In the seemingly never-ending crisis besetting ferries to the Western Isles and other islands off the West Coast, Castlebay will soon be the centre of a new roll-off/roll-on routine affecting everyone.
The unforeseen logistics of essential supplies reaching Uist and Barra have triggered further emergency changes to the stretched timetable offered by CalMac to those islands.
And a CalMac representative has made a plea for customers not to take their frustration out on frontline ferry workers as every single advance booking for the next fortnight is rearranged.
With MV Isle of Lewis now away for her annual upgrade, MV Isle of Mull is delivering a shared service between Lochboisdale, Castlebay and Oban.
But CalMac’s area operations manager Fiona Galbraith told Castlebay and Vatersay Community Council yesterday (Wednesday 1 February) that the Isle of Mull’s specific loading requirements mean that, from Monday (6 February), the vessel en-route from Lochboisdale to Oban will have to unload completely at Castlebay, before reloading in the right order to balance the ship’s payload.
That, in turn, means that every vehicle travelling will have to be accompanied by its own driver, with no unaccompanied commercial loads or delivery vehicles.
Ms Galbraith told the community council that CalMac had responded to feedback from the Uist and Barra communities, combining that with the need to ship essential supplies to both islands and to provide adequate services to accommodate the February half term.
She said: “Further changes have been made to the Lochboisdale/Castlebay combined service (which) provides inbound and outbound services to both islands on the key days required for food supplies, heating fuels and shellfish exports.
“I am aware that this timetable is still far from meeting the requirements our communities would have if each island had their own vessel as per the original deployment plans, but unfortunately, this is not possible due to the overhaul issues highlighted in my email at the end of last week.
“As the vessel will operate via Castlebay on certain days of the week, all traffic must be accompanied by a driver as the car deck will have to fully unload and reload in Castlebay before continuing on to its next port.
“This is due to the set-up of the MV Isle of Mull where traffic is used to ballast the ship evenly.
“Unfortunately, if unaccompanied vehicles are presented, they will not be able to be shipped – this includes commercial traffic as well. I am sorry for the issues this will cause and fully appreciate this is far from ideal at this time.”
Ms Galbraith said that port teams will be adjusting the sailings in the booking system throughout today and contacting all affected customers.
And she said: “Please can I ask that you are patient and polite when dealing with our frontline teams as they are working as hard as possible to make the service run as smoothly as they can.
“Any aggressive or rude behaviour will not be tolerated and may result in a refusal to travel in line with our conditions of carriage.
“I am very sorry for the issues this will cause to our communities and businesses. I can assure you we will do our best to ensure everyone is accommodated.”
The newly revised timetable is on the CalMac website at https://www.calmac.co.uk/lochboisdale-castlebay-combined-sailings-winter-22-23 and updated service status on the route is available here https://www.calmac.co.uk/service-status?route=20
Service from Oban to Castlebay is cancelled today due to adverse weather and an update on tomorrow’s service is expected later this morning.
On Monday MV Isle of Mull is operating a freight-only sailing from Oban at 12.45am, with the carriage of dangerous goods restricting the number of passengers allowed on board. Prior booking is essential.
Elsewhere on the network, the MV Loch Bhrusda has today (Thursday) left James Watt dock in Greenock after her annual service and is currently heading down the Clyde en-route for the Sound of Harris.
She is due to take up service between Berneray and Leverburgh as a replacement for MV Loch Portain, which will leave for her own dry dock early tomorrow morning (Friday).
There will be a two-day period without service across the Sound of Harris, according to an update from CalMac yesterday.
The Lochmaddy Ullapool service is cancelled today due to adverse weather.
The picture shows MV Isle of Lewis heading up the Clyde past the Titan crane on her way to her annual service (Ian Barr/Ships of CalMac).