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Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Isle of Arran History

Since the mid 1970s the ferry service to the island of Arran had been in the hands of 2 different vessels operating on a seasonal basis. The summer months saw the 1964-built and converted Clansman carrying passengers over from the mainland to Brodick. She was generally recognised as being too slow and underpowered for the increasingly busy route. In winter things were not much better as the ferry during these months was the smaller ex-Arran ferry Caledonia whose passenger certificate limited her to carrying a mere 132 passengers. This figure in itself was a frequent embarrassment and meant that often another vessel had to be kept on standby to transport additional foot passengers.

Into the 1980s and the situation was becoming critical. The Clansman eventually gave up the ghost altogether and broke down in a big way in March 1984. She had in fact been up for sale since the previous summer as it was known that a new ferry was to enter service in 1984 anyway.
 
The new ferry was constructed at the Ferguson Ailsa yard in Port Glasgow. She was ready for launch at the end of 1983 and did indeed enter the water on 2nd December. Initially the new ferry carried a light grey colour scheme for her hull, with the company name made of metal plates, painted white and welded onto each side of the hull. Isle of Arran, as she was named, wore this light grey colour scheme for a very short period following her launch although it was soon painted over with the customary black livery.

Of drive-through design, the Isle of Arran had an open plan car deck with space for 76 average-sized cars in 5 lanes. She was fitted with a bow visor and bow and stern ramps for loading purposes, as had been her two predecessors on the Arran crossing. The stern was open which meant she could carry tankers and other such vehicles – vessels with totally enclosed car decks were forbidden from doing so while carrying passengers. Down either side of the car deck there was insufficient height for lorries and coaches. This was due to the gallery deck which ran along the sides of the vessel and was in effect deck 3 (most ships had deck 2 as the car deck and then deck 4 as the first passenger deck). At the forward end of this deck 3 on the port side of the vessel was a lounge and toilets area. On the starboard side was crew accommodation.

PICTURE: Paul Strathdee
Launched with her short-lived grey hull

PICTURE: SoC Crew
In her first summer in service


From the car deck, access to the passenger accommodation was via a single staircase on either side of the vehicle lanes which came out onto deck 3. From there passengers could either go forwards to another stairway which led out onto the open deck above, or towards the stern where a second set of steps brought them out onto the open deck. Access to the lounges and cafeteria was via a set of doors on each side of the central accommodation block just forward of the twin funnels. For a passenger to get from their car to the lunch queue in the cafeteria it was necessary to go outside into the often inclement weather.

 

Once inside the rather small main entrance square there was the option of going aft into the cafeteria or forward towards the reclining lounge and the bar lounge. Toilets were also to be found along this central corridor. Staying outside and going forward led passengers up a set of stairs and under the bridge wings to the open foredeck. An open deck at the bow was a new feature for the Arran run and was a popular addition to the ferry. Further astern, instead of going back down the stairs, it was also possible to walk along a narrow walkway that ran from the stairs, past the forward lifeboats and onto the open deck above the cafeteria. Up here there was an abundance of red plastic seating so that passengers could take advantage of any decent weather during their crossing.

The Isle of Arran underwent fitting out and once completed she made her way down the Clyde to Gourock first of all, where she showed the flag and tested the bow ramp on the linkspan. From there she went down to her new home bases of Ardrossan and Brodick for further berthing trials before eventually taking up the route on 13th April 1984, taking over from the Glen Sannox, which had in turn replaced the failed Clansman a short while earlier.

During her first season there was something not quite right about the Isle of Arran’s appearance. Her black paint was taken right up to the level of deck 4 (ie where the car deck ends and the passenger accommodation begins) as on most other large vessels such as Caledonia and Clansman but with her shortage of a passenger superstructure she looked odd. For this reason, during her first overhaul that following winter, Isle of Arran’s white paint was brought down one level to deck 3 and she looked a lot better for it.

Once the new ferry settled in on her new route she became a great asset to the Clyde-based fleet. With a crossing time of 55 minutes and running at just over 14 knots, she was touted as being the first in a line of so-called ‘mini liners’ during the 1980s. During the winter months she would be relieved while she went off on her overhauls to the various yards in the area. Her relieving vessels included the Iona of 1970 and even the Glen Sannox which was getting for 30 years old.
 

Picture: Stuart Cameron
In JWD in 1988

Picture: SoC Crew
Heading out of West Loch Tarbert

It is a well-known fact that a new ship always generates a growth in demand, and that the success of the new ship can be judged by the amount of growth in demand. Not many realised just how successful the Isle of Arran would become in a relatively short space of time. By the turn of the decade it was clear that the Isle of Arran was becoming inadequate for the role that she was built for. Less than ten years after her launch the Isle of Arran made way for the mighty Caledonian Isles, handing over on 25th August and then leaving for pastures new, in the Western Isles.

