The contract to build the MV Loch Seaforth was awarded by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) to the Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft Shipyard (FSG) on the 22 June 2012, and the first steel for the project was cut at a ceremony on the 16 September 2013. From that time on the yard were busy fabricating steel blocks of the hull, in preparation for final assembly on the slipway. At the same time over in Gdansk, Poland, the accommodation module was fabricated in preparation for being joined with the rest of the hull after launch.
My first material view of the Loch Seaforth at Flensburg was this picture taken on 16 January 2014, of her two bow thrusters units. The next day we began our work in earnest setting up the site office, that would end up being home for the next ten months. Although at that time we thought we would be back in Scotland and in service by mid summer. However some shipyard and pier issues would eventually conspire against, to delay the ships delivery and entry into service. None of that was to have much impact on our day to day work at the yard as we oversaw the build process and made preparations for taking delivery of the vessel.
As part of the new vessel on-site build team we would spend much of each day at the yard inspecting; the hull modules as they were fabricated, the welding, steel preparation for painting, the applied paint coatings and all fitted machinery/ components for quality. We were also there to ensure that the vessel was being built as per the agreed specification, and attend all the commissioning tests. At FSG it was a slick operation, especially in the paint shed where they would grit blast each module block in one go, taking approx. 22 hours to complete. Blasting of the steel was required to remove the holding primer, and prepare it for the final paint coatings. The paint coatings would then be applied in an atmospheric controlled shed. This made for an excellent finish, and one that should last!
All the inspection work was completed alongside the CMAL Site Team and the Lloyds Register Surveyors. Lloyds Register are the Ship Classification Society responsible for ensuring the vessel is build and maintained to the best international safety and quality standards. They also issue all the vessels certification which allows her to trade as a seagoing vessel. The other agency that was very involved with the build and issues the vessels Passenger Certificate was the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).
Alongside the routine of inspections and surveys, we also made preparations for the vessels Safety Management System. This involved preparing all the paperwork and operating instructions for the crew in accordance with the Calmac Ferries fleet standard. Not a small task, and this alone took up a fair amount of our time!
As you can also imagine on a large project, not all things would go to plan or fit as expected, so much time was also spent in discussion with the naval architects of the yard, in how best to overcome or resolve issues that were highlighted.
Many shipyard people are involved in the build process, and all have their place from the welders and painters to the foremen, Managers and the Directors. I can honestly say that all the staff at the Flensburger shipyard were a pleasure to work with, and we became friends with many as well as work colleagues.
We also travelled twice to Gdansk to see how the accommodation block was progressing. This block included all of Decks 5, 6, 7 & 8 form the gangway area forward to the focsle. The work in Poland was required to be completed by 14 March in preparation for its transportation by barge to Flensburg. The trip by barge from Gdansk to Flensburg would take around 3 days.
The keel deflections were calculated, using a laser, and spirit level, by measuring the keel at the module joints and the differences taken between each one. It was amazing to see, after all the modules had been joined, the average deflection or rise and fall of the keel was less than 10mm. From this measurement, the average is taken and the true line of the keel calculated, from where the draft marks are calculated. This was then marked on the hull in pencil, punched using a metal punch and then the number outlines completed using a bead of weld. However even with lasers, computers, and all modern technology, the draft mark positions were calculated using a clear plastic hose, ruler and pencil. Sometimes, simple is best. Finally a full underwater hull survey was completed by ourselves, the Shipyard, and the Surveyors the day before the launch. After all no one would want a mishap on the special day!
The day of launch finally arrived on 21 March 2014, and Yard No. 764 was named MV Loch Seaforth by Mrs Joan Murray, the eldest daughter of the late Captain John Smith, who was Master of the first MV Loch Seaforth. It was a privilege to attend the launch along with my other colleagues, and to see her take to the water for the first time. A bit like seeing your first child being born! Well maybe not, but emotional all the same!
After the launch the vessel was taken by tugs and placed alongside the fitting out quay where she would remain until ready for sea trials. The accommodation block weighing approx. 800 tonnes was craned on to the rest of the hull on the 25 March, after which the rest of the outfitting process could begin in earnest.
The Main Engines were first started on 11th July, and were named Callanish (Port Engine) and Clisham (Starboard Engine). The Shipyard had a tradition of naming the engines, so two appropriate island connection names were chosen by the CMAL Site Engineer, Mr Donald MacDonald a native of Shader, on the Isle of Lewis.
