Crossing the Sound of Harris [WORK: Outer Hebrides]


Another addition to ‘WORK: Outer Hebrides’ – a series of portraits featuring people who live and work in the Outer Hebrides.

Donald has worked on the Sound of Harris car ferry since the service was first introduced in 1996. Until then, (almost) the only way to transport a car from Harris to North Uist (and vice-versa) was via the ferry from Tarbert, Harris to Uig on Skye, then take a second ferry from Uig to Lochmaddy in North Uist. On many days the trip from Tarbert to Lochmaddy (via Skye) took four hours. An alternative was the passenger-only ferry between Leverburgh, Berneray, and Otternish on North Uist. That little boat was called the “Endeavour of Berneray” (pictured below), operated by none other than Donald! He probably holds the record for the most crossings of the Sound of Harris.

Donald’s first Sound of Harris ferry: the passenger-only “Endeavour of Berneray”

The Sound of Harris is renowned for being one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the UK. It’s shallow, full of islands, islets and rocks. As a result, the route taken by the car ferry is a roundabout one, taking an hour to cover nine nautical miles.

Crossing the Sound of Harris

Crossing the Sound of Harris with Donald and MV Loch Portain

In the days before the arrival of the car ferry, people would sometimes resort to alternative methods of transporting vehicles and caravans across the Sound of Harris. The photos below come from the Berneray Historical Society facebook page:

Transporting a caravan from Rodel, Harris to Berneray (1983)

No car ferry? No problem! Photo credit: Berneray Historical Society


The first car ferry, MV Loch Bhrusda, started service in June 1996. It was a new design for ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne; due to the nature of the Sound, it was decided the new ferry should not have anything protruding below the hull – ruling out propellers. The new boat adopted a water jet propulsion system.

The new car ferry proved so popular,  a new boat, MV Loch Portain, was commissioned, increasing capacity on the car deck from 18 to 32. MV Loch Portain entered service in 2003 and is still operating today – running four times daily during the summer months, reducing to two crossings per day in the winter.

In Summer 2006 the service started operating seven days per week (amid some controversy), making the northern half of the Western Isles accessible by ferry on a Sunday for the first time.

More info, comments and local knowledge on the Sound of Harris pre-car ferry days, including contributions from Donald himself in this facebook post

Taking the shot…

I used the same technique described in my previous post featuring Ian the bin man, i.e. lighting Donald with the Octabox mounted on a portable, wireless 600 watt strobe, then replacing the Octabox with a beauty dish to illuminate the boat and slipway. Below are six of the twelve shots used to create the final image.

Some of the shots used to create the final image of Donald and MV Loch Portain

All of this was done in a few minutes. I waited until the last vehicle had boarded, then positioned my camera and tripod centrally on the slip. While I was photographing and lighting Donald, the rest of the crew were taking the piss (all in the best possible taste) – including someone on the bridge blasting the boat’s foghorn – possibly because I was making them run late. Thanks to Donald and the crew of Loch Portain for their co-operation.

The final result:

Other posts in the WORK: Outer Hebrides series:

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