Putting off linkspan work to later in the year ruled out

CalMac Managing Director Martin Dorchester has confirmed expectations to see the MV Loch Seaforth sailing the Minch at the end of February.

Following a meeting with Stornoway Port Authority on Tuesday, January 27, Mr Dorchester said: “We believe that the port will be available to us in the next two weeks and we believe we’ll need two weeks of familiarisation with the Seaforth; so we do expect to have the Seaforth appear in February. Probably towards the latter end.”

This familiarisation period is currently underway, as the Seaforth is sailing up and down the coast, birthing at different places.

It’s necessary as the vessel has a different propulsion unit and hull design which the crew need to get used to handling.

As the Seaforth takes over the Minch route the MV Isle of Lewis will be fully crewed and on standby should any technical or capacity issues arise.

The Isle of Lewis will stay on standby until there is complete confidence in the Loch Seaforth.

The Ullapool linkspan works will commence on April 20th, when the tide is at its highest.

The Linkspan works are dictated by the tides, as it needs to be floated off at high tide and floated back on at high tide for the upgrades to be carried out.

This means the works will last no longer than five weeks.

Also contributing to the April 20 start period is the fact that the works will take place after the busy Easter period, but before the busy summer.

Summer ferry timetables are still to be finalised, however CalMac will be running a replacement vehicle service between Skye and Harris whilst the linkspan works are under way, and a dedicated team has been set up to help tourists plan their travel to any destination.

Mr Dorchester explained that there are several reasons that mean the Linkspan work cannot be put off until after the summer.

He said: “We want to build resilience into the network before we hit next winter.

“At the moment, as the Ullapool linkspan is, we would have limited flexibility in covering challenges over the next winter.

“If we wait until October we would be pushing it into the darker nights and the worse weather.

“April/May, is manageable for us; we’ve got extra tonnage in the fleet available to us and the weather is hopefully more conducive to doing the work.

The point was also made that, from Ullapool’s perspective, the contractor is currently still on-site, with the hardware that is needed already available.”

Contractual reasons pertaining to the Clipper Ranger were also contributory to the work being riskier if carried out after summer.