Ships of the Fleet
the island of Arran had only received a new ferry back in 1984 in the shape of
the appropriately-named Isle of Arran, by the turn of the decade it was clear
that she was becoming too small for her role. At the start of the 1990s it was
announced that another new vessel was to be built for the fleet. The newcomer
was destined for the Ardrossan – Brodick route.
went to an English shipyard; Richard’s of Lowestoft in Suffolk. Construction was
eventually completed in May 1993 and the vessel was sent down the slipway and
into the harbour on 25th of that month. At this stage her hull was
painted black and her company name was carried proudly for all to see, however
her upper superstructure remained unfinished.
Launch Day at Lowestoft
At Brodick with Pioneer
Arran ferry was named Caledonian Isles; again in-keeping with the then company
policy that all new major units of the fleet incorporate the word ‘Isle’ or
‘Isles’ somewhere in their name. In reality there is no such place as the
Caledonian Isles and many Arran folk would have preferred the new ferry to
reflect the route’s long affinity with the name Glen Sannox – the previous Glen
having left the fleet some four years earlier. But policy was policy and the new
ship underwent fitting out at the Suffolk yard through June and July 1993.
completed, the Caledonian Isles left the inner harbour of Lowestoft and
negotiated the narrow gap through the raised road bridge before passing out into
the North Sea and the start of her delivery voyage round to the waters of the
Clyde. Her arrival at Gourock signified the arrival of what, at the time, was
the largest vessel in the fleet. She simply dwarfed the streakers as she made
her way up the Firth to Gourock. In fact she was to become the largest Clyde
vessel in history.
at, it was immediately apparent which vessel she had been modelled on – the very
popular Isle of Mull of five years previously. Caledonian Isles incorporated a
fully enclosed car deck, at either end of which were the watertight ramps. The
bow ramp was, like on the Isle of Mull, folded into two sections, the main
section sealing the car deck and the forward section held in a horizontal
position at the height of the roof of the car deck. As it was lowered, the loose
fingers would be the first contact with the linkspan and then the whole thing
would flatten out to form the bridge between the ship and the linkspan.
Exhibit A: Isle of Mull
Exhibit B: Caledonian Isles (spot the difference)
difference with the new vessel’s car deck was that she also incorporated a set
of mezzanine decks, one down each side of the central casing. Each of these were
divided into three sections and could be moved up and down to their deployed or
stowed positions. When deployed, the end section of each deck would be lowered
at an angle so as to act as the access ramp to the deck. Once loaded, the ramp
section would then be lifted flat to allow the main deck below to fill. Another
difference on the car deck was that the casing was positioned in the centre of
the ship – Isle of Mull had hers offset to port, allowing two lanes of cars down
the port side while the starboard could either carry three lanes of cars or two
lanes of commercial vehicles. Caledonian Isles’ centrally positioned casing
meant that would only be able to carry one lane of commercial vehicles down each
side of the car deck, with room (only just) also for a lane of small cars. Of course
if the mezzanine decks were deployed then this was irrelevant as there was
insufficient height to accommodate lorries etc apart from at the bow or stern.
in the passenger accommodation, the basic layout was similar to that onboard the
Mull ship. Forward of the main entrance square was the cafeteria. From here
there were stairways on each side of the ship leading upstairs to the
observation lounge and also to the outside deck. There was also another stairway
leading upstairs to the open deck from the entrance square on the port side. Aft
of the entrance there were lounges down either side of the central casing and
toilet blocks and further to wards the stern lay the shop and bar lounge.
deck up was almost exclusively for the crew, with the exception of the
observation lounge right at the bow. (It has to be said that the name
‘observation lounge’ is something of a contradiction in terms due to the fact
that once seated, it is impossible to see anything out of the windows which are
small and several inches above the eyeline of the majority of passengers) Also
on this level is an open deck which extends right around the vessel, including
forward of the observation lounge and overlooking the bow – something of a rare
feature but welcomed by passengers on the crossing over to Arran.
deck was, apart from the bridge, totally open and incorporated plastic red
seating towards the stern and around the huge red funnel. Also on this level
could be found the four enclosed lifeboats – 2 larger and 2 smaller boats
mounted on davits.
At Ardrossan with her relief, Isle of Arran
Heading out of Brodick Bay
a ‘showing of the flag’ at Gourock, the Caledonian Isles headed down to
Ardrossan and Brodick where she conducted berthing trials at her home terminals.
Due to her immense size, her terminals had to be modified with new passenger
gangways mounted on large A-frames so as to be raised to the necessary levels at
in order the new ferry replaced the Isle of Arran on the route on 25th
August 1993. Her predecessor remained there for a few days in case of teething
troubles before leaving for the Western Isles and the Islay run.
Berthed at Gourock with a diverted sailing
annual overhauls have been the only time she has spent away from the Arran run –
she has yet to serve on any other route in the Calmac network – and during these
two week periods (usually in early January each year) she has been relieved by a
number of vessels over the years including Iona, Isle of Arran, Lord of the Isles,
Claymore and more recently the Clansman of 1998. One interesting change came in
December 2007 when Isle of Mull became the relief ferry in her first ever Clyde
spell of duty.
the remaining 50 weeks of the year the Caledonian Isles plies the Clyde on her
55 minute crossing to Arran several times a day. The summer months see the
vessel berthed at Ardrossan overnight and performing five or six return sailings
a day whilst during the winter season she spends each night at Brodick before
doing usually four return crossings to the mainland. She is berthed at Brodick
overnight in the winter months as the weather sometimes rules out berthing at
Ardrossan. In strong winds Ardrossan can be too difficult to get into or away
from and in such conditions, or with such forecasts it is safer for the master
to divert the vessel to Gourock – two hours sail to the north.
demand for the crossing to Arran seemingly ever-increasing, and faced with the
threat of competition from a private operator, Calmac decided to enhance the
Arran route and relieve some of the capacity pressure of the Caledonian Isles,
the smaller Saturn was deployed on the route during the high summer in 2005
(having been freed from Upper Firth work by the new Bute). Initially an
experiment, this additional vessel was confirmed in October 2005 as being on the
Arran route for another, longer stint during the summer of 2006.
Heading back from Arran
of years ago there were murmurings that due to demand and capacity problems
elsewhere in the network, the Isle of Lewis may be replaced by an even larger
ship for the Stornoway route at some point. The rumoured plan was then to
transfer the Isle of Lewis to the Arran crossing, thus replacing the Caledonian
Isles. There was speculation that she might have been transferred to the Oban –
Craignure crossing to either partner or replace the Isle of Mull, although
nothing more was to become of it. Instead the company chartered the freight ship
Muirneag to partner the Isle of Lewis and things on the Clyde stayed as they
were for a time.
With Saturn off Brodick
it would appear that the Caledonian Isles will remain tied to the one route.
Rather than replacement by a larger vessel it would appear that, as with the
Isle of Lewis up in the north west, the solution to growing capacity is to
redeploy and double up on ships to increase carrying capacity. It is for this
reason that Saturn was upgraded to give her a Class III certificate for the more
exposed Ardrossan to Brodick route. With the Saturn now on the scene as well, it
seems unlikely that the Caledonian Isles will be moved any time soon.
Text thanks to SoC
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