Some marginal improvements for the next two weeks.

Following our open letter to Transport Minister Kevin Stewart, there has been some movement from CalMac to mitigate for the loss of the Isle of Mull over the next fortnight.

A second vessel is to be deployed on the Fishnish-Lochaline route from Monday 15th. We have pointed out that with the Corran ferry out of action this will be of little benefit, and that if there is a spare Loch-class vessel, it should be deployed between Fishnish or Craignure and Oban.

For the first of the two weeks (Sunday 14th – Saturday 20th) The Isle of Lewis may offer an additional sailing each day, if the weather is fine (she cannot berth in Craignure in anything other than the best weather). These sailings will not be bookable, and there will be no certainty they will operate until close to the time. They will not operate for the second week, because the Isle of Lewis is heading to Ullapool for repair work whilst Castlebay linkspan is closed.

Again only for the first week, additional sailings will be offered by the Isle of Mull as she passes by Craignure on her way to/from Lochboisdale. These sailings are timetabled, but unbookable. They are subject to space being spare, and only available to cars and foot passengers. They will not operate for the second week (May 21st – 27th) because of the extra demands on the Lochboisdale service caused by the Castlebay closure in that same week. You can see the times of these additional sailings here.

Although the Loch Frisa is double-crewed and therefore has the ability to work for at least 18 hours per day, she will be maintaining her current 13 hour schedule. On this, CalMac say:

We investigated the option of increasing the number of direct scheduled sailings on Oban – Craignure with MV Coruisk and MV Loch Frisa, but this will not be possible.  This is due to the hours of rest implication for MV Coruisk crew.  MV Loch Frisa does have crew which would be able to operate additional sailings on a single vessel service, however there would be berth availability challenges on a two-vessel service, as a shorter operating day on MV Coruisk and needs to be berthed earlier than MV Loch Frisa.  Port staff would not be able to safely support additional sailings and we would need to amend existing timetables, which would result in timings and capacities changing on each sailing.

The berthing clashes and hours of work issues CalMac refer to would be fixed if the Frisa and Coruisk swapped roles. Loch Frisa could overnight in Oban (as she did in winter) and could operate additional sailings at each end of the day whilst the Coruisk is laid up on the South side of Craignure pier. Reading between the lines, it sounds very much like the administrative burden caused by the introduction of the new ticketing system at the same time as changing the Craignure-Oban timetable yet again is just too much for Gourock to cope with.

We will keep pressing for further improvement, and can see no operational reason why the Loch Frisa and Coruisk cannot swap roles in week 2 (21 – 27 May), thus allowing the Loch Frisa to operate additional early and late sailings. For the moment however, we just have these few additional unbookable sailings courtesy of the Barra and Lochboisdale services as they pass by Craignure.

And during this service chaos, we have the transition to a new ticketing system. At the time of writing, tickets for Craignure-Oban anytime in the next two weeks cannot be bought, either online or by phone. Not even for foot passengers. We have to assume and hope that come Tuesday morning when Ebooking goes live, some spaces will become available.

We have put CalMac in touch with the owner of a passenger vessel that might be available to charter, but so far this has proven fruitless. CalMac say they are continuing to investigate other charter opportunities.

All other options we suggested have proven undeliverable. None of CalMac’s Clyde-based fleet are certified to operate in the Firth of Lorne. The Alfred cannot operate between Lochboisdale and Mallaig; and in any case it is now deployed to Arran.

If you are impacted by the service reductions of the next two weeks please do let us know by emailing us. In some cases (particularly hospital appointments) we have been able to get solutions from CalMac. But even if we can’t immediately help, every example of disruption, missed opportunities, lost business, missed appointments, failed deliveries or any other impact is helpful for us to build arguments for improvement.

Finally – a word about CalMac’s frontline staff. They are under immense pressure right now and regardless of how each of us are individually being affected, please remember that they are victims as much as us. Often more so, because they are at the receiving end of frustration and anger. The causes of this chaos are in Edinburgh, Gourock and Port Glasgow. Please try to remember that!

