Sunday, October 22, 2017

Inner Isles Mail Part 4 - the Lochearn

Part 3 here.

picture credit John Park



We've reached the 1930s and the regular steamer on the Inner Isles Mail service from Oban to Tobermory, Kilchoan (Ardnamurchan), Coll, Tiree, Castlebay (Barra) and Lochboisdale (South Uist) was the Lochearn, built in 1930 and pictured above sweeping purposefully in to Oban.

Note, incidentally, that the Lochearn was not a steamship but she (and her diesel powered fleetmates) were always nevertheless referred to as "steamers", never as "ferries" which term was, until the advent of car ferries in the 1960s, reserved for launches which went out from the shore to meet steamers at places ("ferry calls") where there was no pier the steamer could get alongside. I've expatiated on the solecism of referring to steamers as ferries before (here) and I'm going to come back to the ferry calls (Kilchoan & Coll) on the Inner Isles Mail run in a later post.

The earliest timetable I have for the Inner Isles Mail is 1934, below:-


Basically, the Lochearn left Oban on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 06.00 and ended up at Lochboisdale at 20.00. On Wednesdays and Fridays, she left again at 21.30 to return via the same calls as outbound to Oban where, including a 3 hour 15 minute layover at Castlebay, she arrived back at 14.45 on Thursday/Saturday afternoon.

On Mondays, the Lochearn waited at Lochboisdale for the arrival of the Outer Isles Mail steamer (her sister the Lochmor) from Harris and Lochmaddy (North Uist) at about midnight on her way to Mallaig. This allowed an interchange between the two ships such that passengers from Barra could travel to Mallaig and passengers from Harris and Lochmaddy could travel to Oban. The Lochearn then left Lochboisdale at 00.45 on Tuesday morning (15 minutes after the Lochmor left for Mallaig) and returned to Oban, just touching at Castlebay rather than making a 3h15m stop there as on Wednesday and Friday nights. The Lochearn also met the Lochmor at Lochboisdale at 20.00 on Fridays when the latter was en route northbound to Lochmaddy and Harris so this allowed passengers who had come from Oban on the Lochearn to continue to these ports.

Look closely (click to enlarge) and you can see both the Lochearn and the Lochmor are alongside at Lochboisdale here, the Lochearn, with slightly taller funnel, outside.

The schedule just described was the summer season (June to August) one. The right hand panel of the timetable pictured above says it's for "Until June 2 and from Sept 3 to 29" so it's not clear if that was for a "shoulder season" or the whole rest of the year. Anyway, note that the only differences are that, on Fridays off season, the steamer did not sail to Lochboisdale but returned to Oban from Castlebay via a call at Canna. Also, an extra 30 minutes is allowed to cross the Sea of the Hebrides between Tiree and Castlebay, presumably on account of less clement weather out of high summer.

This schedule remained the same until the War. There were inevitably disruptions during the conflict and the earliest post-War timetable I have is 1949 reproduced below.


The schedule has been simplified such that all three sailings per week now continue to Lochboisdale year round, arriving there at 21.30 and leaving again at 23.30. The Lochearn now met the Lochmor on the Outer Isles Mail on all of her calls at Lochboisdale, the Lochmor continuing north to Lochmaddy and Harris on Monday and back to Mallaig on Wednesdays and Fridays. The call at Canna on the return voyage once a week has been dropped as have all calls at Kilchoan since 1949: henceforth Ardnamurchan would be served by its own vessel crossing to Tobermory to connect with the Inner Isles and Sound of Mull mail steamers there. (I'll return to the Ardnamurchan services in a later post.)

The Lochearn at Castlebay

The Lochearn was re-engined in 1948 and, after her return to service, she went to take the Outer Isles Mail while the Lochmor was being re-engined as well. The Lochearn didn't return to Oban until June 1949 and, during her absence, the Inner Isles Mail was taken by the Lochness: this was the ship which had been ordered for the Stornoway Mail service in terms of the 1928 mail contract but had been relegated to spare overnight steamer (i.e. with sleeping cabins) by the advent of the Loch Seaforth (I) on the Stornoway run in 1947. The Lochness also relieved the Lochearn during her regular winter overhauls so she was seen quite frequently on the Inner Isles Mail in the late 1940s and early 1950s until she was sold in 1955.

The Lochness at Castlebay

In 1955, the Lochearn was replaced on the Inner Isles Mail by a new vessel. She went to take over the Sound of Mull Mail run (Oban to Tobermory via various calls on both sides of the Sound of Mull) until she was sold in 1964 upon the advent of new car ferries. But before we leave her, here's some video footage of the Lochearn leaving Oban in the 1960s when she was operating the Sound of Mull Mail (Note - the window below is too small to see the film properly so click on the title ("1960s Oban ...") to link through to Youtube to see it properly.):-




I'll come back to the story of the Inner Isles Mail under the Lochearn's successor in the next post..

The Lochearn in the Firth of Lorne on the Sound of Mull Mail service late in her career - photo credit Andy Carter

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