Western Isles car ferry 50th anniversary marked

M V Hebrides. SGD. 22227
M V Hebrides. SGD. 22227

Today (April 15, 2014) is the 50th anniversary of one of the most important events in the history of ferry services to the West Coast of Scotland.

On April 15, 1964, David MacBrayne Ltd introduced the first car ferry to the Western Isles, MV Hebrides, on the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert triangle, and it was followed a few months later by two others, the MV Clansman and MV Columba, which operated to Mull and Skye. All three ships were built by Hall, Russell & Company of Aberdeen at a cost of around £2m.

They were the first RO RO (Roll On Roll Off or Drive on Drive off ) ships to serve the west coast islands. Prior to that vehicles and general cargo were lifted aboard using a cargo net (Lo Lo or Lift on Lift off)

In its first year MV Hebrides carried 11,000 vehicles; last year (2013) 78,000 were carried on the route.

Speaking before sailing on the MV Hebrides from Uig to Tarbert, en route to the Cabinet meeting in Stornoway, Finance Secretary John Swinney said: “I am delighted that CalMac is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its first car ferry sailing to the Western Isles. The company provides vital lifeline services to Scotland’s island communities. In this, the Year of Homecoming, CalMac will transport thousands of visitors from home and abroad coming to enjoy the Scotland’s spectacular scenery.”

David MacBrayne Ltd and the Caledonian Steam Packet Company merged in 1973 to become Caledonian MacBrayne, now CalMac Ferries Ltd.

CalMac Managing Director Martin Dorchester said: “The introduction of these ships revolutionised ferry services at the time and this anniversary shows just how far the company has come and how services have improved in 50 years.”

“The evolution of car ferries serving the Western Isles has continued with the MV Hallaig, the world’s first seagoing diesel-electric hybrid ferry taking up the Sconser-Raasay run in December and the introduction of the MV Loch Seaforth on the Stornoway-Ullapool route later this year.”

And he added: “CalMac Ferries Ltd now operates the services previously delivered by David MacBrayne Ltd, but today’s ferry travellers can be assured that the desire to improve and innovate services, demonstrated in the early 1960s by the purchase of these three ships, is just as evident within the company now as it was then. For example, a major project is underway to revamp our ticketing and online booking systems which will further enhance the customers’ experience of travelling with Caledonian MacBrayne.”