CalMac Ferries today, 17th August, made strategic use of Port Askaig.
With Islay’s principal ferry, MV Finlaggan, out of service with a technical issue, the west coast ferry operator abandoned the use of Port Ellen for the day and ran all of its services from Kennacraig into Port Askaig in the Sound of Islay. This took tactical advantage of the shorter passage time to Port Askaig, limiting the disruption to the island’s service.
This strategy has long been publicly recommended by Gordon Ross, MD of Western Ferries, with a special interest in Islay since Western pioneered services to the island in its first incarnation. In his address at the Dunoon launch of Roy Pedersen’s book, Western Ferries: Taking on Giants, Mr Ross said: ‘For my part, the shortest route will always be the favoured route. This allows for the shortest crossing times, the greatest frequency of service, and increases the likelihood for island visitors. Increased numbers of visitors is good for everyone on Islay. Good for local businesses and for those that are employed by these companies.
‘This is especially true when there is any disruption to the normal service.’
Watching CalMac’s final acceptance of this wisdom in practice today brought back to mind an interesting tale we were told at this same book launch.
The Pedersen book, of course, catalogues the aggressive actions taken in the latter part of the 20th century by the government of the day and its public sector ferry provider, Caledonian MacBrayne against the inventive upstart on the scene. Western Ferries.
This appears a story of dark corporate fratricide, with the deep pockets of the public purse deployed by the state – while taking Western Ferries’ taxes, to increase the subsidies under which Caledonian MacBrayne operated until Western Ferries was burned out of business on the Islay route.
Anyway, back to the point – the story we were told was that the MD of today’s CalMac, Martin Dorchester, is said to have invited the Western Ferries MD, a markedly successful ferry operator, to join CalMac.
The conclusion to the story was that Mr Ross had declined the offer, saying that the only job in CalMac that might interest him was Mr Dorchester’s – and clearly that was not what the CalMac boss had in mind.
For Argyll has asked both parties to confirm or deny this story. Mr Ross laughed but said nothing. CalMac ‘couldn’t remember’.
In our book this story plays positively for CalMac, showing its MD immune to ancient rivalries which predated his arrival, an astute talent spotter willing at least to ask the question in pursuit of improving the company’s capability.
The tale may well be apochryphal – but it was convincingly told.
If the offer was made – had it been accepted, the direction of Mr Pedersen’s narrative would have taken on a novel twist.