Thursday, 8 June 2017

Ships in the Sound

This is the time of year when the Sound becomes a playground rather than a maritime version of an A-road. June is one of the busiest month for yachts. Some skippers, like this one, make full use of what nature offers for free, but many motor even under the most favourable winds, and one does wonder whether this is because they lack the confidence to raise the sails.

Small-time sailors have to share space with the monsters of ocean cruising. This is the German liner Mein Schiff 4, owned by TUI Cruises. Confusingly, all her - identical - sister ships, of which there will be a total of six within the next few years, are also called Mein Schiff - Mein Schiff 1, Mein Schiff 2.... and so on. It seems a bit unimaginative.

By contrast, Le Boreal is an elegant ship, which one expects of the French. Her sister ships are equally elegantly named - L'Austral, Le Lyrial and Le SolĂ©al. With accommodation for around 260 passengers, she's dwarfed by each of the Mein Schiff sisters' capacity of over 2,500.

Elegance is also a word for this trooper, the Waverley, the last ocean-going paddle steamer, though the mixed weather we've been having has meant that her 'ocean-going' expedition on the 6th June, from Oban to Tiree, had to be curtailed, with her turning back before she left the Sound.

Like Mein Schiff, this compact little ship, the Hebridean Sky, has sister ships, the Island Sky and Caledonian Sky, all of which aim at a market that looks for comfort while, at the same time, wanting a bit of adventure - so, as well as the French Riviera and cruising around Britain, she offers Svalbard, Patagonia and the Chilean fjords.

The word elegance seems too weak to describe the tall ships which come into the Sound. Many are old friends - this is the Flying Dutchman - but all have a beauty which makes watching them a special pleasure.

This is the Cricklade, described on the ship recognition sites as a 'supply tender'. Built in 1970 by the Beverley Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, she was part of the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service (RMAS), a British Government agency which ran a variety of auxiliary vessels for the Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary until the service was privatised in 2009, since when RN auxiliary ships have been run by Serco Marine Services. She looks as if she's now in private hands.

The British feel that they have an inalienable right to launch themselves onto the often treacherous waters around our islands without any training - with the result that the RNLI is at its busiest in these, the calmer months. For those who have some respect for the ocean, and perhaps for some of the motoring yacht skippers mentioned above, the Hebridean Sea School's Bold Ranger offers a variety of practical courses - helmsman, day skipper, coastal skipper, and RYA. Their website is here.

With all this recreational activity it isn't surprising that we tend to see fewer cargo boats in the Sound, though regulars like the Yeoman Bank, seen here fully laden out of Glensander, continue to feel their way through its crowded waters.

The Elektron is a cable-layer operated by the Norwegian state-owned Statnett, responsible for all high voltage electricity transmission and distribution in Norway. I have no idea what she was doing in the Sound but she was on her way to Fredrickstad, just to the south of Oslo.

The Martin Saele is a Norwegian live fish carrier, but one we haven't seen before. Launched in 2016 at the Gondan Shipyard in Figueras, Spain, she was scheduled to work around the Shetlands.

We end where we started, with the pleasures of the sea. Staffa Tours' Ullin of Staffa continues to call daily at Mingary Pier to pick up passengers either for a trip to Lunga and Staffa or to go whale watching. Those who go say it's a great day out.

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