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St Ola I
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St Ola I

Crossed the Firth six return sailings per week for 59 years from 1892 - 1951 with few cancellations in the interests of passenger comfort and safety.
Dimensions - 135' x 22' x 11' draft x 231grt.
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Picture added on 12 April 2008
That's the ship that took me over the Firth to Orkney for the first time in 1947. Can't really remember the journey as only 18 months old at the time!
Added by Marion Mcleod on 13 April 2008
Marion - you're giving your age away!
I don't think I have ever seen a photo of the first St Ola - great picture.
I remember the St Ola II. In a rough day, one minute you were looking at the sea and the next minute you were looking at the sky! I wonder if it was the same on the first Ola or worse!!

[Did the actual St Ola I not appear in Powell and Pressburger's version of The Spy In Black? In which case it should be visible in motion as well. - Steven]
Added by Barbara on 14 April 2008
St. Ola I did feature in the film Spy in Black, renamed St. Magnus, but only in calm water. It was shelled and sunk by a Uboat!
Added by Willie Macdonald. on 15 April 2008
Someone told me that this St Ola's master, (possibly Captain Stevenson) if in doubt about the conditions out West, took a walk round the West Shore to judge for himself whether to leave the harbour or not.
Added by S Flett on 17 November 2009
Captain Stevenson was Skipper of St.Ola II. A great crew on board this Ship,the irrivocable "Blazer Anderson", Bosun, Walter Leask, Purser and "Caddy Adams" one of the engineers. My family and I had a horrible trip over to Scrabster one summer,s he went through the flow and the trip took 5hours, the first time I had seen a wall of green water, unforgettable! I had a trip along with troup of Cubs on the St.Ola I to a summer camp in Thurso, about 1947-48. The Skipper was Captain Swanson or Captain Swanney. Added by Phil Brough.
Anonymous comment added on 18 November 2009
The story goes that Capt Swanson, long-time skipper of the first St Ola, when asked by a nervous passenger in foggy conditions where the nearest land was, pointed over the side and said, "Five fathoms doon!"
Added by Ian Hourston on 18 November 2009
I thought the name was Capt. Swanson, but I may be wrong.
Added by Tom Scott on 19 November 2009
Who hasn’t a story to tell about one of their crossings on the St Ola II?
This is my one.
I was only about seven at the time way back in the very early sixties. (Well I’m not going to tell you my age as well!) Goodness knows why but our summer holidays were pushed into the autumn. We were headed for Edinburgh to see my mum’s family. We were up at the crack of dawn making sandwiches and packing our white and grey Triumph Herald. The wind was horrendous. The road to Stromness was fairly busy and the wind made our peedie car wobble along. Dad always tried to arrive just in time so that our car would not be the first on and last off but with it being small we were often taken from the end of the queue right up front. Fortunately there were very few cars at this time of the year or perhaps people seeing the weather changed their minds! Sure enough we were put right down in the hold and not on the deck. (I better cut this story short now.)
The Ola started diving before we got into the Firth. Plates were crashing to the floors. Folk had out their “brown” bags. Dad disappeared down to the bar for a port and brandy – any excuse! Mum, my sister and I huddled together outside on one of the benches. One minute we were looking at the sea and the next minute, the sky. (Those were the days).
About half way through the Firth we decided to try and go inside to have a coffee. Clinging to the rails we danced into the lounge only to find dad sitting at a table for four. He had ordered milky coffee which helped to heat us up.
The Ola gave one big lurch and mum went flying with her chair on to dads lap. Her chair was the only one not tied down. I’d never seen mum and dad in this position before!!
My story is not finished yet!
Before arriving at Scrabster we all had a trip to the toilet. (Don’t worry, my story is quite clean!) We all walked as if there had been more than coffee in our cups. The big metal toilet doors were swinging about and making such a noise. I don’t know how I didn’t lose my fingers but the door shut on three of them. It was so painful that I was frightened to look at them. They were white and squashed but were all there! I never let on to anyone in case we had to return home on the Ola.
My fingers were in fact broken and are squint to this day!
Harvey Johnston’s Roly Poly Ola lived up to it’s reputation.

