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Man who took this photo was told he was 8th standby on a full boat

This was the ferry to Islay last night, 12th August 2015.

The man who took the photograph was told that the vessel was fully booked and that he was eighth on the standby list in the event of cancellations or no-shows.

He decided to take his chances, turn up and see. When he arrived, the picture was very different from the one he was expecting.

When he got on the boat this was what it meant to be eighth standby.

Others on the standby list did not apparently take the same ‘chance’ – there was room for them and a lot more, as these photographs show.

The – by then amused – traveller showed them to his hotelier when he arrived.

The hotelier was not amused. Very unusally for the very popular and perenially busy Islay, he had five empty rooms last night.

He thinks the experience of his guest may explain why – and has sent the photographs to the CEO of CalMac Ferries, asking for an explanation.

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In the contest for the Clyde and Hebridean Ferry Services [CHFS] contract between the Scottish Government-owned ferry operator, CalMac Ferries Limited and the private sector Serco Caledonian [with neither having their operational troubles to seek of late], the dirty tricks that have been going on from the Scottish Government and CalMac have been genuinely shocking and may well end up in court.

Governments do what governments always do but we have been backfooted by the apparent interest on CalMac’s part to play the same game.

In this context, one has to wonder why so glaring a booking error has taken place.

Might it have been a innocent fault thrown up in possible beta trials of the electronic booking system CalMac has been working to introduce, probably in advance of the final bids in the tender?

Or might it be that a positive distortion of carrying figures has some strange impact on the tender process that might advantage the sitting operator and disadvantage the challenger?

Or was it an almighty cock up that cost Islay?

The contest for the CHFS contract is not the one between the downtrodden and abused government slave-company and the freebooting privateer we had fondly imagined it to be.

It is clearly one of dog eat dog, with ‘big dog’ being what is clearly – and indeed openly – concerted strategic action between the government and the company it owns.

This dogfight is leaving the paying passengers and the dependent island businesses with bites on both legs – and has been since June when the RMT strike farce damaged the island economies at a key time and, in the agreements then suddenly made, ended up damaging Serco’s ability to compete for this contract – clearly no coincidence.

Roy Pedersen’s recent book – Western Ferries: Taking on Giants – on the successful ferry service with the strongest business model in Scotland’s ferries sector, showed that company’s Lazarus-like resurrection from its deliberate destruction by the CalMac of the latter part of the 1900s, abetted by its owner, then, pre-devolution, the UK government through the Scottish Office.

We had been of the view that the miscreant then was not the ferry operator who had to do as it was instructed by its then direct state owner – but was that state owner.

We have seen differently in the light of the hard-eyed manoeuvres in this tender contest, that there are no innocents in this game and that the real and enduring victims are the users of the west coast ferries and the taxpayers.

They – all of us – are inextricably bound into an ad hoc service provision regime with wildly expensive vanity procurements and staffing agreements with trades unions made willy nilly for political favour with ‘other people’s money’ – ours.

That full-empty boat to Islay last night will need some explanation – but is no more than a footnote to a much bigger story.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • Could it be that Calmac habitually allows haulage companies to have provisional block bookings to safeguard their businesses, with the result that ferries sometimes runs partly empty even though people are waitlisted?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 6

    Robert Wakeham August 13, 2015 10:05 am Reply
    • I agree Robert,
      Perhaps the distillery delivery services tend to pre-book in case they need the space. A difficult one for Calmac as the annual trade is probably based on this same trade.
      If a rule was applied that the pre-booked space had to be confirmed 24 hours ahead or lost might help. A penalty fine may not be the answer as the financial might of the distilleries would be able to shrug it off.
      Loss of further booking space after say three “offences” could apply more responsibility to the process.
      No easy answer to keep everyone happy.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

      Keitho August 13, 2015 11:08 am Reply
      • I pre-book my dental appointments. On the wee card it clearly says that failure to turn up, without warning the practice, may incur a penalty charge. There seems to have been quite a number of pre-bookers who didn’t appear on this ferry, judging by the amount of free space left, and if CalMac’s management find that acceptable then perhaps their pay scales ought to be reviewed.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

        Arthur Blue August 13, 2015 9:21 pm Reply
  • How many potential visitors have decided not to come to Islay or other islands when told that the ferry is full, and then it sails with space.

    This is a scandal, the frustrated travellers represent a loss of income to island businesses and local residents denied access to the mainland. Not forgetting that the taxpayer has to pay for this lost income through higher subsidises.

