Monday, 2 November 2015
November has come in quite mild this year. I always talk about the weather because it is important, if only because it determines whether our ferries can sail. That in turn is vital, as everything comes from across the water. Stornoway, a town of 9,000 souls, lies on the eastern shores of the island of Lewis, and is 50 miles northwest of the mainland port of Ullapool. The passenger ferry Loch Seaforth takes two and a half hours to cover the distance. At present, her predecessor, Isle of Lewis, is on the run, as the Seaforth is in drydock for her annual overhaul. At night, freight is taken to the islands by ferry, which currently is undertaken by the Hildasay. She will leave once the Seaforth comes back from drydock. The Hildasay normally plies the route to the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland) and is run by Serco. This brings a political angle, as the Western Isles ferry routes are up for retendering. There are two contenders, Calmac (the current operators) and Serco. Calmac is state-funded (its island routes are lifelines), but if the tender is awarded to Serco, it will become a private enterprise, a wholly for-profit operation. Whether that is in the best interest of the islands, or even the ferry crews, is subject of a fierce debate. A decision on the tender is to be taken in 2016.