DIVINE intervention or mechanical meltdown? The vessel due to make the historic first regular Sunday crossing between the mainland and Lewis has hit troubled waters
The ferry, the Isle of Lewis, suffered a breakdown due to a faulty exhaust yesterday, meaning it may be out of action for 48 hours. Another ferry has been drafted in for tomorrow's sailing.
Last night, the Rev Angus Smith, a veteran campaigner against ferries sailing to the islands on the Sabbath, said the breakdown was a reminder of "God's providence".
The vessel limped into Stornoway at lunchtime yesterday, after leaving Ullapool at 9am. Later services from Stornoway were cancelled.
The fallout from the fault means Lewis's first regular Sunday ferry will actually be in the dead of night.
A revised timetable for today has the last run from Ullapool leaving at 11:30pm and arriving in Stornoway at 3am tomorrow.
Caledonian MacBrayne's decision to breach the last bastion of Sabbatarianism and run the Sunday ferry from Lewis has angered the islands' council and traditionalists, who say the move will further erode a unique way of life.
Mr Smith, who famously lay down on the pier in Kyleakin in 1965 when the first Sunday ferry sailed to Skye, said: "God is in all providence.
"The chief message is not that the ferry has broken down, but that God speaks to us through his works.
"All companies – including ferry companies – should remember to keep the Sabbath holy instead of pursuing monetary gain."
A letter in one local newspaper yesterday predicted trouble if the service went ahead.
Its author, Iain Bain, from Gairloch, said: "Anyone who works on a Sunday is making a mockery of God and His laws, but God says He will not be mocked. He has power to sink a Sunday ferry."
However, many islanders have welcomed the decision and say people should have the choice of seven-day services and that it could boost tourism and the economy.
Uisdean Macleod, spokesman for the Campaign for 7 Days' Sailing, took a different view on the breakdown. "These things happen and I guess of all the weekends for it to happen, it would be this one.
"It is more an act of maintenance, I suspect, than an act of God. If the ferry does not happen this Sunday, it will be a disappointment, but the battle has been won. It will sail on Sundays throughout the year."
CalMac insisted the inaugural Sunday service would operate, but the planned timetable – it was due to leave Lewis at 2:30pm – might have to change.
A spokesman said: "We are redeploying other vessels and at the moment our intention is to run the Sunday service."
Yesterday's ferry breakdown caused a major headache for CalMac during one of the busiest weekends on Lewis, with the Hebridean Celtic Festival in full swing. The event is attended by more than 16,000 people, some due to take advantage of the new service and return to the mainland tomorrow.
Sailing to the rescue last night to replace the Isle of Lewis while it is repaired were two other vessels in the CalMac fleet, the Isle of Arran and the Hebrides.
Calmac said the breakdown will have knock-on effects on its Islay route and said further details will be made on its website. The Arran and Hebrides are both much smaller than the Isle of Lewis. The Arran can only take 62 cars and 659 passengers, the Hebrides 98 cars and 612 passengers – compared to the 114 cars and 970 passengers on the Lewis.
The first Sunday sailing already has bookings for 40 cars and larger vehicles.