Lawrence Macduff on MV Iona

Lawrence Macduff is widely recognised in west of Scotland shipping circles as master of Dun Skeig — the hill overlooking the entrance to West Loch Tarbert, from where he has taken many classic ferry photographs. This one shows Iona arriving from Islay on 2 April 1988

Lawrence Macduff is a well-kent figure at the Clyde River Steamer Club. He’s also a well-kent figure at the end of Hebridean piers and atop every hill and grassy knoll this side of Lochgilphead. Considered one of the best ship photographers in the business, Lawrence gave of his time on 12 February at Jurys Inn, Glasgow, to reminisce on another well-kent figure – the car ferry Iona. Report by Stuart Craig.

Power of recall: Lawrence Macduff at the start of his talk

There were a few in the audience who had never sailed on the dear old ship (once referred to by an American tourist as “Ten-N-A”), but by the end of Lawrence’s presentation even they knew Iona intimately. And what an important and versatile member of the fleet she was.

Unbelievably it is 50 years, that’s half a century in old money, since Iona was launched — at Ailsa Shipyard in Troon. And it is now 22 years since she sailed away from west coast waters. She was built for the Islay route, but started her career on the Gourock-Dunoon run. Iona then went on to serve Stornoway from Mallaig and Kyle of Lochalsh, and Craignure and Castlebay/Lochboisdale from Oban, before settling down to Islay duties in 1979, where her speed allowed for two return crossings daily, thus enhancing the service for the islanders.

Speaking without the need for notes, Lawrence ably illustrated all her peregrinations, but for me it was his detailed description and pictures of the internal lay out of the ship that were most fascinating. He used these as a core for highlighting the pros and cons of the old ship.

“Look at the seating in the lounge,” he pointed out. “Imagine sitting for five hours, heading out to Barra, on one of these seats!” Next the bar: “With the basic seating and loud noise coming through from the engine casing, the bar was not an easy place to relax.” You’re right, Mr Macd, I remember trying to. Later I added my own opinion that the bar lay not so much in the bowels of the ship as the rectum!

However, Iona had many plus points, which were simply and honestly pointed out by Lawrence. The cafeteria, for example, was very comfortable, and surprisingly quiet. He also quoted from former skipper Sandy Ferguson: “Iona was a most manoeuvrable and wonderful sea boat…and remains one of my favourites.”

Most would agree, including our speaker, that the most positive change to Iona was the removal of her flimsy fake funnel, the lengthening of her bilateral exhaust lums and the repainting of them in CalMac colours.

Barra-bound: looking forward on the bridge deck, port side, on 21 June 1975

For a while Lawrence lived in Lochgilpead, and so was close at hand to photograph Iona from all angles and heights while she was on Islay service. To his delight, and our subsequent enjoyment, he discovered the vantage point at the entrance to West Loch Tarbert known as Dun Skeig. His shots from this lofty vantage point are so legendary that surely one day — hopefully not for a while — it will be renamed ‘Macduff Mound’.

After eight years as Islay boat Iona headed back north to become Mallaig-Armadale ferry. She also served Castlebay from Mallaig, and had spells on the Coll/Tiree roster and on the Uig ‘triangle’. In fact she’s been just about everywhere.

Her last sailing for CalMac was from Armadale to Mallaig on 25 October 1997. She was then purchased by Pentland Ferries for employment, as Pentalina B, on the crossing between Gills Bay (Caithness)and St Margaret’s Hope (Orkney). There was a swan song, however. She was chartered back to CalMac for a few weeks in the summer of 1998 to assist Pioneer on the Mull run where, according to our speaker, “the two greyhounds raced over from Oban to Craignure in a bid to see which could achieve the fastest crossing.”

Eventually Iona returned to Orkney, before being sold in 2009 to Cape Verde, where she met her fate.

Lawrence’s anecdotes were intriguing. As built Iona had an open engine room control platform, exposing her engineers to the constant din of her Paxman diesels: it was only later that the platform was enclosed, bringing her up to the standard of more modern vessels. Another mid-career refinement was the parallel raking of the black part of her funnels, replacing the less attractive tapered look at the top of her twin exhausts after they were lengthened and painted red in 1975. Lawrence also pointed out that Iona rarely used her bow visor in later life, as it was quicker to reverse traffic onto the car deck at the stern. Her galley served the best grub in the fleet.

We all came away from the presentation better informed, and looking at the old ship in a more favourable light. Lawrence, your simple, rational and coherent delivery was much appreciated by your audience. Oh, and you take a mean photograph. Long may you scale Dun Skeig.

Lawrence began his talk by recalling a visit to Troon in February 1970, while Iona was fitting out at the Ailsa shipyard

Iona began her career on the Gourock-Dunoon route — on loan to, and in the livery of, the Caledonian Steam Packet Company, because MacBraynes had no pier in West Loch Tarbert capable of handling her draught (instead the CSP’s Arran donned red-and-black funnel colours and took over the Islay run for which Iona had been intended). Lawrence took this photo from the Ashton shore on 5 September 1971: it captures the new vessel’s impressive speed, and also showcases the dummy funnel which was removed in 1975

Leather seating in the lounge after an early refurbishment. Lawrence took this photo on 11 June 1979

Charging up West Loch Tarbert on 13 June 1982, with Dun Skeig behind

Iona approaches Armadale on 17 June 1989: behind the lifeboats you can make out the 1975 extension to the accommodation block aft of her bridge, incorporating eight double cabins

After his talk, Lawrence Macduff (second from left) was congratulated by CRSC Past President Angus Ross (left), Captain Willie Mackay (second from right, retired master of North Isles ships Hamnavoe and Hascosay) and former Iona Chief Engineer Brian Macmillan (right)

Lawrence Macduff: ‘On the Spot’

Lawrence Macduff’s ‘Confessions of a Cameraman’ — the series so far:
Boating with a Box Brownie
Remembering Jim Aikman Smith
Three Lochs Tour: Loch Shiel, Loch Boisdale and Loch Snizort
Kerrera, bank keys and the ‘King George’
A fitting introduction to the Kingdom of MacBrayne
Golden memories of the Inner Islands mail
‘Hielan Mary gets all the best steamer views!’
A brand new ferry to pursue (MV Pioneer)
What one does for the love of a steamer photo
The delights of Dunskeig
Hiking up to Hutcheson
That Kennacraig foreshore is bogging!
Lawrence Macduff on MacBraynes’ Lochiel (CRSC members only)

Kingdom of Macduff: the panorama from Dun Skeig on 26 April 1981, with Iona heading for Islay against a backdrop of the Paps of Jura

Published on 15 February 2020