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St Ola II
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St Ola II

This will be the first Pentland Firth ferry that many of us will remember, and boy does she look small today. I recall her being covered for by the Earl of Zetland when on refit, and also an unlovable corkscrewing motion through the water. The winching on and off of cars always provided great entertainment.
Picture added on 20 April 2004
I remember this ola well. If you were the first car on and last off, you could add a good hour or more to your travel time at each end. Sometimes the very last cars would be set on top of the deck and liable to getting spray. Then you had to wash down in thurso to wash off the salt spray. The worst trip I ever had was on this ola in 1971. You could have a three-course meal (if you were feeling like eating!) while you were waiting for your car to come off, so there were compensations.
Added by Norma Campbell on 21 April 2004
I remember this St Ola from 1958 when I was 9 - I was visiting relatives in Thurso & we went to watch the Ola leave from Scrabster one day.

Little did I know that just over 11 years later I would be sailing on her to Stromness for my first Orkney holiday. I used to love heading north through Scapa Flow, stood at the bows in the spray.

One year I'd flown up but paid an overnight visit to my relatives in Thurso using the St Ola. I was on deck talking to Miss Bullard (Field Club) and I was seasick for the first time. In spite of her rolling motion I always enjoyed my trips on her. She was a lovely ferry with lots of character, not like the horrid, massive things we have today on the same run!
Added by Ron Young on 29 May 2004
I remember this Ola well. I worked on her as a cabin boy Oct '59 - may '60. Boy it was no fun trying to serve cups of tea in the salon opposite Walter Leask's office on a rough day.
Added by Brian Drever on 17 February 2006
I sailed as cabin boy on her along with Captain John Stevenson, John Anderson Mate,
Bill Sinclair Chief Engineer, Cecil Adam 2nd Engineer, Juggie Johnnstone Bosun, Allly Clouston AB, Jock Tait AB, John Banks AB, Brinkie AB. Laurie Irvine Ch. Stewd>
Benny Logan 2nd. Stewd. Bryce Slater . Robbie Harcus, Lyod Stockan, Ernie Rendall, Bobby Youngson annd not by least Walter Leask the purser.
Added by Billy Sinclair on 09 November 2006
I just loved that Ola. The snug was the best place, really cosy. I was only 6 years old the first time I sailed and it was a rough crossing. Me and my sister sitting on the wooden deck, sliding from one sde of the shipto other as she rolled in the swell. What were my parent thinking??
Added by Stuart Flett on 28 May 2007
Captain John Stevenson, or Jack as he was known, was my Grandad. My brother and I were allowed access to the wheelhouse as well as the Captains cabin, and occasionally allowed to helm (under supervision). The crew always took great care of us, and made us feel really special. The ship was beautifully put together and maintained with a polished and aged patina. In the days of the St Ola II, passengers were able to stand between the bow and the wheelhouse, which gave the travellers a real sense of the ship ploughing through the Pentland Firth.
Added by Andy Tait on 27 January 2009
My Grandad was Jock Tait and he used to winch the vehicles (and kye?) on board. Sailing 'home' to Stromness every summer on the Ola aroused many feelings from dread to excitement. The boat lurched as we passed The Old Man o'Hoy as all the tourists flocked to take their photos to the one side. The crew always treated us like royalty and made even the worst trips bearable. My mother insisted on a cabin so we could be privately sick and I can recall our wee Shetland collie dog sliding up and down with the swell on a mat towards the door and back to the bunk looking very bewildered.
Added by Alison Hepburn on 13 August 2010
I was an AB deap sea and when i was home I was asked by Captain Stevenson to do their relief duties, this happened on several occasions.
Added by Donald Shearer on 26 August 2010
Donald Shearer, are you originally from Peatnear, in Crockness. and worked on the Lighthouse Tenders..
Added by Jimmy Hamilton on 27 August 2010
A beautiful scale model of the Ola II was on exhibit in the Maritime Museum in Halifax Nova Scotia. A caption on the exhibit said she was sailing in the Caribbean being operated as a cargo ship.

