Mark Nicolson recalls a return trip across the Minch in February 2013 that ignited his ‘hardcore’ interest in CalMac.
With Stuart Craig’s ‘Ten of the Best’ providing inspiration for many, I have to say that I have caught this ‘epidemic’ myself. I am reminded of a special, albeit simple return trip between Stornoway and Ullapool on an unusual visitor to my neck of the woods. It was the sailing that sparked my hardcore interest in CalMac, photography and sailing.
It’s fair to say that I love Hebrides. A close second in my all-time favourite list behind Isle of Lewis, the Uig triangle vessel is one of the most popular in the fleet with enthusiasts, tourists and islanders. I personally prefer her to Clansman: the quality of her steel finish (by Fergusons of Port Glasgow, compared to the Appledore-built Clansman) is evident; her specifically designed interior is splendid even to this day, and she has totally endeared herself to the people of Harris and Uist with her reliability record and seaworthiness thus far in her career. Quite simply, a CalMac legend.
When I heard the announcement that Hebrides was to be the main relief ship for the 2012/13 winter, with Finlaggan taking her place at Uig in turn, I was immediately interested. I was there to greet her on her very first arrival at the Lewis capital on 25th January 2013, and kept a close watch on her progress during the three weeks she covered Isle of Lewis’ roster.
But it was not until her final week of relief duty at Stornoway that I found time to sail on her. Boarding for the 0700 sailing to Ullapool on February 12, it felt strange to be on a different vessel on my home route. But Hebrides was to pull it off big-style, as she usually does wherever she goes. We left bang on time, and it was a calm, lovely winter’s day throughout. Much of the crossing was spent taking internal and open deck photos — my old Sanyo compact camera being the equipment used. As I was an unknown in shipping circles at this point, I did not think about a bridge visit.
Ullapool was reached by 0950: even with Hebrides’ speed of 16.5 knots compared to the 18 knots of Isle of Lewis, she only took five minutes longer than the IoL’s standard two and three quarter hours. The morning sun had finally risen and by the time I boarded the Citylink bus for a shopping trip to Inverness, blue sky had appeared.
Our bus returned to Ullapool by 1620. As we drove along Loch Broom I could tell from the sky that there was going to be a chance for some great photos of Hebrides arriving on her 1350 sailing from Stornoway and, despite my inferior camera, that’s exactly what I got as she glided in under an almost cloudless evening sky.
Once back onboard, I proceeded to the open decks to assess the loading via the stern ramp. This was before the major redevelopments to accommodate Loch Seaforth — Ullapool was different then to what it is now.
The return voyage was relatively uneventful, but altogether it was a fun-filled day. Although I would take a second, similar day out when Hebrides returned to Lewis in October 2013, the first was more enjoyable — simply for being the first.
A bonus came three days after that February trip — an ‘icing on the cake’ for my experiences of Hebrides’ Stornoway adventures. She met a refreshed Isle of Lewis at No. 3 pier in the afternoon, and I was able to take a series of photos of my two favourites together, a combination I may never get again.
I would dearly love to repeat the Stornoway-Ullapool crossing on Hebrides, perhaps if she were to relieve Loch Seaforth for overhaul. So I’ll keep on wishing for that, and you never know….
LOOK OUT FOR STUART CRAIG’S CHART-TOPPER AS ‘TEN OF THE BEST’ REACHES ITS CLIMAX IN COMING DAYS