Tuesday, May 24, 2011

MV Loch Seaforth

As Caledonian MacBrayne take delivery this week of their latest ship, the MV Finlaggan destined to serve the island of Islay, and flesh is finally put on the bones of what has for long merely been an artist's impression, it's interesting to go back 64 years and look at an artist's impression of another new ship for service to the Western Isles:-

This was the MV Loch Seaforth ordered by MacBrayne's for the important run from Mallaig and Kyle of Lochalsh to Stornoway on the island of Lewis. The picture above is scanned from their 1947 summer timetable printed on very thin, post-war utility type paper of almost toilet paper thin-ness. Post war scarcity also led to the new ship not, in fact, being ready "early this summer" as the brochure predicted and being delayed until December 1947.

The artist's impression is a good likeness of how the ship ended up looking except that her funnel was actually a bit narrower and taller and she also ended up being called "Loch Seaforth" (two words) rather than "Lochseaforth" (one word). It wasn't a printing mistake in the brochure, though. In 1928, when the company passed from the MacBrayne family to the joint ownership of Coast Lines and the London, Midland & Scottish Railway Company, MacBrayne's adopted the convention of naming all their new ships after Scottish lochs but always as one word - thus "Lochearn" rather than "Loch Earn". The Loch Seaforth broke that rule and became the first new ship in the fleet with a two word loch name (although in 1934, an existing ship, the Plover, had been renamed Loch Aline). Thereafter, new ships named after lochs followed the same pattern unless a one word loch name was being re-used (thus "Lochdunvegan" (1950) because she was the second MacBrayne ship of that name but "Loch Carron" (1951) because there had never previously been a "Lochcarron" in the fleet).

The Loch Seaforth at Kyle of Lochalsh - picture credit clydeboy63
 The Loch Seaforth served the Mallaig-Kyle-Stornoway run for over 24 years until she was replaced by a car ferry, the MV Iona, in 1972. The following year, the mainland terminus for the Stornoway service was moved to Ullapool and also in 1973, while on passge between Lochboisdale in South Uist and Tiree, the Loch Seaforth struck a rock in the Gunna Sound between Coll and Tiree. The passengers were evacuated in the lifeboats (without injury) and the ship made it to Tiree but she sank alongside the pier (I remember watching this on Reporting Scotland - I was 9 at the time) and remained there until patched up and towed away some weeks later to be scrapped. As the shipping services on the west coast would be totally converted to ro-ro car ferry operations by 1975, the Loch Seaforth's days were more or less numbered in 1973 anyway but she bowed out early with the dubious distinction of being the last Calmac (or antecedent companies) ship whose passengers have had to take to the lifeboats! Let's hope a similar fate doesn't befall the Finlaggan entering service this week

Finlaggan at Port Askaig - picture credit Richard Cameron


  1. Excellent Neil. You may already be aware that 'robbeale' has posted two short video clips of Loch Seaforth at Kyle of Lochalsh (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wymCXlC-pUI)
    and Mallaig (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omGFTy3nzDs).

  2. Thanks Roy. I have seen these clips but thanks for drawing attention to them here.

  3. The last CalMac vessel to have the passenger's removed by lifeboat was M.V. Claymore at Lochboisdale in February 1982 when it hit rocks at Gasay island while trying to avoid a fishing boat.