MV Isle of Lewis

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MV Isle of Lewis At Castlebay.jpg
Arriving at Castlebay from Oban, May 2017.
Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svgUnited Kingdom
Name: MV Isle of Lewis
Namesake: Isle of Lewis
Owner: Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited
Operator: Caledonian MacBrayne
Port of registry: Glasgow
Route: Oban - Castlebay
Ordered: 22 September 1993
Builder: Ferguson Shipbuilders, Port Glasgow
Yard number: 608[1]
Laid down: 23 February 1994
Launched: 18 April 1995
Christened: by Princess Alexandra, The Hon Lady Ogilvy
Completed: 26 July 1995
Maiden voyage: 31 July 1995[2]
Status: in service
General characteristics
Tonnage: 6,753 GT
Length: 101.25 metres (332.2 ft)[1]
Beam: 18.52 metres (60.8 ft)[1]
Draught: 4.19 metres (13.7 ft)[1]
Propulsion: 2 x Mirrlees Blackstone K6 Major, 2 x Ulstein 1500 AGSC gearboxes
Speed: 18.0 knots (20.7 mph)[3] (service)
Capacity: 680 passengers, 123 cars[3]
Crew: 32

MV Isle of Lewis (Scottish Gaelic: Eilean Leòdhais) is a Scottish ro-ro ferry, owned by Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited, and operated by Caledonian MacBrayne between Oban and Castlebay. Built in 1995, she remains one of only two ships in the CalMac fleet over 100 metres (328 ft) in length; the other, Loch Seaforth, being longer by almost 15 metres.

Originally built to operate between Ullapool and Stornoway, Isle of Lewis rarely deviated from that route for 20 years. Since March 2016, she serves the Isle of Barra all year round from Oban. She has also provided relief and extra capacity at Uig, Lochmaddy & Tarbert during her career.


Isle of Lewis was built by Ferguson Shipbuilders in Port Glasgow on the Clyde and entered service in July 1995. At present she is the largest ship ever built by Ferguson's. Her crossing time of around 2 hours and 45 minutes improved upon that of her predecessor, MV Suilven, by at least 45 minutes.

With ever increasing traffic on the crossing, there was speculation that Isle of Lewis might be replaced by a larger vessel. In September 2013 the freight vessel Clipper Ranger was chartered to relieve pressure on the route. On 10 June 2012, it was announced that a new £42 million replacement ferry was to be built in Germany.[4] The new 116 metre long ROPAX ferry was named Loch Seaforth and is capable of continuous operation, with a capacity for up to 700 passengers, and 143 cars or 20 commercial vehicles. Loch Seaforth entered service in mid-February 2015 and took over both passenger and freight duties on the route.[5] Since moving to the Barra service in March 2016, Isle of Lewis has been relegated to the role of Stornoway relief ship each October when Loch Seaforth departs for overhaul, with a second relief ship taking care of overnight freight traffic, owing to Isle of Lewis' inability to carry certain hazardous cargo due to her fully enclosed and sealed car deck.

In June 2015, in order to assess where her long-term deployment might bring her, Isle of Lewis undertook a tour of major terminals for berthing trials, with varied results. She called at Lochmaddy, Castlebay, Oban, Craignure, Brodick, Ardrossan, Troon, Campbeltown, and Tarbert between 4 and 9 June. CalMac has since stated that no decision as to her future employment has been made. Major work would be required to her stern ramp, to have it off-set to starboard instead of port, in order for her to work on routes such as Mull and Arran. These adjustments would have no potential impact on her returning to Stornoway for relief work, as both Stornoway and Ullapool harbours now possess full-width linkspans.

In September 2015, it was announced that Isle of Lewis was to become the Oban-Castlebay vessel from summer 2016, thus allowing MV Lord of the Isles to commence daily return sailings between Lochboisdale and Mallaig.

