An unexpected diary change left Mark Nicolson free to spend 26 March on the Uig triangle — a day that offered ‘double helpings’ of Clansman and Hebrides. He duly gobbled them up.
Of all possible combinations for CalMac ship photographs that I can imagine, none beats the sight of the two big sister ships in the fleet sailing past each other. On 26 March 2019, that is exactly what I got: I not only captured Clansman and Hebrides together on my camera, but sailed on both of them on the Uig triangle on the same day.
That day began with the sight of Hebrides – freshly repainted after her return from overhaul at Aberdeen – berthed at Tarbert, though she had yet to resume service. Told by CalMac shore staff that she would head light to Uig to exchange places with Clansman prior to the 1400 sailing to Lochmaddy, I photographed her departure from the pier — unusually with bow visor already down, as this was a simple positioning run. Her departure allowed me to assess her bright new paintwork, as she spun round in the tight channel before facing the Minch.
Over half an hour later, Clansman arrived for what was to be her final visit to Tarbert during this tour of relief duty. I boarded rather enthusiastically, knowing what opportunity was awaiting me at Uig. First of all, though, I headed for the Mariners Restaurant. The servery area has undergone a major refurbishment, making an impression every bit as pleasing as the meal I had of haddock, chips and peas.
The voyage to Uig was otherwise uneventful, despite a Force Five southwesterly, which Clansman took in her stride. Mid-sea mists began to clear on approach to Uig, giving me a good view of Hebrides scurrying away from the pier to allow Clansman to berth. Having discharged vehicles and passengers (who had to disembark by the car deck), Clansman quickly pulled away, and I was able to watch the two sisters passing close at hand in the bay.
As Hebrides resumed her place at the pier, with Captain John Archie Campbell in command, Clansman lay off: she was required to berth again, apparently to collect stores prior to setting sail for Oban to resume her normal duties there.
Hebrides left for Lochmaddy just after 1400, and I had the honour of being the first passenger to board for her first sailing back in service. Like Clansman, she has had her Mariners’ servery upgraded to the same specifications. Seating in the observation lounge above has also been renovated.
As soon as we berthed at Lochmaddy, I dashed off for some shots of Hebrides from the marina, whilst also taking a quick look at the impressive terminal building display of MacBrayne memorabilia and models compiled by port assistant John Macdonald. It is well worth a look if you are ever passing Lochmaddy.
We made a quiet crossing back to Uig in time for the 1815 departure for Tarbert. I then took the opportunity for a longer look at the refurbished Mariners Restaurant, enjoying a delicious meal of Scotch beef burger, chips and salad. Arrival at Tarbert came at 1955, and Hebrides shut down for the night. As I left for home, I felt a strong sense of satisfaction — delighted to see one of my favourite ferries back where she belongs, and pleased also to have been on her first sailing since her overhaul.
Thinking back to the sight of the two sisters close together in Uig Bay, I began to wonder whether there was now a lack of difference between these two ‘reliables’ of the fleet. The loss of Clansman’s lifeboats during her overhaul in 2018 has certainly made it harder for enthusiasts to tell them apart, although Hebrides’ sheltered open deck area saves the day in that sense. Whatever the case, if there is a pair of vessels that can be depended on, it is the good ships Clansman and Hebrides.