I travelled several times on the old St Ola from Scrabster to Stromness during latter part of WWII as my father was on active service in the army. The wildest trips I ever encountered at sea!!
Added by Gordon Williamson on 06 October 2010
That was St Ola I Gordon; I too remember her well. On one trip south the Mate sent me below despite my having paid only steerage fare. Soon I was rolling with other passengers, and well-used sick-pans, back and forth across the saloon floor. My own last (dry) heave was in Inverness railway station. Yet I have retained a very soft spot for the sturdy old vessel. She too carried cars - 4 or maybe 6, I think. The last two were carried on deck, and if the tide was right you drove them on across two planks. Passengers were stopped from driving their own cars on after a nervous lady hit the gas instead of the brake, crashed through the railings on the far side into the sea and unfortunately drowned. Other viewers will know the details of this better than I. Please feel very free to correct me (as if I needed to ask).
Added by Ian Hourston on 07 October 2010
My father, William (Dusty) Clouston served on St. Ola I as a Fireman and on deck and latterly as Bosun on St. Ola II between 1942 and 1959.
A highlight during my youth was a trip on the 'old' Ola to the back of the Holms to coup ashes.
I remember seeing St. Ola II in Lerwick harbour after she had been renamed Celtic Surveyor. All the beautiful bird's eye maple in the saloon and dining room had been kept but the teak cappings on the railings had been painted. Sacrilege!
Added by Mike Clouston on 09 October 2010
I thought it was wan o the north boats that was the Celtic Surveyor. It was her that was involved wi the divers being lost at the Flotta oil pipeline job, I usually end up wrong but dont think it was the Ola
Added by Jimmy Hamilton on 10 October 2010
I thought the Celtic Surveyor was originally the Earl of Zetland
Added by S Taylor on 10 October 2010
checked on my previous comment, it was the Earl of Zetland, that became Celtic Surveyor....
Added by Jimmy Hamilton on 11 October 2010
The St Ola II was renamed, Aqua Star, I saw her in Stornaway years ago in a terrible state, she had been painted red, but was all covered in rust.. was scrapped in 1987, in Vigo

Added by Jimmy Hamilton on 11 October 2010
The last time I saw the Earl of Zetland was in Eastbourne harbour, where she had been a floating restaurant, just prior to her being towed to the Albert Edward dock in North Shields where she is fulfilling the same function, I believe.
Added by Mike Clouston on 11 October 2010
The "Ola" became the "Aqua Star" and I think the " Earl" became the " Celtic Surveyor"
Added by Fred Johnston on 11 October 2010
My mistake, Aqua Star it was - Lerwick 1986.
Did the 'Earl' revert to her original name from 'Celtic Surveyor' when she became a floating restaurant in Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne?
I can remember seeing her in the early 1990s in the lock there waiting for the tug to tow her north to Shields. She had a lot of information painted on the bridge giving her history in Shetland and when used to transport people to Israel in 1948.
Added by Mike Clouston on 11 October 2010
I'm interested to see the note above that suggests the St Ola II was scrapped in 1987. I lived in Edinburgh from 1989, and came upon St Ola II rusting away at Leith Docks, when I was, um, out for a stroll. It was definitely her, and I was happy to see her, but sad to see her condition.
Added by Andy Tait on 12 October 2010
ANDY,you could well be right , I only quoted that she was scrapped in 87 because I found it on the internet, but could be a mistake on somebody's part.
Added by Jimmy Hamilton on 12 October 2010
Jimmy, I guess she was possibly sold for scrap in 1987, but only scrapped some time later - who knows? Interesting anyway.
Added by Andy Tait on 13 October 2010
This brings back so many memories. I lived in Thurso from 1965 to 1970 and I was fascinated by the St Ola. My big regret is that I never got to sail on her (I was only a wee lad). Thanks for all the stories.
Added by Stephen Hoare on 15 December 2010
Them horrible waxy greese proofed paper sick bags, I used them many a time whilst holding on for grim death, also the big leather? cushions and the forced air coming from the air conditioning blasting in your face and sick bag, Oh memories!
Added by Roy Peace on 15 December 2010
When I worked on the Ola we went up to Shetland to relieve the Earl Zetland. I will always remember going to the Skerries and picking up a 90 something year old woman. She had never been off the island and was on a stretcher laid across the gunwhales of the small boat. We lowered a pallet down on the winch and then hoisted the stretcher up on that. She was terrified and I dont know how the poor old dear survived that
Added by Ernie Rendall on 16 December 2010
My most memorable journey on this boat was when we left Orkney on 30th November 1972. It was so rough that we were given a cabin for the journey. Another memory is my Granny Flett putting a white sheet on the washing line, when any of the family came home, which could be seen from the boat in Hoysound.
Added by Linda (Flett) Ritchie on 29 December 2010
Changed days.Down in the bowels of the Ola were two lounges, one was the gentlemens lounge , the other was the ladies. Those in the know would nip down to the gents one early, grab a place on the long couches and have the lights switched off. The unknowing would open the door and see a dark room and go away again.
I had one trip where we went all the way across, dodged around Scrabster bay for a couple of hours and then had to come all the way back again because there was too much sea to dock. I had just got home when a blizzard struck and I was stuck at home for a week.
Added by William Watters on 02 January 2011
I worked on this vessel when she was the Aqua Star around 1983. She was engaged in North Sea Survey work. What a great sea boat she was, floated over the waves like a duck. The leather, timber and cut glass windows were still there in the dining room.Sadly around 1985 her owner Aquatronics ran into financial trouble at the same time as a major engine failure . I saw her engine dismantled inside a shipyard repair workshop (in Sunderland I think). The ship was nearby alongside a wharf, she was painted red and in a rusty neglected state. Believe she carried on surveying for another year or so.
Added by Glenn Freestone on 11 October 2011
This is the first picture that I have seen of the St Ola. I sailed on her from Leith to Kirkwall with a short stop in Aberdeen. That was in 1958, I think. I was about eleven and was travelling alone in steerage to stay with relatives for the summer. The weather out of Aberdeen was awful and the seas were the size of tenements. All the crockery was broken and the floor of the saloon was covered in the detritus of broken bottles and plates etc. I was the only passenger that I saw around, as I suppose the others were unwell.
It was very exciting, I stood on the bridge, on the outside, hoping that I would be invited in, but I wasn't. The trip back was much quieter.
Added by Andrew Paterson on 01 August 2013
Memories. Just got back from Orkney, still magical place after 40 years
Added by Yvonne on 31 May 2014
I went on the st ola in 1950, was this the first one or the second?
Added by Richard Cheeseman on 16 November 2015
No need for stabilisers there! Rolled a good bit but always came back! Designed to be stable. Took quite a bit to cancel a trip "in those days".
Added by Dennis Manson on 17 November 2015
It was the first one and I sailed on it as a six-year-old in 1950 as well. I was going to Edinburgh with a family friend. If I remember correctly it was a terrible crossing. A lot of rock-and-roll.
Anonymous comment added on 17 November 2015
Loved the old girl. As a young lad who fished off the jettyy at Scrabster she gave me dreams of the sea and distant shores. To this day I go down to the sea in small boats. And think of watching the cars being lifted into the hold. I knew she went on to survey work but had hoped she made the southern ocean. But alas a dream
Added by Ian Milne on 20 November 2015
In answer to Richard Cheeseman, 1950 was the last full year of service by the original St Ola.
Added by Ian Hourston on 03 December 2015
Took Aqua star, as Captain, from Hull to Vigo for scrap in January 1987. Assume she was scrapped there as the dock we entered was being filled in as we entered. Pilot remarked on thegreat speed the bridge telegraph was answered.
Added by John Kultschar on 16 December 2015
Just found this website - and reading all the comments takes me back to when I was on the "St Ola" as relief Purser when she came up to Shetland to relieve the "Earl of Zetland" when she went on refit, as far as I recall between the years of 1968 / '73. I especially enjoyed Billy Sinclair's comments and crew names, most of whom I recall very clearly, also among her crew during my time was "Rothes", Willie Duncan, who sadly died a few years back. I have worked in the Oil Industry since 1974 and in my (now semi-retired) work with cranes and lifting operations. This very day I met a gentleman by the name of Les Irvine who I discovered during a conversation with him that is Lowrie Irvine's son. I had great pleasure in telling him to let his father know that I was asking for him.

