Features Loading Methods
LOADING METHODS THROUGH THE YEARS
age of the motorcar presented a challenge to those who depended on ships to
get from A to B. Today the majority of ferries you see load their cargoes
via ramps at either end of the vessel’s car deck, from movable linkspans
attached by a hinge to the pier. This method of loading, however, has not
always been the method used, certainly on the west coast of Scotland and
throughout the Western Isles. In the days before Caledonian MacBrayne’s
formation, there were two ways of loading vehicles onto the ferries that
plied between the various ports.
first predominant way of loading cars and vans was by using the cranes that
were fitted to the foredeck of the old mail boats. Originally the cranes
were used to load large loads of cargo, mail and general supplies which
needed transporting to often remote communities. Drivers would position
their cars on large net slings laid out on the pier side, which were in turn
hooked up to the vessel. Once correctly positioned and with the driver
safely out of the way, the crane would lift the car in the net from the pier
and across to the small open deck area. Once safely landed the driver would
return to his or her car and park it safely and conveniently on the deck.
Needless to say, this method of loading was time-consuming and as cars
became more and more numerous on the west coast, a more speedy solution was
eventually appeared in the 1950s when 3 revolutionary new car ferries were
introduced into service on the Clyde.
and Cowal had specific decks
intended solely for vehicles, as opposed to the older steamers which just
had small open decks that could take the odd few cars here and there.
Loading was by means of a hoist.
hoist is essentially a vehicle lift - a section of the car deck that can be
raised and lowered from deck level to the height of the pier –
irrespective of the tide. To board the vessel, drivers drove from the pier,
across the ferry’s side ramp which bridged the gap from the pier and onto
the lift. Once the lift was full, the side ramp would be raised and the
platform would then descend to the car deck level, where vehicles could then
be parked in the ‘garage’ area.
lifting a heavy load at Tiree*
the 1950s, the Arran
and her sisters brought about a revolution in ferry travel. So much was the
demand for transport to the Isle of Arran that a further new vessel, this
time considerably larger, was introduced. The
a hugely popular ferry during her 32 years in service. Like the three
earlier ferries, known as the ABC ferries, the Glen
equipped with a vehicle hoist and two side ramps which enabled her to carry
greater numbers of vehicles from the mainland to Brodick on Arran.
Columba loading cars to descend to the car deck*
can be argued that the success of these vessels heralded the dawn of a
huge modernisation programme throughout the west coast of Scotland. The
Western Isles began to see this improvement in the early 1960s when three
new ferries were built to serve MacBrayne’s (although under the
ownership of the Government). The
identical sisters, each carrying approximately 50 cars and again using
hoists to load vehicles from the piers they were to use, down to their car
decks. The routes that saw the benefits were the Uig – Tarbert –
Lochmaddy triangle, Mallaig – Armadale and the Oban – Craignure –
loading became a familiar sight, especially after the introduction of the
in 1970. Indeed this method of loading was still in regular use as recently
as 1994. But as early as the late 60s it became apparent that loading by
hoist was still too time-consuming on increasingly busy routes. The hoists
themselves were not without their problems either. Sailings would often run
very late due to firstly the inability to load more than four or six cars at
once, and secondly the fact that the lifts would sometimes jam for one
reason or another.
in the UK, this was not the case because ferries used special linkspans to
load cars straight into the car deck, alleviating the need to match the car
deck height with that of the pier. A linkspan is effectively a ramp that is
attached to the pier at one end and is suspended above the water at the
other. The height above the water is controlled either by hydraulic rams or
cables under the control of an operator, who adjusts the height according to
the tide. The aim of all this is to have the linkspan suspended at the
roughly same height above the water as that of the car deck on whichever
ferry happens to be docking at the time. All that is then needed is for a
ramp to be lowered, bridging the gap between the ferry and the linkspan. The
photos below show this process taking place at Oban as the
of Mull completed the docking process.
Isle Of Mull 'in position' at Oban linkspan with
her stern ramp being lowered
was 1970 before such advances were made on the Clyde and in the Western
Isles, when Ardrossan were fitted with drive through facilities. The
linkspans were installed to accommodate the ‘new’ ferry assigned to the
(formerly known as the
In some ways it can be argued that
began the second wave of changes. She was of drive through design, with an
enclosed open-plan car deck, bow visor and bow and stern ramps. She is seen
here discharging at Craignure in the 1980s, towards the end of her Scottish
so it continued throughout the 1970s, following the formation of Caledonian
MacBrayne, through to the mid 1990s. Hoist loading was slowly but surely
phased out as more of these linkspans became operational and further new
ferries were brought into use as a result. Some existing ferries were even
converted to drive thgouth operation in order to fit in with these new
changes. The Glen
example received a stern ramp so as to be able to load vehicles more easily;
was also radically altered and given a rather large stern ramp as well as a
small starboard side ramp. Likewise the little
had a large portion of her passenger accommodation removed to make way for
space to carry up to 15 cars and was also given stern and side ramps like
the Jupiter, but by far the most drastic conversion was that of the
1964 ferry Clansman which had the hoist and side ramps removed, the
bow lengthened, a visor cut and bow and stern ramps inserted. Upon her
return to service she looked very different to her sisters Hebrides and Columba.
