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Hoy Head coming in to Lyness
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Hoy Head coming in to Lyness

Allan writes: 'The former south isles ferry (Hoy Head) coming along side at Lyness, winter of 1975.'

There must be some stories out there about the Hoy Head and its sister the Watchful, about the boats themselves and travelling on them. Even thirty years ago they looked complete anachronisms. Were they originally steamers?

Remember too that the Houton terminal wasn't there, and the boats sailed from Scapa and Stromness to Longhope, Lyness and Flotta. Did the boats go from St Margaret's Hope also?
Picture added on 23 November 2005
The Hoy Head was originally MFV 1258. She was one of the naval ferries which went from Houton to Lyness. She was purchased by Bremner and co when the ferry service was stopped
Added by William Watters on 24 November 2005
The Hoy Head is now lying in Irvine harbour Ayrshire, being tidied up again after sinking last year, engineless, and awful sad looking. I go doon to see her often. Incidentally the lifeboat, T.G.B. is in the museum there as well.
Added by FRANCIS HAMILTON on 19 April 2006
I think she was based in Shetland for a few years, as a work boat when all the Russian Klondykers were on the go. She was called 'Zenobia' at that time, but was sold somewhere on the West of scotland.
Added by Erik Manson on 20 December 2006
How often did the Watchful run to Lyness and who was on the crew? I remember Captain Hourie and Mac Bain but who els?
Added by Michael Johnston on 05 March 2008
The MV Watchfull was smaller than Hoy Head. She ran in the summer based in Stromness and did the sort of tourist traffic run!
It was an origial Blackstone engine fitted in her since her building, and shook like a wet dog, all the pipework was conected to the hull by rubber hose otherwise they just fractured, so after refit and board of trade inspection these pipes were conected in the manner that I have described, and it shuddered away. She was not all that reliable and was sometimes sometimes refered to as the Doubtfull!
The Hoy Head on the other hand was much better and was fitted with a 150hp Gardener although a bit under powered she seldom missed a run. If westerly wind made Scapa difficult then they would run to Stromness so the service given was good.
Both vessels had happy crews on board and a trip tae the toon was a social occasion, the trip to and from being better than the reason that we went over to the Mainland for!
Only after the developments on Flotta did the traditional type of service become inadequate and it was clear that Ro Ro was the obvious answer.
Added by John Budge on 20 October 2008
The first time the Watchful came into Stromness she stuck in ahead and rammed the pier.
Added by William Watters on 21 October 2008
I did a summer season on the Watchfull with Simon Peterson & Jock Knight with either Capt John Gray or John Hourie in command (depending on who was handy at the time) based in Stromness.I recall on one occasion helping Jock to remove a pipe from the bilge and taking it up to Wisharts garage to have it brazed. I have no recollection of any rubber hoses other than the intermediate hoses that were always there. Ray Kirkpatrick did the season before me. I can't remember exactly if it was before or after being on the Watchfull, that Ray, whilst in charge of Nundy's tender during a period of thick fog was run down and sunk. Ray and crew climbed up the tyre fenders on to the deck of the Watchfull without getting their feet wet. I also had the privilege to have been engineer of the Hoy Head with Albert and Geordie Kirkpatrick, Stanley Thomson and Allan Smith. Its the only boat I've been on, that due to barrels and cargo being dumped on the deck, the caulking was loose and if it was a bit splashie you had to have your oilskins on down below. Plastic sheeting was available to hang, like a tent over the 240volt DC generators to protect them....
Added by Patty Johnton on 22 November 2008
If the HOY HEAD's deck was leaking then Patty you should see her noo. very sad looking, lying derilect in Irvine, no engine, and port quarter bulwarks all gone, deck is rotten.
Added by Jimmy Hamilton on 24 November 2008
The great big metal basin that sat in the cabin of the Hoy Head was very handy for the poor traveller on days like this. Not that I ever used it I must add!
Also remember the calender girls on the wall and the late trips on the last night of shopping week.
Dad painted and polishing one of the old County lorries that had to go into Kirkwall only for it to land in a heap on the deck but he saw the funny side and we had a good laugh at all his work being a waste of time.