On 13th August the Marine Escape System (MES) and liferafts were tested by the crew, and accepted by the MCA who were in attendance.
An Inclining Experiment which is used to determine a ships stability, lightship weight and centre of gravity was conducted on the 16th August. This is quite a long procedure and involves moving weights around the vessel, and took over 6 hours to complete. Afterwards calculations were conducted to determine the results, which were used to compile the final Stability Booklet for the vessel. This is essential to ensure that the vessel is safe and confirms full compliance with international standards for stability.
On 23rd August the vessel was taken to sea for the first time and a short sea trail during a trip to Odense, Denmark for drydocking. It was great to experience the vessel at sea for the first time, and get a sense of what she would be like, albeit we had fair weather. After a short docking the vessel returned to Flensburg to compete final fitting out and preparations for the official sea trials.
We set sail on Thursday 25 September for 5 days of sea trials in the Baltic, mainly based around Bornholm Island, where all the vessels systems and propulsion would be test to the max to ensure that they are fully fit for purpose, and as per the required specification. The vessel preformed very well indeed in all respects, and surpassed the specification requirements in many areas.
On the 29 September the vessel returned to Flensburg Fjord, and the outfitting quay to complete final work before the official handover on the 24 October 2014. On this day the flag of the vessel changed from the German Register to UK Register, and she officially became a part of the Calmac Ferries fleet. At this time she was fully crewed and final preparations were being made for the delivery voyage to Scotland. The crew used the next 10 days to fully familiarise themselves with the vessel systems, and safety equipment.
The route home took us north to the Skagerrak, before heading west along the south tip of Norway, and breaking out into the North Sea. The weather for the first few days of passage was relatively benign and gave us a good chance to get to know the ship at sea, and get a feel for her as we say!
Sea Distances:- Flensburg to Greenock 1070 Nm - Flensburg to Stornoway 805 NM - Stornoway to Greenock 265 Nm
Finally and after much anticipation the day came to depart Flensburg and return to Scotland. At 0900 hrs on 4 November 2014, with a blast of the whistle and a few tears, we set sail from Flensburg bound for Greenock on the Clyde. It was certainly a proud moment for me to be in command for the delivery voyage, and the trip still holds lasting memories.
We sailed into the North Minch at 0700 hrs on Thursday 6th November, and I sent an email home saying 'Good Morning Scotland" with the above picture attached. It was indeed great to be back in home waters, and we passed close by to Point, Isle of Lewis as we continued down the Minch in a freshening southerly gale. By the time we were south of Skye in the late afternoon, the wind was S'ly 50 kts with the vessel already proving her superior seakeeping qualities
The following morning at 0830 hrs we arrived off Gourock Pier, and outside the Calmac HQ were greeted by quite a crowd, and plenty of cameras to welcome us officially to Scotland. We acknowledged their welcome in the usual manner with some long blasts on the whistle. At 0900 hrs we continued up the Clyde to Inchgreen, where the vessel would be mainly berthed until the pier at Stornoway was completed.
On the morning of Tuesday 11 November we were visited by the Transport Minister, Mr Keith Brown, and I along with the other senior officers had the pleasure of giving him a guided tour of the ship.
In the afternoon we sailed for Ullapool, and on 12 November, we sailed into Ullapool for the first time to conduct berthing trials, which were very successful and then returned to the Clyde.
On 6 December 2014, we sailed into Stornoway for the first time, to carry out crew familiarisation trials within the confines of the harbour, this despite the pier still not being ready.
In January 2015 we undertook further familiarisation trials in the ports of Kirkwall and Scrabster, as well as Ullapool and Arnish pier in Stornoway.
We finally completed berthing trials at the newly competed pier in Stornoway on 4 February 2015. Our first commercial sailing was the overnight freight sailing on 10/11 February. An open day for public viewing of the vessel was held in Stornoway on 12 February, and it was great to see so many people, around 3000 turned out to see the islands new ferry. We then completed our first passenger sailing of the Minch the following day, and entered public service on Monday 16 February 2015, initially on a 'phasing-in' basis, but effectively full time after the MV Isle of Lewis was delayed leaving drydock in Birkenhead during her annual overhaul.
Four years on...as she is today - 16/02/2019