Ferry com­pany has a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory … and now, thanks to CalMac de­ci­sion, a highly promis­ing fu­ture

The Oban Times - - Leisure -

THE NEWS that the Clyde and He­brides Ferry Ser­vice con­tract has been awarded to Cale­do­nian MacBrayne has been met with an over­whelm­ingly positive re­ac­tion. For many, Cale­do­nian MacBrayne is more than a trans­port provider – it is a long-estab­lished and prom­i­nent fea­ture of Scot­land’s west coast and its cul­tural ge­og­ra­phy.

In 1851 David Hutch­e­son & Com­pany estab­lished steamer routes from Glas­gow to Oban, Fort Wil­liam and In­ver­ness via the Cri­nan and Cale­do­nian canals. David MacBrayne took over op­er­a­tions in 1877 and the re-named ship­ping line ex­panded ser­vices to Is­lay and the West­ern Isles, match­ing sail­ings to connect with the rail­ways.

Af­ter the First World War, the Lon­don, Mid­land and Scot­tish Rail­way Com­pany and Coast Lines Ltd in­vested in the com­pany to com­pete for mail- car­ry­ing con­tracts, and David MacBrayne be­came state-owned when the rail­way com­pa­nies were na­tion­alised in 1948. The Scot­tish Trans­port Group was formed in 1953 to man­age pub­lic trans­port ser­vices which in­cluded David MacBrayne and the Cale­do­nian Steam Packet Com­pany, which amal­ga­mated to cre­ate Cale­do­nian MacBrayne Ltd in 1973.

The Scot­tish Trans­port Group handed con­trol and own­er­ship to the Sec­re­tary of State for Scot­land in 1990, ef­fec­tively the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment since 1999.

The pic­tures show the launch of the MV Lochnevis, built by Wil­liam Denny & Brothers in Dum­bar­ton for David MacBrayne Ltd in 1934. She sailed the Mal­laig-Portree mail route un­til 1960, then op­er­ated as an ex­cur­sion steamer out of Oban un­til 1969. She was sold to own­ers in the Nether­lands in 1970 and bro­ken up in 1974. PS Iona was built by J& G Thom­son of Cly­de­bank in 1864 for David Hutch­e­son and served as the prin­ci­pal ves­sel on the Glas­gow-Ar­dr­ishaig route for four years. She sailed out of Oban on sum­mer pas­sages and on We­myss Bay, Ar­rochar, Lochgoil­head and Fort Wil­liam routes un­til be­ing scrapped in 1936.

TS King Ge­orge V was built by Wil­liam Denny & Brothers for Tur­bine Steam­ers Ltd in 1926, pass­ing to David MacBrayne Ltd nine years later. She ser­viced In­ver­aray and Camp­bel­town routes, and later sailed on runs from Oban to Iona, Staffa and Fort Wil­liam. She was taken out of ser­vice in 1974 and bro­ken up in 1984.

MV Lochiel was also built by Denny Brothers for David MacBrayne in 1939 to serve as the Is­lay mail boat. She con­tin­ued on that route un­til 1970, when she was sold to Manx op­er­a­tors for ser­vice be­tween Fleet­wood and Dou­glas. In 1978 she was com­mis­sioned as a float­ing bar and res­tau­rant in Bris­tol and stayed in busi­ness un­til 1994 and was sold for scrap the fol­low­ing year.

In 2006, Cale­do­nian MacBrayne Ltd was di­vided into Cale­do­nian Mar­itime As­sets Ltd to keep ports and ships in pub­lic own­er­ship, and CalMac Fer­ries Ltd to op­er­ate the fer­ries. This sat­is­fied EU leg­is­la­tion and cre­ated sub­sidiaries wholly-owned by the Scot­tish min­is­ters.

More than 200 ves­sels have been built or ac­quired for these com­bined fleets in 165 years, pro­vid­ing work for sev­eral Scot­tish ship­yards and some in other parts of the Bri­tish Isles, Ire­land and Europe. Fu­ture con­tracts for new ships will pro­vide sev­eral years’ work for a Clyde ship­yard and have al­most cer­tainly saved it from clo­sure.

The con­tin­ued pro­vi­sion of life­line and tourism travel ser­vices to is­lands and re­mote main­land com­mu­ni­ties em­ploys a work­force of nearly 1,500 and sup­ports an­other 6,000 jobs across Scot­land. The com­pany’s £145 mil­lion turnover sup­ports a fur­ther £270 mil­lion turnover in the Scot­tish econ­omy, so the ef­fects of its ac­tiv­ity res­onate far be­yond the routes and the des­ti­na­tions that the net­work ser­vices.

In some places, CalMac jobs ac­count for 10 per cent of all jobs, which demon­strates how fer­ries and ports have been, and con­tinue to be, spliced to the so­cial or­der of the west coast.

As part of the con­tract award pack­age, CalMac has to make a great deal of im­prove­ments. Some of these have al­ready been ini­ti­ated, and I hope pas­sen­gers can look for­ward to full wi-fi ser­vice on all routes in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture. The food and drink on of­fer is im­prov­ing all the time, and the ves­sel re­place­ment pro­gramme looks set to de­liver pur­pose-built ships that will be safer, faster, more ef­fi­cient and rep­re­sent a net­work of ferry ser­vices that ev­ery­one can be proud of.

For many trav­ellers, timeta­bles that al­low rail­way, bus and flight con­nec­tions will make a huge dif­fer­ence, as will a port and har­bour in­fras­truc­ture that can ac­com­mo­date grow­ing num­bers of pas­sen­gers and ve­hi­cles, and ves­sels at all states of the tide.

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