Farewell oh Suilven

26 11 2015

Poor Suilven, worthy/infamous Stornoway ferry of yore.

Your demise reminds us of the words of Calum Ossian…..

Farewell Suilven, you’ve met your fate

After forty years of carrying freight

Cars and lorries, box and crate

Squeezed on the car deck by the Mate.
And passengers by the rope would wait

Until the gangway was lined up straight

Then single file they would locate

To the lounge or bar at a steady rate

And sprawled out sleepers then berate

For taking up the best real estate

Then queuing up with tray and plate

For the full cooked breakfast many ate

When you broke down we got irate

And we’d ring Calmac for an update

The weather often made you late

Cos when the Minch was rough it would undulate

But once those waves did dissipate

You took us over at a steady rate

For work or hols or further educate

And plenty folk who did migrate

But there were crossings you’d navigate

Like a summer evening that was sedate

When seeing the town would generate

An increase in your eyes lubricate

(You also plied across Cook Straight

That YouTube clip made us nauseate)

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Stornoway and Liners

8 11 2015

Younger readers looking at the increasing number of cruise liners visiting Stornoway will no doubt think this is a great new thing, with the undoubted benefits it brings the harbour, the town, the Callanish stones and fans of thon Chudge Chudy cailleach off the telly.
And yet… Old SYs will allow themselves a quiet chuckle, knowing that the town has a long and illustrious connection with top-end ocean-going travel.
In the 1830s, Marybank metal recycling mogul Samuel Coo-ard was the first to spot the coming demand for a fast, reliable and luxurious steamship service across the Atlantic. Coo-ard established a shipyard on the banks of the Bayhead River, round about where the Bowling Club is today, and set about constructing a great vessel, the 207-ft long paddle steamer SS Branahuietania. In the days of wooden-hulled ships, the Branahuietania’s construction was both technologically daring and cost-saving; Coo-ard ordered that it be built entirely from the scrap metal of dubious provenance that he already had stashed round the back of his house. Unfortunately most of this was lead, nicked off the roof of Seaforth Lodge, so the SS Branahuietania sank without trace as soon as it was launched. 
Many years before the coveted Blue Riband transatlantic prize of making the crossing in the fastest time came into being, the Isle of Lewis was famous for having its own challenge called the Brue Ribbons prize. The many local passenger liners sailing out of Stornoway would compete to see who could make the lucrative Brue Communion weekend in the quickest time, and thus get the most trade for the next Communions. The liners would carry Communicants, Ministers and Elders (and enough home baking to keep the west side in scones for the better part of a year) over to the wee village of Brue on the Atlantic coast. The liner that completed the voyage in the fastest time would be bedecked in multicoloured tweed ribbons and would sail around Stornoway harbour showing off. Brue was also famous for being the home of shipping engineer and rubbish Gaelic songwriter I-is-a-Bard Kingcole Brue-neil, who built the ill-fated ships Great Eaststreet and Great Westview.
Stornoway’s connections to the doomed liner Titanic have been much explored by proper historians; a few years ago there was great debate in the Gazette about whether the Captain and/or 1st Officer and/or entire crew were from Laxdale or somewhere. Strangely none of the eminent historians participating in that discussion seemed to be aware that Port of Ness had been the Titanic’s last stop en route to its watery grave. Oh yus. Although not advertised on the vessel’s itinerary, she quietly drew up at the Port on a dark night in 1912 to pick up an illegal consignment of guga destined for the tables of top Niseach exiles in America, including John Wayne’s old man and Jim Morrison’s granny. Also taken aboard were three stowaways trying to get to Hollywood: failed local mod contestant Ceceder Dion from Skigersta, and 3rd rate Machair rejects Lionelmurdo DiCaprio and Ceit Winslet from Swainbost. Some say that it wasn’t the iceberg that did for the Titanic at all; the much more plausible theory is that Ceceder Dion got up to sing with the ship’s orchestra one evening, and her rendition of “My Barts Will Go On” drove so many passengers to the opposite side of the ship that she began to list. The cargo of guga in the hold shifted, causing the vessel to capsize, and as soon as the guga came into contact with water a massive explosion occurred, sending Titanic to the bottom, probably.
In the early 1970’s, Stornoway Town Council briefly acquired the Queen Elizabeth (the QE1) to use as their new HQ but had to sell it on to Hong Kong (where it caught fire and capsized) because the berth was needed for the new roll-on/roll-off ramp.
Other well known Stornowegian Shipping Lines
Another well known local shipping Line was Pee and O-hee (P&O). Originally established in 1855 as a cargo service in order to transport much needed buckets of urine from Stornoway (with its metropolis-like population) to the less densely populated rural districts (with fewer bladders), so that the vital fluid could be used in the tweed waulking process by cailleachs. This Line was prone to accidents hence the phrase ‘O-hee’ occurring in its name.
Mawrsk: A Stornowegian/Norwegian partnership set up to transport fish farm salmon from Lewis to Norway and bring chessmen back on the return voyage. Helped revolutionise shipping by using containers, although foolishly went for the wooden fishbox sized ones instead of the now better known ‘container’ sized ones seen across the world.

Shite Star: Set up to transport top grade todhar across the world, but sadly thought the idea of giving names like Shitanic to their vessels would endear them to all.