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.
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.
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.
Published on 15 February 2020