Bell-hanging ceremony marks ferry restoration

Skipper Donald MacDonald with crew members Anna and Colin MacDonald
Skipper Donald MacDonald with crew members Anna and Colin MacDonald

A ceremony was held at Glenelg slipway last Thursday to mark the final restoration of the MV ‘Glenachulish’, believed to be the world’s last remaining manually-operated turntable ferry.

Broadcaster Nicky Campbell, who has close ties to the area, joined the local community as they celebrated the return of the ferry with a bell-hanging ceremony. Speaking at the gathering, the Radio 5 Live presenter said the ferry was “the beating heart of the community” and described it as a “wonderful and ancient artefact”.

The restoration of the ferry, which first sailed across to Skye in 1969, began back in 2005, with the work being carried out at the former oil fabrication yard at Kishorn. The project, led by the Isle of Skye Ferry Company and the Glenachulish Preservation Trust, involved the installation of a new state-of-the-art wheelhouse and the upgrading of the vessel’s electrics.

Christopher Main, a Skye Ferry Company director, spoke about the costs behind the maintenance process: “In 2005, we decided to try and save the ferry. This is a celebration of 11 years of renovation to the vessel. We have spent about £310,000. We also created a ferry charity and through that we pulled in about £120,000 for the renovation.”

Broadcaster Nicky Campbell addresses the large crowd from the ferry deck

Fellow director Donald Shanks said the ceremony marked a memorable day: “It is quite a special day because we have spent a lot of money over the winter maintenance period. We spent £60,000 on a new wheelhouse, which was sorely needed, upgrading the electrics and doing some engine work. So this is just a culmination of that, an event for locals and visitors — a bit of a celebration.

“The ‘Glenachulish’ will be 50 years in 2019, so it will become an entry in the Historic Boats Register. It’s a step back in time, and there are no other vessels similar to it.”

Kate Ward, whose father had served as a ferryman on the last sailing of the ‘Glenachulish’ at Ballachulish, said the occasion was one of great sentiment for her. “My father was one of the ferrymen at Ballachulish,” she said. “He worked there for about 40 years. He was the ferryman who took the ‘Glenachulish’ — the last boat at Ballachulish — to the moorings for the last time. That was a very sad time but it is nice to come up here today — it’s nostalgic and quite emotional. It’s lovely to see the boat back in its original colours.”

She added: ““It is wonderful to think that the ‘Glenachulish’ is going to live on. She is the last turntable ferry in the world and it means so much to me and my family. The community spirit is lovely and the welcome I got was just tremendous!”

The MV ‘Glenachulish’, which sails between Glenelg and Kylerhea will mark its 50th anniversary in 2019.