    Shame on CalMac.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

    Peter Wade August 13, 2015 10:53 am Reply
  • On what date and at what time, in comparison to the sailing, did the man book? Many times people cancel and space becomes available between booking and travelling. Also, let’s have a bit of honesty – I am on Islay and people are talking about this situation but the gentleman who took the picture did not show it to “his hotelier” as he is an Islay resident – he showed it to a friend of his who is turning into a professional complainer about CalMac. Having checked his website, the cheapest room for two people is £150 B&B per night, perhaps this had as much to do with the empty rooms as anything else?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 12 Thumb down 6

    James Smith August 13, 2015 11:42 am Reply
    • “friend of his who is turning into a professional complainer about CalMac”

      Hardly a surprise when there is so much to complain about.

      Vessels breaking down, cancelled sailings, the inability to get on to a vessel when there is clearly space.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 10

      Peter Wade August 13, 2015 3:15 pm Reply
    • Interesting response James Smith.
      You could well be right about the cause for the empty rooms.
      I hear last week of a B and B on Oban’s George Street wanting £160 for one night from a young couple.
      The B and B is not in any way special.
      A new word has appeared in the Oban vocabulary, greedybastarditis, maybe it has arrived in the Islay vocabulary also.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

      Keitho August 13, 2015 3:46 pm Reply
      • If you’ve ever been to Oban in the depths of winter you’ll know it’s pretty important for businesses to make money in the summer. £80pppn is on the steep side, for sure, but the flip side is that you’ll only pay £25pppn for a room if you need to go in October.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

        Arethosemyfeet August 14, 2015 8:15 pm Reply
        • I am sure the National Mod organisers would be delighted to know of the Oban B and B’s at £25 per person in October

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

          Keitho August 15, 2015 10:33 am Reply
          • Caledonian if memory serves – but that may be their island rate. Pretty sure it runs October-March. There are others but they’re small; Harbour View is an excellent one, for example and very good value all year round.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

            Arethosemyfeet August 16, 2015 5:50 pm
  • On what date and at what time, in comparison to the sailing, did the man book? Many times people cancel and space becomes available between booking and travelling. Also, let’s have a bit of honesty – I am on Islay and people are talking about this situation but the gentleman who took the picture did not show it to “his hotelier” as he is an Islay resident – he showed it to a friend of his who is turning into a professional complainer about CalMac. Having checked his website, the cheapest room for two people is £150 B&B per night, perhaps this had as much to do with the empty rooms as anything else? Having checked, the website states that “Four of our five individually designed en-suite rooms can be utilised as either a double or twin room” so this must mean that the hotel was, in fact, empty – and all because of big, bad CalMac!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

    James Smith August 13, 2015 11:52 am Reply
    • Having tried to stay in Islay on several occasions in different seasons of the year, we can testify to the fact that it’s hard to get a place to stay in Islay at short notice at almost any time and that it is a very expensive place to stay. The market can clearly take it – which is very good news for Ileachs and it’s good to see them winning.
      The prices quoted here are by no means unusual for the island – which seems to be in the enviable position of being busy year round.
      This sees accommodation providers often experiencing no need to differentiate in price between low and high season because of the consistent demand across the year.
      To be clear – we were aware that the eighth person on the Finlaggan’s standby list last night knew the hotelier in question; and it was our assumption that he was a guest in the hotel and not a resident.
      However, if he were the managing director of CalMac’s competitor for the CHFS contact, Serco, the facts remain the facts.
      He and others were given standby positions on a boat that sailed half empty.
      Who knows how many others, told that the boat was full, did not bother to try their luck?
      As a resident of Islay you will know what we do not – is being told boats are full when they are not a regular enough feature of ferry travel to Islay to make this ‘shock horror’ response to the experience last night a cosmetic rather than a real one?
      The picture hinges on this really and your information would be helpful.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 6

      newsroom August 13, 2015 12:28 pm Reply
  • Surely the most likely explanation here is that people booked on the ferry and then didn’t show. Hard to see how it’s Calmac’s fault if so.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

    Arethosemyfeet August 13, 2015 2:17 pm Reply
  • If the boat was half empty they wouldn’t have used the mezzanine deck – seems to have disappeared in the other two pictures.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