In early June 2017, Isle of Lewis was on duty at Oban and Castlebay when she undertook a series of special sailings laid on from 4 to 6 June by CalMac to transport those travelling to attend the funeral of Eilidh MacLeod, a young Barra schoolgirl who tragically lost her life in the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. As a mark of respect, Isle of Lewis was shown with her CalMac pennant, along with the Barra flag, at half mast.[6]

A book about Isle of Lewis was published on 31 July 2016, in time for the 21st anniversary of the vessel's inauguration in 1995. Published by The Islands Book Trust, MV Isle of Lewis tells the story of the ship up to the present day. It has been written by Lewis-based CalMac enthusiast, and great admirer of the ship, Mark Nicolson, and is available to purchase direct from The Islands Book Trust.


An attractive and imposing vessel, Isle of Lewis is a further development of Isle of Mull and Caledonian Isles' design with a fully enclosed car deck. The car deck is accessed by bow and stern ramps, the latter being offset from the centre of the ship to accommodate the linkspan in Ullapool. The bow ramp is a folding design that is watertight and further protected by a conventional upward hinging bow visor. The bow ramp was originally off-set to suit Stornoway's original linkspan until new facilities opened in April 1997. During an overhaul at Greenock in 2016, the bow ramp was changed to be off-set to port in order to prepare her for her new role as the summer Barra ferry, to make berthing in Oban easier.

There are three lanes to port and two to starboard of the central casing. A hydraulically operated mezzanine deck along each side can be raised or lowered according to traffic requirements. Two stairways from the car deck bring passengers out in the entrance square on deck 4, where the passenger gangways enter.[2]

The entrance square houses the information desk, gift shop and display of locally produced giftware. Forward is a massive cafeteria overlooking the bow and occupying the full width of the ship. Aft are a designated dog area and a truckers' quiet lounge, with the reclining lounge and bar at the stern. Deck 5 houses the observation lounge at the bow, crew accommodation further aft and an open promenade deck stretching down both sides of the ship. Four stairways lead up to the open top deck, providing copious amounts of seating for those passengers either taking advantage of the summer sun, or more often for those brave souls taking on the Atlantic gales.[2]

The upper works of the ship are completed with two raked funnels in red and black company colours and two buff coloured masts. The smaller mast is on top of the wheelhouse and carries the twin radar scanners and radio antennae, while the larger mast is mounted aft on the promenade deck, carrying antennae and the house flag. During the winter refit in 2009, the funnels were fitted with angled exhaust extensions on the funnel tops to direct engine exhaust away from the decks. The ship carries a fast rescue craft and two large motor driven lifeboats, one to port and one to starboard, with a set of automatically deploying inflatable life rafts.


Isle of Lewis spent the majority of her career operating between Ullapool and Stornoway and until April 2015, had hardly sailed on any other route. She endured some treacherous seas crossing The Minch, some of the most exposed waters around the British Isles. Tidal constraints from her 4.2 metre draught make her unsuitable for full-time use on other routes. Her ramps not being suitable for many of the linkspans around the CalMac network further reduces her versatility.

Over the years, Isle of Lewis has called at other stations for a variety of purposes. During her delivery voyage to Stornoway, she called at Ardrossan on 26 July 1995 to collect supplies. During the visit, she was formally handed over to her new owners. The next day, 27 July 1995, she carried out berthing trials at Uig, Lochmaddy & Tarbert respectively to assess her suitability should an emergency arise there - testing her bow ramp at Uig, her bow and stern ramps at Lochmaddy, and her bow ramp at Tarbert - before proceeding for trials at Ullapool and Stornoway later that day.

On 19 April and 31 May 1998, she called at Lochmaddy to carry out two charters with Ministry of Defence traffic to and from Ullapool, suffering a breakdown on the first charter that required repairs lasting four weeks. On 28 November 1998, whilst returning from an overhaul at North Shields, Isle of Lewis made a maiden call at Stromness, Orkney to 'show the flag' as CalMac were bidding for the contract to operate the Northern Isles services instead of the then-incumbent P&O Scottish Ferries. It is worth noting that until the appearance of MV Hebrides, Isle of Lewis was the flagship for CalMac, hence the reason she was the vessel selected to promote CalMac's interest in the Northern Isles franchise.