I guess some of the men mentioned in Billy's letter will have passed on but I remember them all with great fondness, it was my pleasure to have known them all so long ago.
Added by John Bain on 16 June 2016
Used to sail on the St Ola 11 in the. fifties as my dad belong to Stromness for holidays, and remember the crew mentioned in previous comments my dad new the captain and he would let me on the wheelhouse highlight of the trip, also had many a rough crossing.
Added by John Harvey on 14 March 2017
I'm Harry Harvey the younger brother of John Harvey above in the last comment. sailed on the St Ola 11 late 50s when going to Stromness on holiday I had many a good time on her . My father William Gordon Harvey belonged to Stromness.
Added by Harry Harvey on 01 April 2018
My sister and I were evacuated to Orkney from London during WW2. My father had an extended family around Orphir and Stromness. After returning to London we would spend our summer holidays in Orkney and always travelled, sailing out of
Scrabster, on the St Ola having survived twenty four hours of steam train travel. We loved watching the cars being hoisted aboard - there was so much drama and we could hear those wonderful Orcadian accents. My dear late uncle, Jack Stevenson, was the captain and always told us that the sea was "as calm as a millpond", not true!. After much pitching and rolling it was great to see the Old Man of Hoy that meant that the torture was almost over. Arriving at Stromness we were welcomed by Aunts and Uncles and numerous cousins and great Orcadian hospitality. Who knows, we may make it one more time from Australia, but it won't be the same.
Added by Susan Groundwater-Smith on 27 August 2018
Going on holiday during Stromness Shopping Week, I was on the old St Ola once as a wee boy. I think I was the only passenger who wasn't sick.

Then I mind the St Ola 11 being launched. My mother took me down to Point Law to see it from across the harbour mouth. I think there was a pic in the Aberdeen paper of me sat there on a bollard, watching it. See elsewhere that would be 23rd Feb 1951.
Added by Peter Aikman on 07 December 2020
in about 1942 I was given a model yacht named St Ola which had belonged to my grandmother's cousin and which was reputed to have won many model yacht races in her time up North at the turn of the century i.e approx 1910. I have treasured this model ever since but now aged 90 I need to find a new appreciative owwner.Location Colchester. Tel: 01206 330998.
Added by Martin Knowles on 14 December 2022
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