Peggy MacEachern writes: The first of March 1969 saw a revolution in travel from Jura to Islay and to the mainland beyond with the introduction of Jura’s own roll on/roll off ferry, ‘Sound of Gigha’. Strictly speaking it was reverse on, drive off and it was new, it was different, and it was convenient compared to the passenger only launch run by Archie MacPhee (The Gordie) or the mail boat Locheil. But, surprisingly there was a good deal of opposition from some Jura people to the idea of a new ferry as they saw it as the beginning of the end of the mail boat calling at Craighouse. But once the advantages of having convenient travel to Islay became evident, the opposition soon faded.
Because of ever increasing freight costs the distillery might not have been able to continue in production had it not been for the introduction of the ferry offering greatly reduced freight charges for raw materials in and whisky out. In the early days, because of the narrow bridge along the road from the Ferry House, heavy vehicles landed on the shore at Dysker where they drove over heavy netting placed on the gravel and up on to the road. The crew on the first day were, Arthur MacEachern, Alasdair Campbell, and Callum McKellar. Their first run, when they were accompanied by Captain Angus Mitchell, Senior Master with Western Ferries at the time, was to take Laurie Smith, the vet, in his Land Rover, land him at Feolin, and then continue to Lagg with a transformer.
Sound of Gigha Fares
The fares were: Child 1/3 (just over 6p); Adult 2/6 (12.5p); Car 20/- (£1); Van 30/- (£1.50); Lorry 50/- (£2.50) All single fares. On the first day they carried 26 Adults, two cars and sold two season tickets making the grand total of £4.7.6 (£4.37p). Through tickets could be booked and paid for in Kennacraig, thereby generating no income for the ‘Sound of Gigha’. There is no timetable available for the first two years but it will not have differed greatly from the 1971 winter timetable which was as follows:- Mon-Fri – 0800, 0930, 1130, 1300, 1500, 1800. Sat – 1100 & 1600 and Sun – 1600. The last run on a Saturday and Sunday remained at 1600 in winter until 1982 when increased demand forced a change to a later stopping time of 1845 on a Saturday and 1730 on a Sunday. This was not a popular change as far as the crew and families were concerned.
The lifeline service offered by the sound of Gigha and its successor has proved invaluable over the past 40 years. One such occasion stands out in my mind, when fire broke out at Inver on 10th January 1980. Jura had its own fire brigade, with a generator powered pump but on this occasion it wasn’t powerful enough so the Bowmore fire engine was called to assist. At that time the road to Inver was not capable of carrying heavy vehicles such as the fire engine so the unit from Bowmore was loaded on board the Sound of Gigha which subsequently beached on the gravel just below the house. From there the firemen were able to draw water from the river and successfully extinguish the fire, thereby preventing any injury to humans or serious damage to the house, though the byre and generator shed were destroyed and sadly, five cattle were lost.
In the early days the service received no subsidy so, because of the relatively few runs, the ‘Sound of Gigha’ carried out a lot of charter work. In summer 1970 there was a charter to Ballycastle to pick up heavy plant for the GPO, and take it to Rathlin Island. The trip took all night, and the ‘Sound of Gigha’ sailed back into Port Askaig at 9 o’clock in the morning on a glassy calm sea. On 14th April 1972 there was a trip to Gigha with a huge mobile generator because the submarine cable carrying the island’s electricity had been damaged, leaving the island without power. A telegram from Lady Horlick, who then owned Gigha, read, ‘To Arthur MacEachern and Alastair Campbell: Very grateful thanks from the Island of Gigha for your heroic effort delivering generator.’
The cheese from Gigha Creamery used to be shipped out on board the ‘Sound of Gigha’ to Port Askaig then on to the mainland. The 25th April 1973, saw a charter to Oban to collect a Pickford’s furniture van, and take it to Lismore, returning two days later to collect the empty van and take it back to Port Askaig.
There was a charter to Iona with a load of building materials to build a tearoom. There were many charters with Strathclyde University’s army cadets and also with the regular army to enable them to train in day and night manoeuvres. Another charter was for Toyota during the press launch of the ‘Cressida’. As the ‘Sound of Gigha’s’ workload increased and runs became more frequent, the number of charters decreased with one of the last more memorable ones being the flitting to Rhuvaal Lighthouse on 2nd April 1995.
It was with a heavy heart the crew did the last run on board the ‘Sound of Gigha’ at 1300 on Wednesday 15th July 1998 with Jill Darroch being the last passenger out of Jura on board the red ferry. It was the end of an era and the brand new, shiny, blue boat waiting to take over from the Sound of Gigha would never hold such a special place in everyone’s hearts.
This story was published with kind permission of the Ileach local newspaper.