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.


  1. Hi Neil and Carol

    I have read with interest your blog and your reidence on the Azores brings back fond memories of numerous summers over there between 1998-2005 aboard the Isle of Man car ferry LADY OF MANN, which was on charter to Acor Line providng the inter-island car erry services. You are out of the way in Flores, even by Azores standards !!

    COLUMBA is 25 years HEBRIDEAN PRICESS in May, as you will no doubt know, in May 2013.

    See www.hebrideanprincessinpicture.co.uk or www.ferrypubs.co.uk to see a 25th anniversary comemorative publication in which you may be interested.


    Bryan KENNEDY

  2. Thanks Bryan but is it not May 2014 which marks 25 years of the HP? What is certain is that she's close to having been the HP for longer than she was the Columba.

  3. I have just discovered your blog "Except the Kyles..." and am enjoying it immensely.
    I have taken the liberty of lremoving the foresheet from your picture of the Columba - see the result and a message at: www.crovan.co.uk/columba

    Callum MacLeod