CRSC member John Park was on board King George V for her last public sailing in September 1974. Piecing together his memories of that poignant day has made him realise that ‘Oban Bay would never be the same again’.
King George V became such a part of the scenery around Oban that, by the 1960s and 1970s, most picture postcard views of Oban Bay showed her lying in repose at her overnight berth at the Railway Pier. It was a timeless scene which had continued for decades and seemed like it would never end. However, it had to end one day and that day finally arrived in September 1974.
Her last ‘Sacred Isle’ cruise to Staffa and Iona, the sailing she would be associated with more than any other, had taken place on Saturday 14th. This would have been the most fitting end to her long and distinguished Oban career, but it wasn’t to be. Her very last day in service proved to be an afternoon cruise from Oban to Tobermory and Loch Sunart on Sunday 15 September. This was a public sailing arranged by the Oban, Mull & District Tourist Organisation, but it does not appear to have featured in any CalMac publicity.
The day started dull and gloomy, with conditions less than ideal for photography. In 1974 King George V had switched from her traditional morning embarkation point at the North Pier to the Railway Pier for all her departures, and it was from there that she left for her final sailing at midday.
The 1955 Claymore, now just weeks away from the end of her own Oban career, lay at the North Pier enjoying a day off.
Clansman was on the Mull service at this time and she arrived from Craignure at 1140, berthing at the linkspan just ahead of King George V. Both ships were due to depart Oban at 1200.
It was Clansman which departed first, adding to the gloom over Oban Bay with an unhealthy belch of black smoke as she left. A busy ‘King George’ then cast off and followed her out towards the Sound of Mull.
At Tobermory the small MacBrayne ferries Lochnell and Loch Toscaig were lying together at anchor in the bay, while a large number of passengers had gathered at the pier for the Loch Sunart cruise. Conditions were still overcast but had brightened a little when the ‘King George’ set off at 2pm.
The cruise offered little opportunity to record the occasion with photographs, so I took a number of on board views instead.
On our return to Tobermory the sun made its only real appearance of the day, and the more nimble-footed among us were afforded this final photograph of King George V at Tobermory in a rare splash of colour and sunshine. It was well worth the sprint!
The sun disappeared again after we departed for Oban around 1615, and it was under an overcast sky that King George V made her way homewards for the last time.
Some 10 minutes out of Oban we passed Clansman in the Firth of Lorne on her 6pm sailing to Craignure. Back in Oban Bay, Claymore had not moved from the North Pier.
The ‘King George’ berthed around 6.20pm at the Railway Pier, where her large complement of passengers began disembarking, many boarding a special charter train waiting in the station.
King George V gave a final farewell blast on her whistle as the train pulled out of the station, and then the scene quickly fell silent.
The next day she departed Oban for the Clyde, never to return: Oban Bay would never be quite the same again.
Claymore followed her south three weeks later, only briefly returning a year later to cover for breakdowns. Both ships would be replaced by Columba on a combined cruise/ferry programme for the 1975 season. It was the end of an era.
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Published on 24 May 2020