Winter weather means Christmas ferry sailings will always be unpredictable. But for many on Uist, a text saying to pack up and go the next day isn’t much help.
This year, I’m hoping to celebrate Christmas with my family on the mainland. I say ‘hoping’, because that’s what you do in the islands when your plans involve ferries – you hope.
I’d already known that there was the good possibility of my Saturday ferry from Lochmaddy being cancelled. The weather has been truly wild on Uist for the past week or so, with sailing after sailing called off.
So, when I got a text from CalMac on Tuesday afternoon telling saying that I was being “asked to travel” on a different day, it wasn’t a surprise.
What did surprise me was the day they recommended travelling: Wednesday. That is, the next day, with less than 24 hours notice.
If I didn’t rearrange my journey in under a day, the text warned, I might well not get on another sailing before Christmas.
Just like the majority of people on the islands, I completely understand the difficulties that weather causes CalMac in the winter months.
The ferry crews do a heroic job in getting people to and from the mainland over the season, and it’s nobody’s fault when the weather is just to unsafe to sail.
What I have more trouble understanding is why CalMac gave this warning so late.
‘Were there not useable forecasts more than 24 hours in advance?’
I reached out to CalMac to ask if they became aware of any additional information on Tuesday. They directed me to Wednesday morning’s press release, which they put out after Christmas warnings for ferries had been sent out across the islands.
There, they say that “current forecasts are showing that adverse weather conditions are likely to cause widespread disruption across the network”.
This still leaves me with questions. Were there not usable forecasts more than 24 hours in advance? If there were, why was the warning not shared then? How many people does CalMac think will be able to alter their travel plans with less than a day of notice?
‘Keep our fingers crossed’
In many homes across Uist, I’m sure Tuesday afternoon’s text led to an evening of frenzied planning.
But, for me, there was none of that – because I knew immediately that what they were ‘asking’ was impossible for me.
I had work the next day, for one thing, and even if I had managed to make my excuses and take an extra holiday day with no notice, my housemate couldn’t. (We share a car, and I wasn’t about to leave her stranded.)
For all of us on Uist in similar circumstances, all we can do is shrug and keep our fingers crossed. Again.
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