CRSC is grateful to Jim McMath, a member of CalMac’s ‘small ferry pool’ of relief crewmen, for allowing us to publish his onboard photograph of Loch Bhrusda arriving at Eigg on 17 September, together with others taken on the same day at Canna, Mallaig and Muck.
The way Jim McMath puts it is that “they like us up here” — “they” being the residents of Muck and “we” being Loch Bhrusda and her crew. “The ‘Bhrusda’ goes through the channel at Muck much more easily than Lochnevis,” says Jim.
The regular Small Isles vessel has been absent for overhaul on the Clyde for the past fortnight. “Lochnevis finds it a wee bit harder to get through in bad weather. Loch Bhrusda will battle through anything.”
If that seems a debatable claim, it is only because the crew of Loch Bhrusda are genuinely proud of their ship and enjoy the range of relief work she does, from the Sound of Barra and Sound of Harris crossings to less exposed work on the Clyde. Lochnevis may be bigger, faster and more sophisticated, but Loch Bhrusda is CalMac’s maid of all work.
The length of the Small Isles run and its exposed nature mean that the vessel operates with two skippers, currently John Angus Henderson and Duncan McGougan, alongside Jim as seaman/purser and engineer Alisdair Hill.
“We’re pretty much on the go the whole time,” Jim says, so there is not much time to linger at each port. In good weather, however, the passage times allow for wildlife spotting: Jim has taken some thrilling video close-ups of dolphins darting alongside the ship. Minke whales have also been sighted.
Where Loch Bhrusda suffers in comparison with Lochnevis is her speed and passenger certificate. When the regular boat is away, CalMac charters a small passenger boat, Highest Apple, which leaves Mallaig ahead of the ‘Bhrusda’ and goes faster: passengers embark via Loch Bhrusda at the Mallaig linkspan, before transferring through the life raft embarkation gate onto Highest Apple.
Jim says that, while Loch Bhrusda is on the Small Isles run, 99 per cent of punters travel on Highest Apple.
The ‘Bhrusda’ takes all the goods traffic and cars, meaning Jim has less contact with the public than usual — “but some still enjoy coming with us because we are a bigger space. We get the cyclists and the occasional enthusiast.”
There is a dedicated team of CalMac employees at Mallaig to do the haulage and luggage transfers. At the islands, the locals help to offload goods.
Jim says that in good weather, the Small Isles run is “one of the best sails in the network, and a much sought after one in the ‘small ferry pool’. The scenery is so stunning — last week was glorious. If you get on to that run, you’re doing well.”
FURTHER READING: Jim McMath — “the best job ever”
Published on 30 September 2019