It seems that Spring in recent years not only welcomed sunshine, lambs and daffodils but broken ferries and messed up timetables too. The ferry services were disrupted almost every time at the start of the tourist season which usually coincides with the start of the summer ferry timetables, end of March. The problems were usually due to ferries returning late from dry dock resulting in a knock-on effect throughout the network. Broken down ferries are another cause of disruptions as the fleet is getting older and older. This year however, according to Calmac, things were planned to be different. The maintenance schedule was altered and the two Islay ferries were supposed to be back early March to guarantee a smooth start into the tourist season....You feel it coming right?
After the breakdown of the MV Finlaggan on Friday 15th of March, only weeks after her return from dry dock, the Caledonian Isles ferry, the one between Ardrossan and Brodick (Isle of Arran) had malfunctioning bow thrusters and as a result "touched" the pier in Brodick (Arran), or as Calmac wrote on their website: "Please be advised that as the MV Caledonian Isles was coming alongside in Brodick at approx 1400hrs, the bow thrusters failed resulting in a heavy contact being made with the pier fenders. This has resulted in some damage which will require further investigation." Read more...
Due to the MV Caledonian Isles now out of service the MV Hebridean Isles, the second ferry on the Islay route, is now acting as relief vessel on the Arran route, resulting in Islay being back to a one vessel service until further notice. So with the start of the tourist season ahead and the ever growing demand for freight and vehicle space on the ferry it's going to be another problematic time ahead, for Arran as well! This is of course not Calmac's fault but it shows how fragile the entire ferry network is. With one ferry down the businesses, locals and visitors to Islay can experience huge problems getting across. At the moment of writing Calmac wasn't able to say how long this situation will last. There is a single timetable in operation for today and tomorrow, Monday 18th of March. I'll update this article with more info when it becomes available. In the meantime you can keep up to date through the Calmac website. For other options and possible refunds on cancelled bookings please read our Ferry Status Page
Update Sunday 24 March
The Ferry service is back to normal.
Is Western Ferries coming to the Rescue?
Yesterday I read an interesting article in the Herald Scotland about Western Ferries playing with the idea of opening up a freight only ferry service to Islay: "Western Ferries has revealed it is weighing up a bid to return to serving the Hebridean island of Islay – nearly four decades after withdrawing from the route.The company, which runs the Gourock to Dunoon car and passenger ferry service, is examining the viability of operating a freight-only service to Islay." It sounds as a great idea, especially with the increased demand due to the investments made in Islay's distilleries. It would make life for many ferry users somewhat easier and it will increase freight capacity dramatically. Perhaps a joint venture between Western Ferries and the distilleries on Islay could turn this into a real possibility!