Tuesday, 27 March 2012

On the rocks

Today, the captain of the Flinterspirit, which disputed passage with the island of North Uist last week, appeared in court. He was charged with offences against maritime regulations in connection with the incident. On Thursday, two days after the stranding, the master was found in charge of his vessel in Stornoway Harbour with a blood alcohol level of 121, the maximum legal level being 35. The captain was bailed to a hotel in Stornoway, part of his bail conditions being not to leave the island. He will return to court on Wednesday.

The stranding of the Flinterspirit led to a political row over the withdrawal of emergency tug cover from the Minch, which had occurred just 48 hours previous.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Ullapool and Stornoway have something in common today. They have ferry boats alongside their quays which are going nowhere.
The Isle of Lewis is stuck in Ullapool following a breakdown after this morning’s crossing. So, that’s a pretty sight for that village.
MV Isle of Lewis
In Stornoway, meanwhile, the Muirneag was once more stuck in port following bad weather in the Minch overnight.
MV Muirneag
MV Muirneag
The Muirneag is known in these parts as the Olympic Flame, as it ‘never goes out’. Bearing that in mind, I wonder how they are going to hawk that boat around the streets of Stornoway on June 11th as part of the torch relay for the London Olympics.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


This ship is the Dutch-registered MV Flinterspirit, which put in an unscheduled appearance at Stornoway today. The vessel had been en-route to Belfast when she decided to dispute passage with the island of North Uist, 70 miles southwest of Stornoway. The island won, and the boat was stuck fast on rocks at 10.45pm last night. Fortunately, the tide was rising and the boat was able to refloat herself in the early hours of today. She was ordered north to Stornoway to check her hull for cracks. As I type this, she is anchored a few miles southeast of the town, within sight of my position.

The stranding has provoked a furious row, as the provision of an emergency tug in the Minch had been terminated as of last Saturday - without so much as a word to the Western Isles Council. The emergency tug Anglian Sovereign, based at Kirkwall in Orkney (200 miles to the eastnortheast), came across, but her services were fortunately not required, as no damage or injuries were reported. The UK government has decided that the maritime industry should provide its own tugs. I suppose that the next proposal is for the burghers of Stornoway to band together to buy and run their own ambulances, and in the meantime, an emergency ambulance would be available from Kirkwall.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Beast of burden

A few months ago, the Citylink bus company ceased to provide a useful service for passengers, going on the Ullapool to Stornoway (and vice versa) ferry. At Inverness, you could pop your bags on a van, which would take your luggage onto the ferry, and once at Stornoway, the bags would be put into the ferry terminal and off you went. Same happened in Stornoway, you’d leave your bags at the Citylink desk and you’d be reunited with your luggage in Inverness.

Nowadays, everybody has to tote their bags on board. Officially, Calmac allows you 40 kg of luggage, although under Health & Safety regs, you can’t carry more than 25 kg in the one go in a place of work. People that have a lot of luggage sometimes take one lot on board, then pop back to collect the rest. And that has now been banned by Calmac.
I have two solutions in mind. Why doesn’t Calmac and Citylink talk to each other and hire a man with a van to take the bags to and fro, as before? OK, I hear what you say, integrated public transport, what’s that?? Second option, Calmac to invest in luggage trolleys which it will haul on and off board at either end. This image from one of the islands off mainland Europe.
Luggage trolleys
Luggage trolleys

Freedom of speech

In a previous post, I criticised the out-going convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for his swipe against “scurrilous and cowardly” internet bloggers. I have, on an earlier occasion, been critical for the treatment meeted out to a member of the public by one of the islands’ councillors. This person has now apparently been subjected to a campaign of bullying and intimidation, most of it anonymously.

Whilst I did not agree with everything that this person had to say in the exchange with the councillor, I do not feel that speaking up against perceived wrong-doing merits this sort of treatment.

As I pointed out in the earlier post, I blog anonymous to afford myself a wider scope. At the end of the day, in a small community, you have to get on with each other. It may come to pass that you have to rely on the person you had a row with yesterday in order to survive. And vice versa. Telling the other anonymously to get off the island is, to quote Councillor Macdonald out of context, “scurrilous and cowardly”.

Freedom of speech, please.

Friday, 9 March 2012


The Convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Mr Alex Macdonald, has signalled his intention to retire at the forthcoming council elections in May. Mr Macdonald has a respectable track record as an ambassador for the isles, having served in various capacities since 1984, and as convener since 1999. Another three councillors will not seek re-election.
As an internet blogger, I was disappointed to read that in his opinion “scurrilous and cowardly” internet blogs “have no place in our community”.

The various internet blogs in our islands very much have a place in the community. Whether written under the author’s true name, or (as in the case of this blog) under a pseudonym. Everybody is entitled to voice their opinion, and particularly anonymous blogs constitute a valid conduit for expressing perhaps the more controversial of opinions. I am not too fussed If that is not to the liking of our local politicians. Some of them would find it more convenient if such opinions were not aired. In the past, that was not possible, other than writing to the Gazette under a nom-de-plume.

Expressing an opinion is one thing. Spreading malicious rumours and committing slander are different things altogether, and are phenomena that I do not approve of.

Monday, 5 March 2012

ADS off?

It has transpired that the Scottish Government is intending to slash parts of the Air Discount Scheme, ostensibly on account of demands from the European Union, but more likely to cut costs - of £2.7m per annum. Under ADS, islanders could purchase airtickets to a mainland hub at a discount of 40%. Bearing in mind that your average return from Stornoway to Glasgow costs about £160, ADS would take a useful £60 off. Our airfares are quite high at the best of times, and what with the cessation of reduced ferry fares for commercial vehicles, the economy of these islands is being adversely affected by misplaced cost cutting.
Perhaps money was better spent not building trams in Edinburgh, not holding an independence referendum and not withdrawing coastguard services, such as coastguard stations and emergency tugs.