Lord of the Isles
7th March 1989
Righ nan Eilean
3 enclosed lifeboats, FRC, MES and inflatable liferafts
Current / Last Route
22nd May 1989
Mrs Edith Rifkind, wife of Secretary of State for Transport Malcolm RIfkind
A favourite paddle steamer
Ferguson Shipbuilders Ltd, Port Glasgow
Mirrlees Blackstone diesel engines, two electric bow thrusters
Hoist & Lifts:
1x Vehicle Lift
1989 - 1998: Oban - Coll - Tiree / Oban - Castlebay - Lochboisdale
1998 - 2002: Mallaig - Armadale / Mallaig - Lochboisdale - Castlebay
2003 - 2015: Oban - Colonsay / Oban - Coll - Tiree / Oban - Castlebay - Lochboisdale / Oban - Craignure
2016 - present: Mallaig - Lochboisdale / Mallaig - Armadale
Ullapool - Stornoway / Uig - Tarbert - Lochmaddy / Kennacraig - Islay / Ardrossan - Brodick /
Wemyss Bay - Rothesay
Around the same time as the launch of Isle of Mull at Ferguson’s, it was announced that the yard was to begin construction of a further vessel for Western Isles service. The new vessel would be a replacement for two other units in the fleet, namely Columba of 1964 and Claymore of 1978. The new ferry would combine the timetables of both vessels and allow a cascade to take place within the fleet.
The plan was that the new Lord of the Isles would take a new, combined roster which would take in both the Coll and Tiree and the long haul to the Outer Isles. This meant that she would be on the move practically all the time. Also in the plan, the Claymore would move south to take over the Kennacraig - Islay service and in turn the Iona would move north to Mallaig to take the hoist-loading service to Armadale on Skye. The Pioneer would then become the fleet's spare unit, thus allowing the old favourite; Glen Sannox to be withdrawn.
It was March 1989 when the new ship was named Lord of the Isles and subsequently launched. Upon entering the waters of the Clyde she was fitted out prior to running trials. In terms of appearance the new ferry was broadly similar to Isle of Mull at the forward end, while her aft end resembled that of the slightly older Hebridean Isles as her duties in service would require the use of a vehicle hoist. The car deck was capable of holding up to 56 cars whilst the passenger accommodation above provided space for a maximum certificate complement of 506. In addition to the need for a vehicle hoist, Lord of the Isles’ duties called for sailings at antisocial hours, and as a concession to passengers she was equipped with cabins and sleeping berths.
Handover took place a short while later and the ships entered service in time for the high summer season. With Oban as her home base, Lord of the Isles entered service on the Coll – Tiree and Barra – South Uist route, giving three sailings a week on the former route and up to four return sailings a week on the latter. This new roster meant the Lord of the Isles was seldom off duty and often sailed at all hours of the day.
With a service speed of 16 knots, sailing times to the Outer Isles were considerably reduced from those achieved by the previous vessel, Claymore. Likewise the journey time between Oban and the northern entrance of the Sound of Mull was reduced to just over 100 minutes, another improvement on the previous vessel.
For the next nine years the Lord of the Isles remained in charge of the two routes. Occasionally she would switch places with her Oban consort Isle of Mull when passenger demand required the larger vessel’s superior capacity on the Barra route and would consequently end up taking the Oban – Craignure sailings while her Port Glasgow sister was away north. Due to the nature of the Outer Isles service, this was sometimes subject to disruption at the hands of the weather in the exposed Minch, and it was not unknown for the ship to set off from Barra or South Uist and make straight for the far side of Canna, Rum, Eigg and Muck before making a dash for Ardnamurchan Point and the shelter of the Sound of Mull. This was a far more passenger-friendly route to take in the gale-driven swells of the Minch, rather than the usual direct route south-east, past Oigh-sgeir and to the Sound of Mull.
In addition to her regular duties, Lord of the Isles was also used as relief vessel on various routes such as the Uig triangle and the Ardrossan – Brodick service while the regular vessels were undergoing maintenance during the winter months. She was chosen for this thanks to her general all-purpose specification and ability to berth and load traffic at any of the major terminal locations in the network.
