Monday, September 13, 2010

Clansman & Hebrides

I meant to finish off the story of the Hebridean Princess by mentioning the fate of the Columba's two sister ships, the Clansman and the Hebrides.

The Clansman was originally posted to the summer only Mallaig to Armadale (Skye) ferry service. These were light duties for such an imposing vessel (although latterly she also gave some sailings to Lochboisdale (South Uist) and Castlebay (Barra)) but her strategic role in MacBrayne's fleet was as back-up to her two sisters on their "lifeline" services to Mull and the Outer Hebrides. In winter 1972, the Clansman was lengthened and converted to a drive-through ferry for the new Ullapool to Stornoway car ferry service which opened in 1973. She was replaced on this route by the Suilven in September 1974 and in summer 1975, the Clansman was on the Oban to Craignure (Mull) service. From 1976 to 1983, she was the summer car ferry between Ardrossan and Brodick (Arran) while in winter, she generally relieved other members of the Calmac fleet during their overhaul.

The Clansman was never particularly successful after her alteration to ro-ro as her engines were not upgraded to cope with her increased tonnage and in September 1983, at less than 20 years old, she was offered for sale by Calmac. She was bought in 1984 by a company called Torbay Seaways who wanted to open a car ferry service between Torquay and the Channel Islands. Unfortunately, they couldn't get planning permission for the necessary vehicle loading linkspan (ramp) so the Clansman was sold later the same year to a Maltese company and renamed Tamira for a service between Malta and its satellite island of Gozo.

   The Clansman in Valetta, Malta, in the mid-80s. Picture credit Fakta om Fartyg

But she was soon sold on again for service across the Red Sea (the fate of many British ferries although some luckier ones end up in the Aegean sailing to the Greek islands) renamed Al Hussein and then Al Rasheed. She was last recorded in Lloyd's Register in 1994-95 and in 2002 was lying abandoned off the coast of Sudan - she can still be seen on Google Earth at co-ordinates 19 22' 35.87"N, 37 18' 56.11"E

The Hebrides spent her entire career with MacBrayne's/Calmac year round on the "Uig Triangle" service between Uig on Skye and Tarbert (Harris) and Lochmaddy (North Uist) until she was sold in 1985 in anticipation of that route being upgraded to ro-ro the following year. The Hebrides was acquired by Torbay Seaways, the same company which had bought the Clansman: not having managed to secure a ro-ro linkspan, the Hebrides' hoist loading method of embarking vehicles off the pier would do as second best.

Renamed Devoniun, she sailed quite successfully to the Channel Islands in the late 80s before being laid up at Ipswich in 1990. Three years later, in 1993, she was sailing across the Adriatic from Italy to Albania named Illyria but by the end of the 90s was laid up once again, this time at Eleusina near Athens in Greece.

Picture credit Fakta om Fartyg 

The Illyria ex Devoniun ex Hebrides is also still visible on Google Earth at co-ordinates 38 2.577' N, 23 31.496' E

The give away is the two white dots on either side near the bow which are the two "telephone box" type control positions for the vehicle loading hoist. Though still visible, that's old GE imagery dated in June 2003 and only just caught the ship as she was very soon after towed away to Aliaga in Turkey (some reports say India) for breaking up, apparently in a fire damaged condition.

On a more cheerful note, Calmac to this day have two sister ships in their fleet called Clansman and Hebrides built in 1998 and 2001 respectively. The Clansman sails from Oban to Castlebay (Barra) and Lochboisdale (South Uist) while the Hebrides follows in her ancestor's footsteps on the route from Uig to Tarbert and Lochmaddy. In the picture below I took in 2003, the Hebridean Princess (ex Columba of 1964) is vacating Castlebay pier to allow the 1998 Clansman in - 30 years earlier, it would have been the other ship having to move to let the Columba in!


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hebridean Princess (ex Columba) - Part 3

Picking up from Part 2, less than a year after she had given her last "Sacred Isle Cruise" to Iona and Staffa for Caledonian MacBrayne in September 1988 certificated for 870 passengers, the 1964 built car ferry Columba emerged from a refit at Lowestoft as the mini-cruise liner Hebridean Princess in May 1989 to embark on her new career for Hebridean Island Cruises Ltd with luxury accommodation for just 49.

In common with her past life was still being based at Oban and her ports of call up and down the west coast but the contrast with Calmac's "Mini Cruises" - with their meals in the self service cafeteria and extra for an en suite shower - was out of this world!

To begin with, the Hebridean Princess retained the vehicle loading hoist, the new owners envisaging cruise passengers taking their cars with them, but this was removed after a few years and the space now accommodates the ship's tenders for taking passengers ashore at ports of call where there is no pier she can get alongside. This is clearly seen in the picture below of the HP at Craignure on Mull alongside the pier she was built to serve as a car ferry in 1964

   Photo credit hebrides

The idea of luxury cruises in the dubious weather of the west coast of Scotland was ahead of its time in 1989 but the HP prospered beyond expectations. The company expanded in 2000 by adding another ship, the Hebridean Spirit, and cruises abroad. The name was changed to "Hebridean International Cruises" and the Hebridean Princess sometimes even ventured to such places as the Norwegian fjords. The crowning - literally! - glory came in 2006 with the Queen chartering her for a Scottish cruise to replace the lost Royal Yacht Britannia.

But the recession caught up with HIC and weeks after axing the international cruises and announcing the sale of the Hebridean Spirit, the company went into administration in April 2009. Fortunately, the administrators recognised the strength of the core business of the Hebridean Princess' Scottish cruise programme and she was sold as a going concern to Swan Hellenic: service continues uninterrupted.

"Is that Leonardo de Caprio out there?"

Having been on the go as a cruise ship for 21 years now, the Hebridean Princess is now close to the 24 years (1964-88) she spent as the car ferry Columba for MacBrayne's and Calmac and she seems set fair to celebrate her 50th birthday in 2014 still sailing the same waters she was designed for.

I used to sail on a yacht out of Oban in the late 70s and the Columba was always a familiar and reassuring sight as she did her rounds of the islands. Sadly I never sailed on her - and I'm never likely to now given the Hebridean Princess' legendarily high prices! From Hebridean Island Cruises' website, I see the cheapest berth on the last cruise this year, 5 nights from Fairlie round the Clyde departing 16 November is £928 in a windowless cabin on the "Hebridean Deck" (the car deck!) as pictured below.

At the other end of the spectrum, a billet in the Isle of Arran suite for the 10 night Grand Cruise to St Kilda and the North departing next June will set you back a cool £13,000. And that's per person by the way, albeit fully inclusive with the dinner menu featuring such delights as Guinea Fowl with a Herb Mash and Ribbons of Courgette and Chocolate Nemesis [?] with Crème Chantilly and Mint Syrup.

So it's a lottery win or a fairy godmother for me but, if the latter, then my wish wouldn't be the Hebridean Princess but to be transported 30 years back in time to go on a Calmac Mini Cruise on the Columba (£63 for 3 nights with pie, beans and chips in the cafeteria £1.75 extra and protection from chemical attack thrown in).

"Diz yiz want anurra dod ae herb mash wi yir nemesis there, doll?"

A scan from an early 70s MacBrayne's brochure - I wonder what a "plain" breakfast and tea was like and was the extra 30p for a "non-plain" one worth it?

And finally, below, the Columba, as I recall her in the Sound of Mull in 1986. Sorry about the fore-sheet (bit of yacht rigging belonging to a Westerly 33 called Traigh Iar which I believe is also still very much in commission in the same waters) cutting across what otherwise might have been quite a good picture.

PS - a full detailed history of the Columba available on Ships of Calmac.