smoke-rooms, with purser's room and ticket office. There was a cold store on her lower deck, for refrigerated cargo – a MacBrayne first. On this deck, too, her officers were berthed; the crew quarters were in the forecastle at main-deck level.
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LOCHIEL (IV) was another of the great MacBrayne mailboats and thirled, throughout her career, to the Islay service. The Company's 1938 mail contract stipulated the construction of two new ships; the Second World War delayed the advent of the other – for Stornoway – till 1947, and the international clouds also saw the authorities quietly direct that the new Islay vessel's deck-plating be especially strengthened to bear a 4-inch gun!
LOCHIEL's arrival spelled an end to the diesel-electric experiment – she was driven by direct coupled conventional internal-combustion engines. Launched on 4th April 1939, she revived a good MacBrayne name – three previous LOCHIELs had been single-screw steamers, and two had served Islay - and replaced the PIONEER of 1905, which would finally leave MacBrayne service in 1944 as their very last paddle-steamer.
She followed the increasingly utilitarian dictates of the day: LOCHIEL had a raked stem, cruiser stern, single funnel, steel mast, derrick and cargo-hold forward. Her accommodation – originally two-class – comprised the usual lounges, dining saloons and smoke-rooms, with purser's room and ticket office. There was a cold store on her lower deck, for refrigerated cargo – a MacBrayne first. On this deck, too, her officers were berthed; the crew quarters were in the forecastle at main-deck level. She was deliberately built with a clear area of plated main-deck forward for carriage of cars or cattle. LOCHIEL also bore three lifeboats on Welin, Maclachlan davits and all her deck machinery – capstan, winches and so on – was electrically powered.
Her engines, rather as aboard LOCHNEVIS, were flexibly mounted to reduce vibration and noise nuisance. Another innovation was the use of oil-operated reverse reduction gearboxes, rather than an additional, heavy reversing engine - “the principal elements in the gear-boxes,” notes G E Langmuir, “were constant-mesh helical gears, oil-operated friction clutches and their control-cock.” LOCHIEL achieved fourteen knots on trial but the required service speed was only twelve knots. Her total cost was £62,805.
Though intended for Islay, LOCHIEL had to start her career at Oban on the secondary Fort William schedule, etc – the pier at West Loch Tarbert was being modified for her greater length and draught, and she only assumed the Islay run later that season. She was not requisitioned in the Second World War and indeed spent her entire career on the Islay service, calling at Port Askaig and Port Ellen, and also serving Jura (Craighouse pier) and (by flit-boat) Gigha, though she did relieve twice on the Portree and twice on the Ardrishaig mail services between 1940 and 1943.
In 1949 her schedule was extended to include regular runs to Colonsay and in 1953 she was given a mainmast.
On 8th October 1962 LOCHIEL hit submerged rocks in West Loch Tarbert and actually sank; though raised by the salvage-tug PLANTAGENET, it almost ended her career and was out of service until the following March.
Despite the foresight of granting deck space for cars, both its post-war inadequacy and the increasing inconvenience of crane-freighting saw LOCHIEL increasingly embarrassed as the Sixties advanced, and the failure of the Scottish Office in 1964 to supply a fourth drive-on car-ferry for the Islay service proved costly – a private concern, Western Ferries Ltd, began a cheap-and-cheerful car ferry service from Kennacraig in competition. The stern-loading SOUND OF ISLAY enjoyed much tacit support from local business and launched a saga that would greatly embarrass the Company.
By 1970 the LOCHIEL's engines were all but finished and it caused little surprise when at STG insistence the 1954 Clyde car ferry ARRAN was transferred to MacBraynes to assume the Islay service after substantial refit. LOCHIEL was duly retired that January and on Monday 23rd March 1970 she was sold to Norwest Shipping Ltd, Douglas, Isle of Man. After survey at Port Glasgow she sailed to Fleetwood, briefly revived the Fleetwood-Barrow route, and after massive overhaul on the Mersey emerged as NORWEST LAIRD, registered at Douglas.
NORWEST LAIRD bravely sailed through the summer of 1970 on her new owners' principal route Fleetwood to Douglas; she was not a success and was withdrawn on 18th August. Her Board of Trade certificate forced her to sail at all times within eighteen miles of land – thus extending passage to a laborious six hours – and it is little surprise to note that she made only fourteen trips; her new owners went bankrupt.
A year later NORWEST LAIRD was still laid up in Glasson Dock, near Lancaster, having undergone the indignity of “arrest” for non-payment of harbour dues. Yet a third career beckoned for the Highland veteran. Late in 1974 the former Islay mailboat was acquired by Courage (Western) Ltd – part of the brewing concern – and was towed to Hayle in Cornwall to be renovated in leisurely fashion for use as a floating bar and restaurant in Bristol.
Her engines were removed in 1975 by the splendidly titled Stanley Ferry Dismantlers Ltd, though it was 1978 before the MacBrayhne old stager finally reached Bristol to open as OLD LOCHIEL. She became a very popular haunt and survived till closure of the business in 1994.
The very last surviving mailboat of David MacBrayne Ltd was sold for scrap in November 1995 and subsequently broken up at Bristol that December – a grim reminder both of Britain's general contempt for our maritime heritage and that a static preservation role is no guarantee of a famous ship's survival.