The route connecting Uig, Skye with Lochmaddy, North Uist and Tarbert, Harris opened on 15 April 1964, when the hoist loading Hebrides became the first car-carrying ferry in the Outer Hebrides. However, in 1983 it became clear that ro-ro operation, including the ordering of new vessels and harbour upgrades, was the order of the day, and the Uig routes proved no exception.
At the launch of Isle of Arran in December 1983 came the announcement of a £5 million replacement for Hebrides, as well as additional funding to upgrade the harbours of Uig, Lochmaddy and Tarbert with new linkspans to accommodate the new ship, and bring drive-through operation to Uist and Harris. The order for the new ship went to Cochrane’s of Selby, Yorkshire and she was named Hebridean Isles by HRH Duchess of Kent on 4 July 1985, being launched sideways into the river. She was the first CalMac vessel to be built by a shipyard outside Scotland, launched by royalty and launched sideways.
Fitting-out and sea trials followed, and in late November 1985, the new ship was handed over to CalMac, and made her way up the North Sea and round to her new home on the west coast. However, as the new linkspans on her destined route were not ready, Hebridean Isles undertook her first sailings on 6 December 1985 between
Stornoway and Ullapool, covering Suilven’s overhaul for three weeks, before spending the early part of 1986 working on routes based from Oban.
In May 1986 Hebridean Isles was finally able to take over from Columba on the Uig services. Columba (now Hebridean Princess) had covered the route since Hebrides’ disposal in November 1985. Further delays in completing the linkspan at Uig meant Hebridean Isles’ hoist system was used there until January 1987, when she was eventually able to provide a full ro-ro service.
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