Most car, freight and passenger traffic to and from Islay goes by ferry using the route from Kennacraig on West Loch Tarbert to Port Ellen or Port Askaig. Kennacraig is located 6 km south of the pretty fishing village of Tarbert on the Kintyre Peninsula. The operator on this route is Caledonian MacBrayne, mostly referred to as Calmac, and is owned by the Scottish Government. Calmac operated the Kennacraig to Islay route from the early 1970s and has done so ever since. Since 2007 this route is operated by two ships all year round, due to increased whisky production of the island's distilleries and an increase in tourism. The vessels that operate the route all year round are the Hebridean Isles and the MV Finlaggan, the latter started service in June 2011 and is Calmac's newest and most technically advanced ferry.
The two ferries currently sailing the Kennacraig to Islay route:
MV Hebridean Isles - Eileanan Innse Gall
lounge, disabled toilets, lift for disabled, ambulance room, full meals, light snacks and packed lunches, shop, cafeteria and bar.
Built: 1985, Cochrane Shipbuilders Ltd, Selby, North Yorkshire
Gross Tonnage: 3046
Size: 85.2m x 15.8m
Service Speed: 15 knots
Capacity: 62 cars and 494 passengers
The Hebridean Isles was launched on 4 july 1985 and delivered later that year. The Hebridean Isles was the first CalMac vessel to be named by royalty, in her case HRH the Dutchess of Kent, and the first to be launched sideways. Her first commercial sailing was on 6 December on the Stornoway-Ullapool route. Before being sent to the Islay route the Hebridean Isles served several routes to the Outer and Inner Hebrides as well as several months on the Oban to Mull and Cononsay route. When the Hebridean Isles was replaced by the larger Hebrides in 2001, she was transferred to the Islay route. She returns north for a short spell each winter on relieving duties.
Observation Lounge, Reclining Seat Lounge, Quiet Lounge, Children's Play Area, Two Passenger Lifts, Two Decks of External Panoramic Seating
Built: 2011 Remontowa Yard, Gdansk Poland
Cost: £24.5 million
Size: 89.8m x 16m
Gross Tonnage: 5209t
Service Speed: 16.3 knots
Capacity: 85 cars, 10 lorries, 500 passengers
The vessel was contracted by CMAL in November 2007 and will be the first new ship to serve the Islay route in almost 40 years. The ferry will sail from Kennacraig to Port Askaig initially, while infrastructure works are completed at Port Ellen.
The MV Finlaggan replaced the MV Isle of Arran, built 1984 on the Kennacraig to Islay Route. Special features of this new ferry are the mezzanine deck for 18 cars and the somewhat "posh interior" wich is much appreciated by many travellers. Although the vessels is there are no Wi-Fi facilities.
MV Finlaggan Ferry passenger areas - for more views watch the video below
The normal sailing frequency from Kennacraig to Islay is three to four times on weekdays and Saturday and two on a Sunday. On most days there are two early (07.00 and 09.45) and one late (18.00) sailing to Port Ellen and there is an early afternoon sailing (13.00) to Port Askaig. It is however strongly advised to check the current timetables at the Calmac website for the most up-to-date information and online reservations. In the summer season, on Wednesday's, is an early sailing (07.45) from Kennacraig to Oban, which calls at Port Askaig (09.50) and Colonsay (11.25). That same ferry returns from Oban in the afternoon (15.30) to arrive at Kennacraig in the evening (21.50), again stopping at Colonsay (17.45) and Port Askaig (19.15). Day trippers from Islay often use this ferry to visit the neighbouring Isle of Colonsay, giving them six hours to discover the island.
Video of Ferry crossing Kennacraig to Port Ellen on board the Calmac Isle of Arran.
General information and check in
There are no services on 25 December and 1 January. Latest check in before departure for vehicles from Kennacraig 30 minutes, from Port Ellen and Port Askaig 45 minutes. Latest passengers check in travelling from all ports 10 minutes. Contact information: Kennacraig tel 01880 730253 or Port Ellen tel 01496 302209. For reservations call +44 (0)8000 66 5000. Prices for a car and two passengers are from £78 (winter season) to £115 (summer season).
The ferry leaves Kennacraig and sails down West Loch Tarbert, after 20 minutes the Isle of Gigha comes in sight. As the ferry leaves the loch the majestic Paps of Jura are visible to your right, offering beautiful and, depending on the weather conditions, sometimes breathtaking views. The ferry now sails on the Sound of Jura and Islay becomes clearly visible ahead of you. The passage through the Sound of Jura offers sometimes views of Minky Wales, Dolphins and occasionally a basking Shark. Also Gannets and several other sea-birds are regulars on this crossing. It's therefore advisable to take your binoculars on board of the ferry.
Kennacraig to Port Askaig
As soon as the ferry leaves West Loch Tarbert she crosses the Sound of Jura and heads directly for the fast flowing Sound of Islay, passing MacArthur's head lighthouse on the left, and enters the narrow channel that divides Islay and Jura. The tiny village of Port Askaig is halfway up the Sound of Islay and will be visible just after Dunlossit House, Dunlossit Castle according to the locals, on the left. This sailing takes around two hours and sometimes Port Askaig is used as an alternative for Port Ellen during adverse weather conditions.
Kennacraig to Port Ellen About 45mins before arrival at Port Ellen the first of the three southern whisky distilleries are visible on the east coast of Islay. The first being Ardbeg, soon followed by Lagavulin and then Laphroaig, after the ferry sailed around the Isle of Texa. The ferry now makes a sharp turn to the right and enters Kilnaughton Bay and soon the lovely white painted houses of Port Ellen become visible. This sailing to Islay usually takes around two hours and twenty minutes.
The ferry terminal at Port Ellen The ferry terminal at Port Askaig
This map is part of the Landranger (Pink) series and is designed for people who really want to get to know an area. This map makes your Islay Discovery a lot easier and is a must for every visitor of Islay.