Fear for Whalsay’s fate (Peter Walker Anderson)

In The Shetland Times (10th May) 25 years ago section, an article interested me. The Whalsay ferry was scheduled to do nine extra runs. This was the first of many changes made due to enormous demand for traffic to get on/off the island.

At the time only one ferry ran this service. I remember all the controversy well, as I worked on the ferry then, turning travellers away on an hourly basis.

In 1988, a ferry which could carry 18 cars was the norm. Soon after this a second ferry, years out of date, but capable of carrying 10 to 12 cars was added to the Whalsay crossing – week days – because of the then ever increasing demand for traffic space. Little has changed here since then, except in 1991, due to further increasing demand, the second ferry started to run all weekend alongside the other vessel.

This 1991 Whalsay ferry schedule remained static until now.

This week the Whalsay ferry service has gone back to exactly what it was 25 years ago. Another 18 car ferry, and another 10 to 12 car ferry beyond its sell by date – which runs only week days.

So let me be clear: there will be only one ferry operating at weekends, which will leave up to two hour gaps between departures. Considering the second ferry transported 110 cars the last Sunday it ran, the wait will probably be much longer for potential customers at weekends. This combined with the crossings lost around the top of the day on Monday and Wednesday, will leave many people stranded for hours, perhaps with a carful of restless children.

Much has been improved across Shetland and the world in 25 years, it’s not often so large steps back in time are made. To cut a service running mainly at maximum capacity, will have a very detrimental effect on this community. Many Whalsay homes now stand empty, with ever lower prospects of sale. I fear for Whalsay’s fate during the next quarter century.

Good luck to the ferry men now facing the return to all the turning away of angry faces, and good luck to all intending to travel to/from Whalsay. May you all have the best patience in the world, it was reasonable while it lasted.

Peter Walker Anderson



Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • July 2nd, 2013 22:00

    What about the tunnels, then, it’s all gone very quiet?

    “But the most extraordinary feat of the Norwegians is their low tunnel costs. The Laerdal will cost $130m, just $2.5m/lane-km ($4m/lane-mi.) Other tunnels are regularly built in Norway for $3m to $4m/lane-km.”
    Source: http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/2244

    The technology is well-established, isn’t this an area the SCT could invest in with ferry savings going to service the investment?

    It would lead to many advantages for any islands lucky enough to get one – Whalsay fishing industry could benefit and it would be easier for residents to commute, not to mention less hardship on families if schools have to close.

    If you want the islands to remain populated they need help, not schoolmclosures and ferry cuts. I read the other day that Fetlar once had 860 people, in the days when communication via Lerwick was not such a great advantage.

    Why wouldn’t Whalsay double its population if it had a tunnel?

  • Sarah McBurnie

    • July 4th, 2013 10:53

    Who designed the new ferry timetables for the North Isles? Presumably no-one who lives here and has an understanding of how islanders move about.
    In the past it was bus timetables not linking in with planes and ferries, now it’s the ferries as well. What’s the point in catching a ferry out of Belmont at 09.45am with no ferry for the onward journey at Ulsta for nearly an hour?
    As a guide I can no longer bring visitors up to Unst on a Sunday as the 09.10am and 10.05am ferries have been axed. There being no ferry between 08.15am and 11am from Toft. Where this whole thing leaves summer visitors (probably queuing for hours and never actually going anywhere) heaven only knows.
    Is the intention of the Infrastructure Services Committee to make it so difficult for the isles folk to conduct their business, bring in supplies, post, visitors and live here that we all leave family by family, household by household? If so I give a massive vote of no confidence to the Chair for being incapable of listening to our concerns and finding a way through this.
    The lairds did a pretty good job at clearing the folk out when it suited them but present tactics are proving far more effective. So far 5 out of 20 households have left our square in a matter of as many months.
    Please note these are the Shetland Isles, if the outer isles are cleared by design or accident what will we be called then, Shetland or Mainland?


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