Caledonia discharging at Craignure in 1982
Clyde was free of hoist loading upon the introduction of the
on the Wemyss Bay – Rothesay crossing in 1978. Oban, the starting point of
many different routes and home to countless vessels over the years, received
a linkspan in 1973 which greatly improved the turnround times on the Mull
and Lochboisdale crossings.
Juno undergoing ramp repairs at Gourock
the wave of conversions to drive-through operation, there were still some
vessels constructed with hoists incorporated into their designs. The
had a hoist fitted in 1979 when she moved from Islay to Mallaig; the
Claymore of 1978 had a hoist fitted for her duties at Barra, as well as a
stern ramp for linkspan use at Lochboisdale and Oban; the Hebridean Isles
was built with a hoist so as to provide all-round flexibility after her
‘home’ ports were converted and the last vessel to be built with this
feature, Lord of the Isles in 1989 was done so with Coll, Tiree and again
Barra in mind.
start of the 1980s there were only a handful of ports left using hoist
loading operations: Coll, Tiree, Colonsay, Castlebay, Mallaig, Armadale, Uig,
Tarbert and Lochmaddy. Islay had been drive through since the arrival of the
and subsequently the new
Attention was turned to the Uig Triangle services, which had for 20 years
been served by the faithful old Hebrides.
As part of the new regime, linkspans were installed at all three points of
the triangle, in readiness for the new Selby-built Hebridean
Isles. In fact the new ferry was ready way before the new terminal facilities
and so she began her career on relief duties on other routes.
Hebridean Isles using Oban linkspan
received its linkspan in 1988 to coincide with the arrival of the new Isle
whose roster included the new Colonsay service in addition to her
commitments to Mull, and Barra finally received a linkspan the following
year, shortly after
of the Isles
joined the fleet. By 1990 there were only Coll, Tiree, Mallaig and Armadale
still relying on hoist loading. Coll and Tiree were granted theirs in 1992,
thus eliminating hoist loading from
of the Isles
normal duties and the crossing from Mallaig to Armadale on Skye was finally
converted in April 1994, allowing the aging
to use her bow and stern ramps and offer several more crossings with reduced
then hoist loading has all but become a thing of the past. The only times it
is seen now is when linkspans are in need of essential repairs and
maintenance. With this in mind, there are now only two ferries in the Calmac
fleet with hoists; the
the Lord of
No major units of the fleet built since 1989 have had a hoist fitted at
launch. Pioneer had hers stripped in favour of ordinary fixed side ramps in 1989 so she
could operate alongside
and Saturn on the Dunoon and Rothesay crossings, which require vessels to have
side loading capabilities due to the piers at Dunoon and Rothesay having had
their linkspans fitted into the face of the pier.
are used to the relatively quick turnarounds that the ferries can achieve now
– as little as five minutes to unload and reload on the Gourock – Dunoon
crossing for example – and it is hard to imagine a scene where the ferry
would be at the pier for upwards of an hour while cars are being lowered
four at a time by lift down onto the car deck. Since drive through was
introduced on the west coast of Scotland, barring the odd ramp failure or
linkspan being out of service for maintenance, things have moved forward at
a steady rate. As traffic was moved more speedily and efficiently, demand
grew and eventually larger ferries were needed. And no doubt this trend will
continue into the future.
In November 2004 the linkspan at Castlebay on Barra was closed for
maintenance work. Consequently all sailings had to be handled by Lord of the
Isles, equipped as she is with her vehicle hoist so as to unload cars and
light vans at Castlebay. The photos below show the hoist loading process
being carried out...
With vehicles positioned on the hoist platform, the alarms sound and the
lift rises from car deck level to that of the pier.
The four hydraulic rams push upwards and the hoist continues up
until it reaches the height of the pier.
As the hoist platform reaches the correct height the port side ramp is
lowered to allow unloading.
With the ramp down onto the pier the vehicles on the ferry's hoist can
The cars are of the boat, the ramp is raised and the hoist is lowered
again ready for the next load.
The process begins again and more vehicles are positioned
on the hoist platform ready for lifting.
taken by SoC Crew
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