Fionnphort - Iona
Fionnphort - Iona
Isle of Mull - Isle of Iona
Pre 1979: Red
1979 - 1988:
1989 - 1991:
1993 - Present:
Various members of
the Island Class
and Loch Class
ferries on relief duties.
JUMP ON A VIRTUAL
Fionnphort: Terminal consists of a
pier and steep slipway. Portakabin ticket and information office, although
there is a cafe nearby which provides shelter for passengers in inclement
Iona: Slipway and pier jutting out into the Sound of Iona.
There is a passenger queuing area along the slipway, although no shelter
in wet weather. Toilet and refreshment facilities are located nearby in
Prior to 1979 the ferry to Iona was traditionally operated by a flotilla
of small launches. These little craft were known collectively as the
‘Red Boats’ and for years they shuttled back and forth between
Fionnphort, on the western tip of the Isle of Mull, across the shallow
Sound of Iona to the jetty on the sacred island. In addition to this duty,
the Red Boats also served as tenders to the visiting cruise vessels such
as King George V and subsequently the Columba.
Following the introduction of the Island Class ferries during the early to
mid 1970s, it was only a matter of time before Iona was granted its own
car ferry service, and in 1979 Calmac obliged by placing the redundant
on the route. A new slipway had been constructed on Iona to accommodate
the new vessel whereas Fionnphort saw a new slipway and pier built to
provide a landing point. Overnight berthing was located in a channel known
as the Bull Hole, situated between Fionnphort and Kintra.
The new ferry had a capacity of 4 cars, although from the
outset it was agreed that only islanders’ vehicles and essential
commercial vehicles should be allowed on the island. The Morvern
was of a deeper draught than the craft she replaced and as a result had to
detour to the south of the sand bank which lies in the middle of the Sound
of Iona. At low tides she often had to go quite far down the Sound before
crossing to the far side and coming back up, parallel to the shoreline.
This of course was a problem the previous vessels did not suffer from.
Following in her predecessors’ footsteps, the new ferry also carried out
tendering duties to the Columba every week during the summer in
addition to carrying the hundreds of tourists over to Iona, although from
1989 onwards she was able to concentrate all her time on the main crossing
– just as well as the new Isle of Mull on the route from Oban had
just been introduced and her passenger complement of 1000 meant the Iona
crossing was more accessible to more people.
Morvern approaching Fionnphort
Morvern loading on Iona
Loch Buie and Bruernish changing over
Such was the growth in passenger traffic on the Iona route, CalMac had
little option but to have a second ferry on station. This duty fell first to
the Canna, displaced from Lochaline in 1986 and latterly the Rhum.
In 1992 however, the inevitable solution was adopted a new and much larger
ferry was built. The new Loch Buie could carry as many passengers in one
crossing as the two smaller vessels could carry between them, and although
there was space on her car deck for 10 cars, again this was reserved only
for essential supply vehicles and those of the islanders.
Barring an incident early in her career when she had a close encounter with
Fionnphort slipway, damaging a Voith Schneider unit in the process, the Loch
Buie settled in very well and earned herself a reputation of being a generally reliable ferry on
what was an increasingly busy
tourist route. With a passenger certificate in the summer months for up to
250 passengers, the ferry could cope with all the tourists the coaches could
throw at her. In the winter months her passenger limit was reduced to 50,
however this was rarely a problem. There was one feature of her rout which
could occasionally cause problems. The Sound of Iona lies in such a position
that a strong southerly or south-westerly wind could whip up an impressive
swell due to the shallow nature of the water there. Loch Buie, with her
higher sides than the Island Class ferry which she replaced, was more
susceptible to disruption.
Loch Buie loading at Fionnphort
On a number of occasions each winter the service would operate on an 'Amber
Alert' status whereby potential passengers were warned that their return
journey may not run due to weather-related disruption.
Relief ferry Loch Riddon arriving at Fionnphort
Loch Buie arriving at Iona
The Loch Buie has now been on the Iona route for over 15
years and regularly sails with a full load of passengers during the summer.
In winter she is relieved by the Loch Linnhe or one of her
sisters, but from time to time a member of the Island Class will step in and
keep the crossing open if required to.
Images from Ships of CalMac Collection