    James Walsh August 13, 2015 4:55 pm Reply
    • The boat is certainly not “half empty, I would say it’s over 90% full.
      This stand-by list was always applied, certainly in my experience in the past. I always went for it and never failed to get on. The only times I had to leave my car was if I had not booked, or got on stand by, and everyone had shown up. In such circumstances Calmac would always offer to send the car on the next service if I had to leave it behind. I would meet the next available ferry at the other end, walk up the linkspan and the car would be parked up at the front.
      Looking at the pictures, it would be hard to get another large truck on there, so maybe room for five cars.
      It would be interesting to know if it is booked cars or stand by cars that did not show and if there are penalties for either as no shows. I’m not sure that pre-payment is required even for booked vehicles, I always paid at the port but things might have changed.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

      Murdoch MacKenzie August 14, 2015 2:54 am Reply
  • The mezzaine deck hasn’t “disappeared”. It’s on the left in the first photo taken from the stern and on the right in the second two taken from the bows. Perhaps, despite claiming to be an Islay resident, though not I gather from Islay friends using your real name, you don’t know the inside of the Finlaggan very well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

    Alex McKay August 13, 2015 5:47 pm Reply
    • Having never travelled on the Finlaggan I do not know the layout at all Mr McKay.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

      James Walsh August 14, 2015 12:30 pm Reply
      • Worth a trip – ‘bling bling’

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

        Robert Wakeham August 14, 2015 3:31 pm Reply
      • Then, James Walsh, I’m pleased to have educated you as to its layout, while I suppose I could add the suggestion that in future you should refrain from commenting on something that you have admitted you don’t know anything about. But then, that could apply to at least half the posters here, not to mention just occasionally to Newsroom 🙂

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5

        Alex McKay August 15, 2015 4:56 pm Reply
  • As there doesn’t seem to be an “edit” function in this still unsatisfactory upgrade (if that’s the right word) of this FA blog, that should, of course, be “mezzanine”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

    Alex McKay August 13, 2015 5:49 pm Reply
  • In my posting time on “for argyll” I have never had so many thumbs up.
    Difficult to cope with.
    Am I going soft or are the Ileachs and the Mulleachs just like minded.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

    Keitho August 14, 2015 11:50 am Reply
    • Keitho, I gave you a thumbs up because I happen to agree over the cost of accommodation.I have to spend a night in Oban prior to heading down to Vale of Leven for day surgery as ferries/buses/trains can’t get me there in time and cheapest I could get was £55!!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

      Jade August 15, 2015 9:33 am Reply
      • Cheers Jade,
        Keep looking, their are cheaper than £55
        I was speaking to friends in Tob about this £160 a night Oban B and B.
        The reaction was one of shock.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

        Keitho August 15, 2015 10:13 am Reply
  • I think the Cal Mac guys are too easy a target too often. They do a great job under difficult circumstances. The stand by system works well, it ensures that all booked traffic gets on,and other people can get on where spaces permit. There could have been vehicles that didn’t turn up for the ferry – this is not the fault of the operator, so whoever was on the stand by should just be happy that they got on. Not sure how many hotel rooms would be filled by a few lorries with sleeper cabs built in anyway!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

    Iain Mac August 16, 2015 2:30 am Reply
  • I remember years ago there was a controversy about haulage companies who had booking options where a number of spaces were always kept for them even if they did not turn up.

    Probably completely irrelevant in this case but the ferries are rates for number of vehicles and passengers, there are sometimes cases where they reach the maximum number of passengers before they have filled the car deck. Years ago I was working on Lewis and a van went off to get the morning ferry (booked) but returned shortly afterwards because they had had to removed some vehicles because there had been unusually high number of passengers – it was chaotic because there were cars being removed whose passengers had already boarded!

    My personal moan at Calmac is why is it that the drivers who turn up in plenty of time are often at the back of the Mezzanine deck so last off! Perhaps just unlucky this week.

    At least the MCA provided some entertainment during one of the crossings!

