Looking Back - The First RoRo Ferry on Islay

Saturday 6 April 1968 was a new beginning in ferry travel for Islay and the forerunner of ferries as we know them today.

On a beautiful sunny, day 50 years ago, Western Ferries’ brand new red and white ferry, MV ‘Sound of Islay’, sailed into Port Askaig for the first time, heralding a transformation in ferry travel to and from Islay. On that first day it seemed as if half the population of Islay was in Port Askaig to see the new ferry with, what appeared to be the other half, there on Sunday. Captain Angus Mitchell and First Officer, Sandy Ferguson found their ship overrun by enthusiastic sightseers.

With the arrival of the ‘Sound of Islay’, came a revolution in vehicle transportation to and from Islay, as, up until then, cars were driven onto a net and swung into the hold of the mail boat. Now, here was a roll-on/roll-off ferry, bringing Islay into line with the other west coast islands that had, had roll-on/ roll-off ferries since 1964. In 1964 the Scottish Office had three identical ferries built, the ‘Hebrides’, ‘Clansman’ and ‘Columba’, to serve the islands from Mull to Lewis but, for reasons best known to itself, omitted to include Islay in the plan and as had always been the case, Islay was ‘left out in the cold’, having to make do with the ageing mail boat, the ‘Lochiel’. Continue reading...

Everything about the Sound of Islay was different, her design, her colour (not the black hull and white superstructure we were used to), and her timetable which was the forerunner of what we have come to expect today leaving Kennacraig at 6 am, plus a Sunday sailing.

Duncan Paterson, was one of the first people to sell Sunday papers from the bus shelter in Port Askaig to crowds of Illich, who, for the first time in their lives, were able to read their Sunday papers on a Sunday. In March 1969 the ‘Sound of Gigha’ started a service between Port Askaig and Feolin in Jura, thereby giving the Jura people a connection with the mainland ferry. Jura people might find it interesting to note that, at that time, the ‘Sound of Gigha’ did seven runs a day on weekdays plus Sunday sailings and the single car fare Islay/Jura was 90p for any length of car and 15p single for an adult.

The crew of the Sound of Islay on their last trip to Port Askaig, along with hotel own- ers, Frank and Mavis Spears

July 1969 saw the arrival of the MV ‘Sound of Jura’ which was much larger and faster than the ‘Sound of Islay’ and capable of doing three trips a day, leaving Kennacraig at 0600, 1100 and 1600. The Islay excursion fare for two days or a weekend , for any length of car was £5 return. Just imagine that!

Alas! The good times came to an end in August 1976 with the sale of the ‘Sound of Jura’ which set sail for Mexico in October 1976 and was renamed, ‘Quintana Roo’.

The ‘Sound of Islay’ took up the run again and continued until 30 September 1981 when she made her final trip to Islay. It was with great sadness we waved her goodbye as she sailed out of Port Askaig for the last time as she had been a pioneer of her time. However it was not the end of her life by any means as we now know.

She was sold to the Department of Transport, Government of Newfoundland in Canada in 1982 and to this day is still sailing there, having recently had just under 5m Canadian dollars spent on her refit which they hope will see her last another eight to ten years. Not bad for a 50 year old ferry built by Ferguson Shipbuilders, Port Glasgow for a cost of £168,000.

Tag: ferry history

Published with kind permission of the author Peggy MacEachern and the Ileach Newspaper