Added by Beryl Simpson on 24 November 2008
On bad day away back in the 50s several folk were using the big basin for the reason you described Beryl, when this old woman, latt rip, and oot camm her faals teeth into the basin amang all the vomit. Weel she jist scooped them oot, gead them a bit o a wheech and stuck them back in! Even the anes that until then were fine were barfan. This is a true story.

[Officially now the second most revolting story on Orkneycommunities! - Steven]
Added by John Budge on 25 November 2008
I mind gan agrund on a skerry off Graemsay wan flat calm summer evening when there was a thick fog. John Gray refused to tak a car on at Lyness saying, 'Ye never ken whit might happen on a night o' fog like this' - weel we fund out and were ferried ashore in the flattie - I suppose either Patty or Simon rowed us in tae the beach and we were picked up by Ginger Broon fae the pier and taen into Stromness......a peedie adventure!
Added by David Watters on 27 November 2008
Just to add she's sadly still sitting on the bottom at Irvine Harbour, canted to s'board against the pier, the tidemark stopping just below the wheelhouse windows.

Added by Ian Donn on 07 March 2010
Does anyone have a photo of the HM Yacht" Zarefa"? She was sunk during WW1 off Mull Head. My Granddad died in her and i shall be visiting Orkney from Canada on the 16th to the 20th May
Added by L. Jack Patten on 28 April 2010
I am the one who took Zenobia from Shetland to the Clyde. Did not sink her though. Working on a resoration project. Please contact for details.
Added by Douglas Price on 23 March 2012
I became engineer-driver o the Hoy Head one night (The only time I ever operated an Engine by telegraph instruction!!).
The last night of Stromness Shopping Week the Hoy Head used to sail back to Stromness after her daily runs finished and a lot of us young Islanders would take advantage o a night oot in Stromness only departing as the fireworks were let off at midnight. Anyway, on this night I am relating, midnight passed and there was no sign o the Ferry sailing, after about half an hour I went up to the bridge and asked the Skipper Albert Kirkpatrick what was the problem - "The engineer is not fit tae take charge and whur no gaan". (Well thats not exactly what he said!!) Anyway I said" I would drive her if yae want". "Hiv yae iver done hid affore" says Albert. "No" I said, "bit what ever you ring doon for I will do me best tae carry oot."

Albert, a very capable Skipper, was gae canny wae his instructions at first only asking slow ahead slow astern etc but later after a few such instructions at the differt piers I was giving the owld Gardener "laldy" if he asked Full Astern I gead her all she had, when we finaly docked at Longhope Albert said he didna think he had so much power oot o the engine affore!!.
Later in my life I was to be in charge of much more powerfull engines but this was the only time I was to ring a telegraph to the bridge.
Added by John Budge on 24 March 2012
My mum was on the boat on another day of fog. It went around Fara in a circle I'm not saying who the skipper was for they are still alive but it wasn't Patty, you would have had a bit more gumption.It took a while to get home that night a journey that took long enough at the best of times. We had a good laugh about it over dinner when she eventually got home.
Added by Beryl Simpson on 24 March 2012
I think that was the night that Janice Spence and me thought we would go and see if we could get home on Jimmy Moar's Boat seeing the Hoy Head wasn't leaving on time. He had been diving in the basin in full gear what for I have no idea and on the last night of Shopping Week of all nights anyway here was poor Jimmy trying to get out of his diving gear when we stuck our heads below, bit of cursing because he was having an awful job getting out of it and two females appearing didn't help. Jacques Cousteau didn't have a look in. We made a haste retreat and ended up on the Hoy Head quite oblivios to the fact that it was young John Budge in charge below. :-)
Added by Beryl Simpson on 27 March 2012
When did Bremner & Co of Stromness finish
Added by Brian Slamo on 18 September 2014
There is a book waiting to be written aboot 'The Sooth Isles Boats' ....
Added by David Watters on 03 October 2014
Bremners were taken over by oisc in 1974
Added by Arthur Robson on 05 October 2014
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