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/doffcocker/albums/72157657097775796

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

    Lundavra August 16, 2015 10:58 pm Reply
  • Looks like there’s some problem with the Islay service. Two boats tied up at Kennacraig. The LOTI has come down to the Sound of Islay and the Isle of Lewis is heading down the Sound of Mull probably to do the Castlebay run from Oban. Looks like all Islay sailings are now going to Port Askaig.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    Murdoch MacKenzie August 17, 2015 1:10 pm Reply
    • Finlaggan seems to be the casualty.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      Murdoch MacKenzie August 17, 2015 1:15 pm Reply
      • CalMac have reported a technical issue with Finlaggan, the second in a short time.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

        newsroom August 17, 2015 3:22 pm Reply
        • Keeping the Isle of Lewis as the spare/part time ferry was decried by many, especially me, but she has proved to be a valuable relief vessel when trouble strikes, as it invariably does with all things marine.
          Her 18 knots gets her to the required area quickly, allowing other vessels to be shuffled around to cover for the casualty. When she gets her stern door re-positioned, she will be even more usefull.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

          Murdoch MacKenzie August 18, 2015 3:07 am Reply
          • It would be instructive to hear more from you on the issue of the stern door of the Isle of Lewis, Murdoch.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

            newsroom August 18, 2015 12:01 pm
          • She had the stern door and ramp offset to port to suit the old Ullapool linkspan. I’m not sure, but maybe Ullapool got extra fendering when she entered service or she might just have been beamier than the old Suliven. You will notice that the new Loch Seaforth has her ramp set the same way as she was using the same linkspan at Ullapool for a few months.
            As Ullapool now has the new twin lane linkspan both ships can be modified at their next dry docking, the Loch Seaforth will probably get a double width ramp and the Isle of Lewis will get her door moved to a more central location.
            At some ports that she can enter now she can only go bow in. She did a tour of all these ports earlier in the Summer and measurements were done to see what the best position for the stern door is. You would think that a central position would be best but I read somewhere that having it slightly to starboard would suit Arran better.
            Let’s hope they get it right so that they can make maximum use of her car carrying capacity in her later years.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

            Murdoch MacKenzie August 18, 2015 6:51 pm
          • So that was a major part of what she was doing on her summer tour. Many thanks, Murdoch.
            How big a job is it – for Loch Seafoth and for Isle of Lewis, to have their doors repositioned during annual efit?
            And how expensive is it?

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

            newsroom August 18, 2015 7:30 pm
          • Is this why many people had to reverse onto the Loch Seaforth last week including at least one towing a caravan.

            Why do ferry companies seem to get the interface between doors/ramp and slipway/linkspan wrong so often? When I used to travel regularly by ferry at work, every new ferry seemed to have problems (even Corran ferry). I suppose we should be grateful that they are not the people designing spacecraft that have to connect up in orbit. Then of course there was the Tupperware Queen!

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

            Lundavra August 18, 2015 9:15 pm
          • To Newsroom, the ramp of the Loch Seaforth is an easy modification. If Calmac had had any vision they would have taken her off the route a week before the old linkspan at Ullapool was closed and while they still had the Isle of Lewis and the Clipper Ranger at Stornoway. The ramp extension could have been pre-fabricated (it should already be built, waiting for the opportunity to get it welded, or bolted, in place but don’t bet on it). The job could easily have been done at the Arnish quayside, maybe utilising a barge across the stern. I never understood why it was not done at that time, well, maybe I do.
            To me it would make a lot more sense for the Loch Seaforth to have split stern ramps, a central ramp and two side extension ramps that would be bolted to the centre one, either both for double width or singly, or none, depending on the linkspan being visited. Hydraulic bolt torqueing tools would make this a relatively easy task for the crew to do at any time. The side ramps would need to be engineered to allow them to be folded upwards when the stern gate is lowered.
            Imagine if the Loch Seaforth is given a fully welded double width stern ramp. She arrives in Ullapool fully loaded with trucks all facing the stern and there is some problem with the Ullapool linkspan. Will her double width ramp allow her to be unloaded anywhere else, even back at Stornoway? A lot of vehicles to reverse back through the bow somewhere else.
            I imagine that the Isle of Lewis will need some structural changes to move the door, but a lot of the work can be pre-fabricated so it should not take too long to change.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

            Murdoch MacKenzie August 19, 2015 3:42 am
  • Does Lundavra complain about everything?
    If every pier was the same, if every tide was the same, if every ferry was the same, if all cars were the same, if all lorries were the same, if all buses were the same? We could have all the ferry ramp doors the same.
    Life might be a bit dull but Lundavra might not be so boring on “FORARGYLL”
    Lighten up please.
    If all the seasons were the same………….?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    Sara Swann August 20, 2015 5:23 pm Reply
    • I just stated a fact.

      The problems are not different sizes of vehicles not fitting on ramps, it is brand new very expensive ferries not being able to be used properly on the slip/ramp/linkspan at the port they were bought to operate to and from, which is nothing to with season or weather.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

      Lundavra August 20, 2015 5:35 pm Reply

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