6 thoughts on “Some marginal improvements for the next two weeks.

  1. 0700-2100 is 14 hours unless I’m mistaken in my Maths, add in time for the crew to start up and shut down that’s probably nearer 16 hours. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cost of providing accommodation in Oban at this time of year for all the island based crew was astronomical, if even possible at such short notice, as there’s none on the Loch Frisa.

    I notice you didn’t mention the shoreside staff in your comments regarding Calmacs reply either despite it also being a reason provided as to why they couldn’t change it. The staff at Craignure worked hard throughout the winter despite all the extra hours and you could see they were feeling it throughout when they were staying back so late for like one or two cars and passengers, I always felt bad being the only passenger when I used it, I’m sure they would have all rather been at home with their families than doing an extra few hours for the few like myself who used the late service once in a while.

    The committed have did wonderful things for the island so far and I hope they continue to do so but the “I can run the service better” attitude from the committee is starting to grate on me and I can only imagine how the crews and pier staff are feeling. Keep pushing our views and issues forward but try toning back the “instructions” and the complaints they aren’t doing what you ask please, it doesn’t look professional and has the feeling of toddlers not getting what they want.

  2. Hi Osprey Watcher.

    Sorry you feel we’ve got the tone wrong. Tricky business to get the language to everyone’s satisfaction, particularly when our role is to seek improvement – which means we have to state what is wrong to begin with.
    We have a huge amount of sympathy for front line CalMac staff, who are doing their best in often stressful circumstances. Please read the last paragraph of this very post where we talk about that.
    Lack of accommodation in Oban was not cited as a barrier to running the frisa for longer hours by calmac, but availability of shore staff could be – their comment on that was a bit obtuse.
    Regarding the working hours of the frisa – they are different each day, and you are quite right that the arithmetic in the post is wrong. I’ll correct that. But it’s not material to the argument – each crew currently works half of that schedule, so about 7 hours. They are contracted for many more hours than that, so all other things being equal, there is crew availability there to run for at least 18 hours, if not more. When that capability exists, it should be used.

    1. Osprey watcher 14th May 2023 — 4:09 pm

      Thanks for the reply, you’re not wrong in that tone is a tricky business indeed and generally I find the line is walked fine the majority of the time. I just worry the tone in the second half after the Calmac statement here in particular was another step in the wrong direction personally and could lead to our issues being taken less seriously if we don’t argue in good faith.

      Even though I noticed the final paragraph, maybe it should be at the start of the article as others may not and react more emotionally, I was more taking issue with your comment after the statement, “… can see no operational reason why the Loch Frisa and Coruisk cannot swap roles in week 2 (21 – 27 May), …” when the reasons were clearly stated I felt. Calmac acknowledged that the Frisa crew is capable of carrying it out, but that the issue is shoreside, if the port staff don’t have the necessary abilities to support it then it’s not like the crew can just keep going even if they wanted to and even if they could adjust timetables and bookings. It’s these paragraphs that despite the final paragraph can come across as, “we don’t believe them” what with arguing the other points, which weren’t disputed to begin with, without replying to that particular issue.

      I assumed that if the Frisa was to be berthed overnight in Oban then as the crew has a lot of Mull residents that some form of accommodation would need to be provided in Oban my mistake maybe that was already taken care of.

      Keep up the good work and thanks for keeping them honest, here’s hoping this is the last disruption for the season.

  3. It’s no wonder feelings can run high, how did the people feel left stranded at Oban station watching the train disappear into the distance because Coruisk was late on a fine sunny evening ??? Is that a rail and sail type connection, both companies need to get a bit in the ear !

  4. Penelope Maclean 18th May 2023 — 10:23 am

    When the Locha Frisa was working in Norway it was operating 18 hours per day with two crews doing 9 hour shifts.

    The Loch Frisa actually has 3 cabins but not enough for a the number of crew they have.

  5. Sarah MacTavish 18th May 2023 — 8:02 pm

    Calmac allegedly pays about about £15k per WEEK to accommodate the Loch Frisa crew on Mull, for that kind of money I’m sure they could find something in Oban.

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