Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Coruisk (III) History

The brief yet eventful history of the third Coruisk goes back to early in the new millennium when permission was granted for CalMac to put out to tender for the contract to build a new generation of sheltered water vessel.

The brief was that the new vessel would operate in the Sound of Sleat, between Mallaig and Armadale in the summer season and as winter relief ship on the Upper Clyde routes in the winter months. This duty effectively spelt the end for the much-loved and widely-travelled favourite, Pioneer.
The contract was awarded to Appledore Shipbuilders in North Devon and it was there that construction of Yard No 190 took place. In an unusual move on CalMac's part, the name of the new vessel, and also that of a smaller newbuild for the Sound of Harris route, was announced in advance of the launch. The Appledore construction was to become the third vessel to carry the name Coruisk, a name wholly appropriate given her summer employment.

The design of the new vessel could certainly be described as unique, with there being no other fleet member looking anything like her. She was of drive through design, incorporating bow and stern ramps (her bow ramp also being protected by an open visor in a similar fashion to those found on Orkney and Shetland inter-island ferries). As her duties involved Clyde related work in the winter months, a side ramp was also included on the port side towards the bow.

Picture: Caledonian MacBrayne
Coruisk under construction at Appledore's

Viewed end-on the new vessel towered above everything else. Clearance on the car deck was to the height of 5.1m and above this there were two passenger decks. One of these passenger decks contained the main lounge areas as well as toilet facilities and a small shop/kiosk. A small external deck area was also to be found on this level, both fore and aft of the lounges and from here stairways led to the open deck above.

On this deck there was also a fair amount of crew accommodation, although more was added over time once the vessel settled down into service. The bridge sat even further up and gave the master a true aerial view down over the bow and stern.

Picture: John Crae,
A new Coruisk arriving at Gourock

As well as the overall appearance of the Coruisk, another departure from normality (in fact something which at the time set a precedent) was the feature of having azi-pod propulsion. The Schottel system which was installed incorporated rotating pods which protruded out beneath the hull, and onto these were attached two propellers. Although the end result was the same as using Voith Schneider units in that the system was a combined steering and propulsion unit, the vessel was much harder to control and manoeuvre - something which would make her rather unpopular on one particular route in due course...

Following her launch at Appledore's in early 2003, Coruisk was fitted out to very high standards and set a new level of comfort to be found on new Upper Clyde ferries. Her delivery voyage saw her leave Appledore on 2nd August and make her way through the Irish Sea entering the Firth of Clyde for the first of many times the following evening.
Coruisk spent her first night in Scottish waters safely tied up in the James Watt Dock before venturing out the following lunchtime to Gourock where she undertook her first berthing trials. Her first visit to Wemyss Bay took place the following day, 5th August and after a further five days of berthing trials she set off on her long voyage to Mallaig, which she reached the following day.

Pioneer, which had been keeping the Mallaig - Armadale route open during the summer stepped aside on 14th August and handed over to the new ship which carried out her first commercial sailings on that day. She was officially named over at Armadale by Baroness Michie at a special ceremony.

Picture: John Newth,
Coruisk undertaking berthing trials at Dunoon

Picture: Graham Wilson, SoC Crew
The old favourite, MV Pioneer

All was not plain sailing for the English-built ferry though and only a couple of days after her arrival in Mallaig she was out of service with technical problems causing much grief and head-scratching! Pioneer (which had been scheduled to undertake a special two-part cruise back to the Clyde one last time) was called back into service on a short-term basis, thus disappointing a substantial number of would-be cruisers. The problems were sorted out and Coruisk re-entered service on 22nd August and thus normal service was once again resumed...
This situation was somewhat short-lived, and those technical problems that plagued Coruisk in the previous days seemed to pale into insignificance on the evening of Sunday 24th August when, coming into Mallaig harbour, the vessel lost power and manoeuvring capacity. The result was Coruisk striking a reef at the harbour entrance and losing one of her azi-pods in the process. The removed propulsion unit was perched high and dry on the exposed reef for all to see as the tide receded! The vessel was then manoeuvred into the harbour and her 20 passengers were taken off safely.