On 11 November 2008, whilst operating a temporary passenger-only service between Stornoway and Ullapool during a period when the Ullapool linkspan was closed for maintenance and the regular freight vessel was stormbound at Stornoway, Isle of Lewis called at Uig to retrieve stranded freight traffic bound for Lewis.[citation needed]

On 3 April 2015, Isle of Lewis carried out a special sailing from Uig to Lochmaddy to assist Finlaggan, which was covering the route whilst Hebrides was on winter relief duty. This was an historic day for Isle of Lewis, her first passenger sailing on a CalMac service other than her regular Stornoway-Ullapool roster. This was followed by special sailings between Tarbert and Lochmaddy on 19 and 20 June following breakdown of the Sound of Harris ferry.

From 20 April to 18 May 2015, Isle of Lewis operated a temporary service for vehicles and passengers from Stornoway to Uig whilst the 42-year-old linkspan at Ullapool was replaced with a new two-lane design that improves loading and unloading. Clipper Ranger ran a freight service from Stornoway to Uig in addition, and required to have her stern ramp modified for this. Loch Seaforth ran from Stornoway to Ullapool as normal, but on a passenger-only basis. The linkspan works were completed early, on 15 May, although it did not reopen for business until 18 May as planned.[citation needed] Isle of Lewis then carried out a series of special sailings between Oban and Castlebay between and 24 and 27 June - in response to strike action by RMT union members of CalMac on 26 June which caused severe disruption across the whole network. One of Isle of Lewis' special crossings included a 0046 from Oban to Castlebay on 27 June to transport runners to the annual 'Barrathon' marathon, 'saving' that event from cancellation as a result of the disruption caused by the strike.

Following a breakdown of MV Hebrides on 28 July 2015, Isle of Lewis took over on the Uig Triangle, allowing Hebrides to sail to Stornoway for repairs to her propulsion unit. The larger vessel took this unusual duty in her stride despite having to work by the available tide at Uig owing to her deeper draught. Hebrides was able to return to service early on 30 July, although Isle of Lewis remained on the triangle for the remainder of the day to clear any backlog of traffic, and returned to Stornoway following an extra sailing from Lochmaddy to Uig.

In early 2016, Isle of Lewis relieved on the Scrabster - Stromness route for NorthLink whilst MV Hamnavoe sailed for her refit. This was a reciprocal arrangement after MS Hildasay provided cover at Stornoway during the dry-docking of Loch Seaforth.[7]

In March 2016, Isle of Lewis began a new phase of her life serving Oban and Castlebay. MV Lord of the Isles commenced a daily return service between Lochboisdale and Mallaig, thus ending South Uist's direct link to Oban. With Isle of Lewis' deployment there, the Isle of Barra receives a daily dedicated service.[8][9] These summer arrangements, announced by Transport Scotland, are likely to be a stop-gap until the new MV Glen Sannox is commissioned at Arran, and Hull 802 is commissioned on the Uig-Lochmaddy/Tarbert services in 2019 and 2020 respectively. On her first official day on the Barra service, 25 March 2016, Isle of Lewis completed all of her sailings in spite of an amber alert of adverse weather and swell conditions.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "MV Isle of Lewis". Ships of Calmac. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
  2. ^ a b c "History : MV Isle of Lewis". Ships of Calmac. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
  3. ^ a b "MV Isle of Lewis". Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  4. ^ "'Greener and faster' ferry ordered for Stornoway-Ullapool route". BBC News. 8 June 2012. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
  5. ^ "Name chosen for replacement Stornoway Ullapool ferry". CMAL. 8 April 2013. Retrieved 14 April 2013.
  6. ^ Mary McCool (5 June 2017). "Barra Falls Silent". The Sun. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  7. ^ "CalMac finalises dry dock refit programme". Stornoway Gazette. 27 October 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  8. ^ Dalton, Alastair (22 September 2015). "CalMac announces more frequent ferry sailings". The Scotsman. Retrieved 24 March 2016. The extra capacity will be provided by deploying Isle of Lewis, which previously sailed between Ullapool and Stornoway, on the Barra and Lochboisdale routes.
  9. ^ "Extra sailings for Tiree Music Festival". Caledonian MacBrayne. Archived from the original on 8 April 2016. Retrieved 24 March 2016. MV Isle of Lewis will still operate her normal Oban - Castlebay daily sailings during this time.

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