Arthur MacEachern has retired as Skipper of the Jura ferry after a remarkable career spanning over 36 years. He and his colleague Alasdair Campbell first operated the run when Western Ferries bought the ferry rights from the legendary 'Gordie' MacPhee in September 1968. The boat then servicing the island was the 'Rothesay Castle', which was little more than an open launch.Western Ferries had by then commenced their revolutionary 'roll-on-roll-off' service to Islay and wished to extend their reach on to Jura. The company had developed the idea first undertaken by Eilean Sea Services which was to provide a ferry capable of taking heavy goods vehicles without their first having to be unloaded and their contents winched aboard cargo ships or puffers using a crane.
It is easy to forget in our modern world of big ro-ro car ferries that just 40 short years ago every motor car, indeed every item of freight, arrived on Islay dangling from the end of a rope. The Eilean Sea Services venture ended in tragedy however when their landing craft style boat rolled over in heavy seas and three lives were lost. Western Ferries assumed the mantle and purchased the old Eilean Sea Services ferry, re-named her 'The Sound of Gigha', and introduced her on to the Jura run in March 1969. She was to remain in service until 1998. Arthur was her skipper throughout this period and recalls operating five runs a day and charging passengers two shillings and sixpence to cross to the island with cars costing nine shillings.
Arthur and his employers were much more enterprising than the current operators on the route and chartered their boat out at night for a variety of different uses. The 'Sound Of Gigha' with Arthur at the helm would set off to Rathlin Island with a new GPO telephone exchange, or to Gigha with the Electricity Board every time the scallop dredgers trawled through and broke the sub-sea electricity supply to the island, which was often. They took furniture to Lismore, building supplies to Iona, brought cattle from Oronsay and had a regular run to Gigha to collect cheese from the island dairy which was brought back to Islay for onward distribution to the mainland.
There were years of enjoyable voyages up West Loch Tarbert on Jura with boatloads of army cadets who would storm the beaches carrying rifles bigger than themselves while making lots of satisfactory bangs. One black night saw a rendezvous with a 'Sir Galahad' style landing craft in the Sound of Jura. Seventy Marine Commandos came aboard Arthurs ferry and he delivered them to beaches all along the east coast at night, where they disappeared to fight the mock battles that make the Scottish Regiments the best in the world whenever they are called to the real thing. All those days are gone now, and Jura has a new ferry, the 'Eilean Dhiura' commissioned by Argyll and Bute Council in 1998. Arthur MacEachern successfully introduced the new ship, but one detects an added twinkle in his eye when he talks of the old days and the old ways and men who would come down to the pier to sit and swop stories. He has contributed a huge amount to what is still unfortunately largely an oral tradition on Islay and Jura and he expresses a wish that one day someone will be able to write it all down before it is lost for ever.