In the late 1990s it was announced that a further new vessel was to be built as a replacement for Lord of the Isles at Oban. It was then announced that she herself was to be transferred to Mallaig where she would replace the veteran Iona. Due to her out-of-date design, the latter required extensive and costly modifications to keep her in the fleet so it was decided to replace her and put her up for sale. Lord of the Isles was scheduled for the transfer in early 1998, however she was required in Oban until July of that year, until the new and much larger Clansman was available. Upon the replacement’s arrival, the smaller ship went north to Mallaig where she replaced the temporary relief ship Pioneer on the seasonal Mallaig – Armadale crossing.
The people of Mallaig and regular users of the service took her to their hearts and still regard Lord of the Isles as the best ships to serve the route to this day. With a crossing time of just under half an hour, Lord of the Isles could provide many return sailings each day. In addition to this, she also continued Iona's schedule of sailings to the Outer Isles and this continued until the end of the 2002 season.
Lord of the Isles remained at Mallaig for 4 years running the services to Skye and her portion of the Outer Isles services in the summer months, while returning to Oban and her original routes to assume a relief role while the Clansman went off covering for other large units. In 2003 however, with a new sheltered-water vessel was launched from the Appledore shipyard in Devon with the intention of taking over the Armadale run. The new Coruisk was delayed in her delivery from the southern yard and so with the Lord of the Isles reassigned, it was Pioneer that returned to Mallaig in 2003.
This move was with a view to bringing about general improvements to all the routes based from Oban. She became the third large ship to be permanently based there, alongside Isle of Mull and Clansman and provided various extra sailings to Mull, Colonsay, Islay, Coll, Tiree, Barra and South Uist as well as introducing the popular Castles Cruise. Previoulsy the Isle of Arran had carried out these additional sailings, but she was now secondary ship on the Islay service, alongside Hebridean Isles. Lord of the Isles' sphere of operation was now the greatest among any of the major units. In addition to her new regular schedule she was also sent to the Clyde in May 2004 to provide a weekend of cover on the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay run. (This weekend also involved berthing trials at Dunoon.) The winter of 2007/8 and again in 2008/9 saw Lord of the Isles serving on the Kennacraig - Islay routes in a relief capacity while the regular vessels were away for drydocking. Another spell of relief work in January 2012 saw her sailing on the Ardrossan - Brodick run in place of Caledonian Isles.
Winter 2013/4 saw Lord of the Isles employed once again in the Outer Isles, though this time she was back sailing to Mallaig. A three year trial commenced following calls from South Uist for a direct link to Mallaig instead of Oban. The new service involved two round trips a day - great in theory but sadly the reliability of the service left a lot to be desired. At one point it was calculated that nearly half of all scheduled sailings that winter had been either cancelled or diverted to Oban; the reason given being that Mallaig was too exposed for safe berthing under certain conditions. People simply couldn't rely on the ferry running and as a result the loadings were not impressive over the course of the three winters. Despite this though the Scottish Government announced the successful completion of the trial and the Mallaig - Lochboisdale service became a permanent and year-round fixture as of the start of the summer timetable in 2016.
The new schedule actually saw a reduction in sailings compared to the winter trial; it involved an early morning sailing from Lochboisdale to Mallaig, returning in the late afternoon. The gap in between saw Lord of the Isles supplementing the resident Armadale ferry with three return sailings to Armadale. 2016 saw her partnered with the much smaller Lochinvar and the even smaller Loch Bhrusda; 2017 onwards saw the Loch Fyne as main ferry, though Loch Bhrusda was kept close by to take the three Skye sailings on occasions when Lord of the Isles didn't make it in from South Uist.
Winter timetables were split up to accommodate fleet overhauls and the Lord of the Isles found her duties now split between Oban and Mallaig; she was Clansman's relief and so usually saw two periods covering at Oban (with Hebridean Isles or Isle of Arran running a diverted Oban - Lochboisdale service in her absence). The spell of Oban duties in spring 2018 lasted considerably longer than planned due to major rudder problems encountered on Clansman's overhaul and the start of the summer timetable saw Lord of the Isles continuing on the Coll and Tiree and the Colonsay services.
In time it is planned for Mallaig and Lochboisdale harbours to be massively revamped to improve access for larger vessels. Whilst it is known that the Lord of the Isles is getting towards the end of her career with CalMac, she is a firm favourite with passengers and crews alike and, crucially, she is currently the only large vessel in the fleet that is considered suitable to run the Lochboisdale service and thus until such time as the mainland base is switched back to Oban, or Mallaig harbour is enlarged, she won't be going anywhere soon.