Book Review — ‘MV Isle of Lewis’ by Mark Nicolson

MV ISLE OF LEWISMark Nicolson is known in shipping circles for the quality of his photography and his enthusiasm for CalMac ferries. He has now written a book about his favourite ship. Review by Stuart Craig.

After much anticipation Mark Nicolson’s book on his favourite CalMac ferry has finally been published. The title itself leaves us in no doubt about the object of his affections, and his devotion to this major Caledonian MacBrayne unit is equally clear on every page of his book. Mark has chosen a good subject for his labour of love, for there is no doubt that Isle of Lewis is an attractive and interesting ship – one I have always enjoyed sailing on.

‘MV Isle of Lewis’ is a neat little volume, of some 78 pages, with a striking aerial view of the vessel on the front cover (pictured). Another 20 pages of colour images occupy the centre of the book — an indication that Mark, a CRSC member based in Stornoway, has recognised the paramount importance of illustrations in a study such as this. In all there are 80 colour photographs of the ship and some of her predecessors, covering every aspect from construction at Port Glasgow in 1994-5 to the end of her role as regular Ullapool-Stornoway ferry and redeployment to Barra in 2016.

The text, written with a knowledge of and passion for the subject, details not just the life and times of the ship in question but also the history and development of the Stornoway route. This makes for informed and interesting reading, and the book’s useful size allows for a one-sitting reading which keeps the reader in tune throughout.

Ian McCrorie and Mark Nicolson

Mark Nicolson (right) listens while CalMac historian Ian McCrorie gives an address at the book-launch in the Oban ferry terminal building on 6 August 2016 — copyright photo Neil Guthrie/CRSC

The text is full of fine detail, including information that enthusiasts often omit from their books. For example, ‘MV Isle of Lewis’ gives a brief description of why ferries need to be dry-docked each year and what work is done during that overhaul. It also provides considerable technical detail regarding Isle of Lewis’s engines and internal working parts, especially when she suffered her considerable mechanical breakdowns. In fact, it’s hard to believe that any notable detail in her life has been left out!

Mark’s photography is well represented, as is his knack of being in the right place at the right time: when Isle of Lewis met Hebrides at Stornoway on 13 February 2013, Mark was there with camera to capture them. The fact that he has also drawn on the collections of around 30 others to depict the life of his ship shows considerable skill in news-gathering and his keenness to provide a full pictorial record. It does mean that a few photographs were taken under poorer conditions and look a bit ‘contrast-heavy’, but it is better to record the event than miss it out. It is also worth noting that some photographs seem out of chronological sequence and I would have liked an illustration of the accommodation deck plan, although Mark gives a detailed description in the appendix.

This is a fine book, covering its subject with enthusiasm and care. Mark clearly loves this ship and is an expert on her, but has not been too proud to ask others for opinions and help in collating his subject matter into a good read. Hopefully he will now turn his attention to another subject and continue adding attractive volumes to the ferry enthusiast’s library.

‘MV Isle of Lewis’ by Mark Nicolson is published by Islands Book Trust and costs £9.99.

Stuart Craig’s books include ‘Away with the Ferries’, ‘Still Away with the Ferries’ and ‘Around the Clyde (and Other Places) in Twenty Years’.

Isle of Lewis approaching Stornoway 16 December 2015

Isle of Lewis approaching Stornoway on 16 December 2015 — copyright photo Mark Nicolson/CRSC