Added by Barbara on 20 November 2009
I seemed to remember a Captain Banks being a skipper on the St Ola and I'm sure it was this one. He lived opposite us in Dundas St Stromness.
Added by Brian Drever on 20 November 2009
The St Ola 1 was the Pentland Firth mail ship from 1892 until 1951. During that period, she had only four masters. Capt. Robertson (1892-1903). Capt. Swanney ( 1903- 1911). Capt. Swanson ( 1911-1942). Capt. Banks (1942-1951). Capt Swanney left to join the Pole Star, the only man to command both ships. He towed the crewless and disabled "Citos" into Holm in 1923.
Added by Fred Johnston. on 20 November 2009
Could you possibly give me the names of the crew of the St Ola 1 or pictures too, as my dad Ronald Park worked on it too
Added by John Park on 06 August 2010
Heard a tale from my Grandad about the Ola 1. The skipper had deemed the weather to be too bad to sail. It must have been bad! Grandad said that "If the weathers too bad to sail, you wouldn'y want to be on it" The postmaster had called the skipper a coward so inevitably the boat did sail. It would seem the the said postmaster was in tears most of the way. I guess that was the last time he opened his mooth without thinking of the consequences. I guess the postmaster hadn't heard Grandads advice.
Added by Stuart Flett on 07 June 2011
My great-great grandfather, Captain Robert Robertson was the first skipper of all the Olas. My son still has a pair of oil paintings of him and his wife, Jane Harrison, whose surname became my late dad's forename. He looks very much the steely-eyed Victorian, with full grey beard, wearing the old North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland Steam Navigation Company's insignia on his hat - a flag of blue, white and blue horizontal bands.

Stuart Flett's story is similar to the one my grandmother told me, but varies a little in detail. My version is that Captain Robertson had decided not to sail because of bad weather, but that the agent in Stromness had insisted. If I remember rightly it was because a bigwig in the company was due to sail on the return trip, and the agent didn't want to lose face. Captain Robertson agreed, but only on condition that the agent made the trip as well. Not long after they rounded the Kame of Hoy, the story goes, the terrified agent was begging him to turn back. He refused, of course (otherwise it wouldn't be such a good story).

What's really interesting to me is that Stuart's account is the first I've ever heard outside my own family. The fact that a similar story has travelled down through the generations of his family suggests that there must be some truth at the root of it. Any more background, Stuart?

Another of my grandmother's tales is that, when the old lady was broken up, her hull was worn down to the thickness of a sixpence (similar in size to a 5p piece).

I'm old enough to remember the first St Ola, as she was replaced only in 1953. I didn't realise until many years later that my great-great grandfather had been her first skipper. If I had, my seven-year-old self would have been greatly impressed.
Added by Thorfinn Johnston on 16 June 2012
I note that Fred Johnston says Captain Banks was Master of the St Ola from 1942 until she was withdrawn from service in 1951. Captain Swanson retired on 1st January 1943, sailing the St Ola to Scrabster and returning as a passenger.
The People's Journal of 9th January reported that:
"Captain Swanson skippered the St Ola for the last time on New Year’s Day, when he took the ship to Scrabster, and made the return trip as a passenger under the command of his successor, Captain Wm. Banks."
Added by Bruce Gorie on 05 January 2013
Captain Swanson was my Great Great Grandfather, and his Great Nephew (my Uncle) captained and retired from the Pole Star around 1996.
Added by Calum Swanson on 11 January 2013
Robert Robertson was my great-grandfather so have inherited same heroic story! As a 3-12 yr, old sailed on his "tub" several times and confirm unpleasantness of the experience. Interested that I have extended family sharing my interest.
Added by Reid Ross on 26 December 2013
Robert Robertson was my great great grandfather married to Margaret Ross. Please could we make contact with Reid?
Added by Elspeth lloyd (nee Robertson) on 02 July 2020
Please ignore message of 02 July 2020. Jane Harrison was married to my great great grandfather. I have since met my cousin Thorfinn Johnston who has filled a lot of gaps in.
Does anyone know the whereabouts of Reid Ross?
Added by Elspeth Lloyd on 20 September 2022
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Stromness Police StationRaymond and Robert HutcheonIsa, Louise, Robert & Ray HutcheonStromness Academy, late 1930sMystery thingWW2 Kirkwall Home GuardStromness HarbourPromenade deck of St Ola IVThe InverlaneAnother fine day in Stromness