Picture: Lochaber News
Coruisk's damaged azi-pod

Various Lochs were redeployed as a temporary measure whilst the new ship was escorted by tug to the Clyde for urgent repairs and the fitting of a new azi-pod. She would not in fact return to service at Mallaig before the end of the summer season. Coruisk's return to service was not until well into the winter timetable and she acted as the relief vessel for a short while on the Gourock - Dunoon crossing, using her port side ramp at the Cowal pier of course. It has to be said that she was not a tremendous success down at HQ, taking a long time to get alongside, compared with the Streakers and their Voith Schneider units. She required further modifications along the port side hull to alleviate berthing problems at Dunoon and new belting was the answer this time.

Later on that winter (2003/2004) Coruisk ventured further down the Firth of Clyde and sought employment on the Bute run, partnering one of the Streakers after a somewhat disastrous period at Dunoon, during which she seemed to rack up nothing but complaints from passengers. Unfortunately all was still not plain sailing at Rothesay either. New electrically controlled gangways had been installed at specific points on both Wemyss Bay and Rothesay piers, however unfortunately they were proving awkward to use and Coruisk required additional modifications during her first annual overhaul to accommodate the new structures. Detachable 'ears' were fitted which provided an additional platform for the gangways to be landed on. The ears, or 'lugs' as they became known were removed prior the ship's departure for northern waters.
Apart from an overall increase in the time taken to berth, Coruisk did appear to settle down into a routine on the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay crossing. She wasn't there for too long, but in that time she did appear to begin to redeem herself following her disastrous 2003 season.

The summer season for 2004 saw her returning to dock to have her ears removed before sailing round via the Sound of Islay and Sound of Mull to Mallaig, where she replaced the Lochnevis on the Armadale route. On this route, as the Lord of the Isles had previously, Coruisk loaded via her bow ramp at Mallaig and stern at Armadale, offering a true drive-through service once again.

Picture: John Huggins,
Coruisk approaching Dunoon on winter duties

Her season was largely uneventful, although she was prevented from sailing on a number of days by high winds and poor weather conditions which, despite her stabilisers being deployed, were too much for her. Her high sided superstructure certainly didn't help matters. She was also summoned back to the Clyde in early September 2004 to have her original propulsion unit refitted and the spare one removed for maintenance and repairs. Again on this occasion, Loch Fyne was sent to Mallaig to relieve and there was other shuffling of baby Lochs in order to maintain an acceptable service at Lochaline.
She was back at Mallaig by mid September and saw out the rest of the season as per schedule. There was the odd afternoon when gales would set in (as occurred on Thursday 16th September) and she would be off duty for the rest of the day, but on the whole the remainder of the summer timetable was largely uneventful.

The winter was once again spent on the Clyde only this time (2004/2005) she served exclusively on the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay route in tandem with Juno, Jupiter and Saturn as well as relieving for their overhauls. The 'lugs' were of course reattached and barring the occasional diversion to Gourock in poor weather (which prevented anything berthing at Wemyss Bay) she settled down very quickly, although berthing times were still rather lengthy.

Picture: Ships of Calmac Collection
Coruisk settled into normal duties
in the Sound of Sleat

2005 saw Coruisk leaving the Bute run in the capable hands of the three Streakers while she went off north once more. The summer was again uneventful and once again she was sharing Mallaig pier with the smaller Lochnevis (and her relief vessel Raasay of course) for the duration. By the time it came to returning south for the winter months all was very different on the Clyde. For the 2005/2006 winter timetable, Coruisk was again to be found on the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay route however her regular running mate was the brand new Bute, another development of the new generation of Upper Clyde ferries. The two relative newcomers seemed to work well together and certainly Coruisk was kept busy through the winter.

Due to her design it was not necessary for her to go into dry dock on this occasion for her overhaul. Instead she came off service for a few days and was inspected by divers in the Holy Loch (apparently this can be carried out in place of every other annual overhaul) before moving to the JWD for general maintenance.
So despite a very shaky start upon her arrival back in 2003, the Coruisk does seem to have settled down and turned into a reliable member of the fleet. Whether she will ever win a place in people's hearts as the ship she replaced did (Pioneer) remains to be seen. She certainly looks very different to any other past or present vessel and comment is often passed on her appearance. Certainly lessons were learned following her arrival and those lessons appear to have been acted on with the Bute and follow-up newbuild Argyle.

Text thanks to John MacLeod (C)

Picture: Ships of Calmac Collection
Coruisk and Bute at Rothesay

All material on this site Ships of CalMac 2001 - 2017, unless otherwise stated.
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