This year brings the 50th anniversary of the introduction of drive-on/drive-off car ferries in the Western Isles. David MacBrayne put the side-loading Hebrides into operation when he opened the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert triangle of routes on 15 April 1964, with sisters Clansman and Columba, built by Hall, Russell & Co of Aberdeen, serving Mull and Skye from later in the same year.
In 1964 Hebrides carried 11,000 vehicles, while last year 78,000 were handled by the present route vessel, also named Hebrides (2001/5,506gt). The vessels were able to use existing piers, with vehicles driving onto a platform lift which then lowered them to drive onto the actual car decks.
The 1964-built Hebrides left Scottish waters in 1986 and ran from Torquay to the Channel Islands as Devonian for Torbay Seaways, later finding work in the Adriatic as Illyria before being broken up in India in 2003.
Clansman finished her days in the Red Sea as Al Rasheed, but Columba is still going strong, much altered by the George Prior Yard in Great Yarmouth, to carry 53 passengers (later increased to 63) in luxury ‘country house’-style accommodation.