It was a sunny skies last Sunday, 22 October, with an influx of day- trippers to the island and a welcome off-season boost to tourism. A wee cycle around the island, a pint at the pub…perhaps even a visit to the local gin distillery for supplies. As the end of a lovely day in Millport came to a close and visitors started to make their way to the ferry, an alert went out to advise passengers that a fire had broken out in the engine room, putting the MV Loch Shira out of commission, with visitors now stranded on the island…and locals stranded on the Largs shores with no way to get home.
There was predictable confusion and communication issues. Phone lines went down. CalMac organized a replacement vessel; however, the Loch Riddon was several hours away in Tarbert, and it was unclear when - or if - people were going to be able to get on a ferry that evening at all. Regardless, news travelled swiftly back to town and the islanders immediately responded with a call to action.
A crisis centre was set up at the Garrison to coordinate efforts should accommodation be required in Millport. As the sun set and the cold grew, it also provided a warm space, food and coffee.
Local boat owners Chris and Tony immediately mobilized their RIB to the Watersports Centre with Chris shuttling passengers between the island and the mainland well into the evening. And as the wait for the Loch Riddon grew from an anticipated arrival of 5pm, and those waiting at the ferry in cars having now spent several hours in the cold with no food or water, the jingling bells of Father Christmas? No, the sounds of shaking packets of crisps and the clinking of soup bowls could be heard approaching the long ferry line.
An emergency call from CalMac was received by Tavern owners Tracy and Ian to ask if they could provide food for stranded passengers and for the Ferry crew."I asked how many people are you talking about, and they said it was for 200 people! I said, 'yeah we can do that', and my colleague and I prepared a huge pot of soup and curried stovies, and macaroni and chips for any vegetarians. Two of our customers, Willie and Gary, had a truck and they helped us transport all the goods to the ferry queue."
Premier owner Stephen Dobbin also responded to the call and provided crisps, water and juice to waiting passengers.
The Loch Riddon finally arrived at 7:15pm and the crew worked tirelessly until after 11pm, sailing between Cumbrae to Largs until all the waiting passengers on both sides had been transported.
Councillor Todd Ferguson, in a facebook post the next day, summed up the experience perfectly:
“The immense effort of this island community is an example to us all on how to deal positively when challenging situations arise.
From the guys shuttling people off in their RIB from the Watersports Centre to the businesses who opened up to provide warm spaces, food, and coffee, and those who were providing food and water. You prove time and time again how to rally together. Absolutely outstanding to see. Congratulations to everyone involved!"