how to book
For details of timetables and vehicle reservations (advisable, particularly in the summer season), contact Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) on 0800 066 5000.
For online bookings and timetables, go to the CalMac website. Be sure to sign up for service status updates by text or the CalMac app – that way you'll be fully aware of any delays or cancellations.
Most car, freight and passenger traffic to and from Islay goes by ferry on the crossing 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. CalMac, owned by the Scottish Government, has been operating this route since the early 1970s.
The ferry leaves Kennacraig and sails down West Loch Tarbert. After 20 minutes, the Isle of Gigha comes into sight. As the ferry leaves the loch, the majestic Paps of Jura are visible to your right. The ferry now sails on the Sound of Jura and Islay becomes clearly visible ahead of you. The passage through the Sound of Jura can provide views of minke wales, dolphins and occasionally a basking shark. Gannets and other seabirds are also regulars on this crossing.
The Port Askaig route 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 on the left. This sailing takes around two hours.
The Port Ellen route forks south in the Sound of Jura. Around 45 minutes before arrival at Port Ellen, Ardbeg, the first of the three southern whisky distilleries becomes visible on the east coast of Islay. This is soon followed by Lagavulin and then Laphroaig. 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 takes around two hours and twenty minutes.
THE TWO ships
From 2007, two ships (the MV Hebridean Isles and the MV Finlaggan) have been sailing all year round, due to the increased whisky production of the island's distilleries and an increase in tourism. Two new 95 metres long vessels are to replace them and will have greater vehicle capacity and significantly lower energy requirements.
MV Finlaggan is named after the historic settlement on Eilean Mòr in Loch Finlaggan, in the north east corner of Islay. Finlaggan was at one time, the centre of the Lordship of the Isles. She can accommodate up to 550 passengers and 85 cars, measures 90 metres in length and is capable of speeds in excess of 17 knots.
The MV Hebridean Isles was the first CalMac vessel to not only be named by royalty (HRH the Duchess of Kent), but also to be launched sideways back in 1985. She was transferred to the Islay route in 2001. She measures 85 metres long with a capacity for up to 494 passengers and 62 cars and her service speed is around 15 knots.
ONBOARD FACILITIES AND SERVICES
The facilities provided ensure all passenger needs are met while onboard. The lifts and selected cafeteria tables comfortably accommodate wheelchairs, there are disabled toilets and also dedicated baby-changing rooms. There are lounges (including TV and recliner lounges), outdoor seating to enjoy the stunning views and dedicated pet and baggage areas.
Three onboard services add to the pleasure and comfort of each sailing. Mariners Cafeteria provides fresh meals using local produce where possible. The Coffee Cabin serves light snacks, speciality coffees, alcohol, hot beverages and confectionery. Shop@CalMac stocks additional confectionary items, newspapers, magazines and books. Finally, the Cub Club play area keeps young passengers occupied and the Game-On gaming area caters for fans of the latest video games and quiz machines.