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Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Bute (VI) History

BUTE was the youngest of the first-generation Clyde car ferry trio: like ARRAN, she was granted a Highland fling late in life and, like COWAL, she completed her course with little alteration, save for the 1958 surgery carried out on all three to plate over the cargo-hold and replace the mainmast and Samson post combination with a more conventional tripod mainmast. For a full description of design and facilities, see the history for ARRAN.
 
BUTE was launched at Troon's Ailsa Shipbuilding Co. yard on Tuesday 28th September 1954 by Mrs W P Allen, wife of one of the BTC's officers. The new ferry ran her trials on 30th November and a mean top speed of 15.46 knots was recorded. This was fractionally slower than COWAL (15.54) or ARRAN (15.64), though in fairness it is recorded that conditions were “rather stormy”. Like COWAL, besides, BUTE collided with Gourock Pier on completing her trials – happily without damage.

She assumed the Rothesay service on 6th December 1954 and that marked the completion of the £1 million BTC Clyde modernisation programme intimated in February 1951 by Lord Hurscombe. The march of inflation in a half-century may readily be demonstrated; these three car ferries, laid down in 1953, cost a total of around £750,000 – the CORUISK (III), introduced so unreliably to the CalMac fleet in 2003, cost £7.5 million, or ten times the “ABC” ferries put together.
 

PICTURE: Andy McConnell
At Wemyss Bay, mid 60's in CSP Livery

PICTURE: John Newth
Seen entering Oban Bay

There is not a great deal to say about BUTE: until the advent of the Scottish Transport Group in 1969, she and her sisters worked more or less interchangeably on Upper Clyde services to Cowal, Bute and Cumbrae – in fact, they used two Cumbrae piers, Millport and Keppel, On occasion she too – like them – would relieve the younger GLEN SANNOX on the Arran station, or assist her during especially heavy periods, such as the Easter Bank Holiday. For her first year, though, she was closely identified with the route for which she was named; it was December 1955 before she began spending every second week, during winter, on the Dunoon crossing and the summer of 1957 before the three sisters were really mixing their schedules. Ian McCrorie records that, in one rather interesting mission of 1955, BUTE bore an entire farm from Brodick to Ayr.

Things did alter a little with the STG regime. When new tonnage hit the Clyde in 1970 – first the borrowed CLANSMAN from MacBraynes, then IONA and CALEDONIA – BUTE was put in charge of the Dunoon crossing for 1970 and 1971, forenoon and late afternoon, while also providing a lunchtime service to Millport. The STG also agonised over the costly use of CLANSMAN on the then distinctly marginal Mallaig-Armadale service and BUTE's transfer to that station was suggested as early as the winter of 1969, according to Iain C MacArthur. But, “Concerned in case they should lose yet another of their side-loaders to to MacBraynes, Caley officials successfully urged the retention of BUTE and so any hurried arrangements at Mallaig were shelved.” It was not for long.

From 1972, through 1973 and 1974, BUTE partnered COWAL on the Wemyss Bay-Rothesay crossing; the advent of linkspans at Gourock and Dunoon, and a dedicated Cumbrae car ferry service undertaken by remodelled ex-Skye ferries, dramatically narrowed their horizons. Late in 1972, though, BUTE had her first taste of West Highland service; the withdrawal of CLANSMAN for massive rebuilding as a drive-through ferry made it an operational necessity. So MacBraynes chartered BUTE in December 1972 and she spent two months on the Oban-Craignure-Lochaline run, allowing COLUMBA to relieve HEBRIDES at Uig and head to the Clyde for her own overhaul. By the time BUTE returned to the Clyde, the charter had lapsed – the two fleets had combined under one Caledonian MacBrayne management on 1st January 1973. She was a surprising success on the Mull station and was sent there again late in 1973. For most of that year BUTE could be readily distinguished from COWAL on the Rothesay passage – BUTE had acquired the red CalMac funnel while that of COWAL remained, until 1974, vivid CSP yellow.

In the spring of 1975 BUTE spent some time conveying workers to the McAlpine oil-rig construction yard at Ardyne from Wemyss Bay, a contract CalMac had won the previous year. She was then docked to be slightly modified for more West Highland service: the 1969 scheme of transferring her to Armadale was at last effected. But Mallaig, especially, has a rather extreme tide-range and BUTE's lift-supports were extended to allow her hoist to be raised an additional four feet as conditions demanded it.
 
While the Armadale passage was then a good deal more of a Cinderella in the CalMac timetable than it is today - “only worth peanuts as compared to the Caley goldmine at Kyleakin”! - Mallaig is still a significant railhead and fishing port and its summer car ferry to Skye was an important link in the “Island Hopscotch” of CalMac tourist dreams. BUTE spent four summers sturdily maintaining the Armadale crossing and was much more efficiently engaged there than such behemoths as CLANSMAN, COLUMBA or – a quarter-century later – LORD OF THE ISLES.

PICTURE: J A Smith (John MacLeod)
At Portree, May 1978 - on her final season for the company


She spent her final winters relieving on the Clyde as required and almost all the winter of 1976-77 on the Ardyne contract run. But in her twilight BUTE enjoyed the odd far-flung adventure; she visited Portree (in 1978), enjoyed a cruise to Iona, bore cattle to Craighouse on Jura, and became regular relief for the clapped-out LOCH ARKAIG on the Small Isles run. In the last months of her useful life an ferry-door was cut into a side ramp to assist the “flit-boats” tendering to her on that very exposed crossing. And it was to the Small Isles, on Saturday 21st October 1978, that BUTE gave her last passenger sailing.

She repaired to the Clyde and was laid up in Greenock's James Watt Dock; as the spring 1979 newsletter of the West Highland Steamer Club ominously records, “she is still there and has not received her annual overhaul.” It was reported that the Orkney Isles Shipping Co. Ltd were interested in BUTE – there was an urgent need for additional tonnage at the time – but the company (and the island authority) lost interest when it became evident she needed at least £15,000 of work to be restored to operational condition.

BUTE remained on the CalMac sale list and on 5th November 1979 was sold, like her sister COWAL some months earlier, to Gerasinos Phetouris of Greece. Phetouris, however, was slow to collect his latest acquisition and on 3rd April 1980 the BUTE was briefly arrested for non-payment of harbour dues – writ nailed to her mast, as is legal practice; the harbour authority was owed some £6,000 for watch keeping, etc.

The debt was paid, the ship was reprieved, registered in Piraeus, acquired a new name – MED SUN – and began flying the Greek flag. On 17th June 1980, the former Caley car ferry left the Clyde under tow for Piraeus. Phetouris's vision of Adriatic future for the sometime COWAL and BUTE died, with him, in 1983; no work was ever carried out on MED SUN, and she was broken up in 1984-85.

Text thanks to John MacLeod (C)


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