Isle of Arran’s next role saw her rounding the Mull of Kintyre and taking up service on the crossing from Kennacraig on Kintyre to Islay, utilising both the island terminals; Port Ellen in the south and Port Askaig in the north, on the Sound of Jura. Each crossing was just over two hours in duration and this would be something of a test for a ship with relatively little internal accommodation. Nevertheless she replaced the Claymore and brought drive-through capabilities to the route. Despite her much larger vehicle capacity, without the need for drivers to reverse on or off the car deck, the new Islay ferry could discharge a full load and take on another load in the same amount of time, if not less than the Claymore.

Her new employment saw the 10 year old ferry sailing two or three times a day to Islay throughout the summer months. On Wednesdays during the high summer timetable her roster took her onwards past Port Askaig  to Colonsay and eventually Oban in the early afternoon before commencing a return journey in the late afternoon and evening, eventually returning to Kennacraig at night. The winter months saw Isle of Arran assume a general relief role. Claymore or Iona would take the winter Islay sailings and the Isle of Arran would go off round the network to relieve other large vessels. Such duties saw her taking relief sailings on the Oban- Craignure, Ardrossan – Brodick, Ullapool – Stornoway and Uig – Tarbert/Lochmaddy routes over the coming few winters.

Things stayed that way for the Isle of Arran during the remainder of the 1990s and into 2000. During that time she saw service on the majority of the drive-through routes on the west coast as well as having her own commitment to Islay during the summer seasons, although from the end of 1998, her winter relief duties were somewhat curtailed following the arrival of the Clansman. The newer ship took the Arran and Lewis relief sailings and the Isle of Arran was left to relieve where needed.

Things were to change further however, for in 2001, following the introduction of the new Hebrides on the Uig ‘tringle’, the Hebridean Isles was moved south to take over as the regular Islay ship. It seemed the Isle of Arran was to be demoted to the position of spare vessel and back up to the major units. Following an army charter which took her from Ardrossan to Campbletown in the autumn, she saw out 2001 in this relief role although the following year she played guinea pig in a new experimental summer arrangement involving a third large ship based in Oban.

Picture: SoC Crew
Leaving Oban for Tiree on relief


Oban already had the Isle of Mull and Clansman on a regular basis, plus weekly summer visits from Hebridean Isles on Wednesday afternoons, but from the start of the high summer timetable in 2002, it also gained the Isle of Arran in a move by Calmac which saw the improvement of several routes. She was not tied to one particular route but instead carried out additional sailings on a new roster incorporating runs to Colonsay, Coll, Tiree, Barra, South Uist and Mull, supplementing those sailings already given by Clansman and Isle of Mull. Also in her new roster was a new weekly sailing on a Thursday which took Isle of Arran to Scarinish on Tiree before passing through the Gunna Sound and across the Minch to Castlebay for mid-afternoon before retracing her steps to arrive back in Oban late in the evening.

This new duty was a big success and islanders and tourists alike welcomed the greater flexibility in the timetables for the various routes. Isle of Arran had pioneered this new duty roster however she was not to remain in charge of it. The planned arrival of the new Coruisk at Mallaig in 2003 meant the Lord of the Isles could return to her original home of Oban during that year. The duty allocations were redefined and split between Clansman and LOTI with the former taking the majority of the Coll and Tiree sailings, with the latter concentrating mainly on the Outer Isles and Colonsay.

2003 saw the Isle of Arran back at Islay for the high summer timetable, partnering her replacement; Hebridean Isles on a two-ship roster. This meant that there was essentially double the capacity on this route and also on a Wednesday, while Hebridean Isles was gallivanting off up to Colonsay and Oban, Islay would still be served during the day. It must be pointed out that these additional sailings to Islay were marked as such in the timetable publications, and they were subject to short notice cancellations if the vessel was required elsewhere. Isle of Arran was still officially the relief ship and could still be called upon to go and cover at short notice.

2004 saw a repeat of this arrangement, with the Isle of Arran providing general relief sailings as and where required during the off-season and then returning to Islay for the summer months. Prior to the start of the season she spent a good deal of time in the James Watt Dock undergoing fairly major work. Her car deck was completely re-laid in the spring, prior to her sail round Kintyre to take up duties at Islay.
 

Picture: SoC Crew
Leaving Port Askaig with Jura behind
Picture: SoC Crew
Arriving at Kennacraig


At the end of the 2004 season she ventured north to Stornoway where she had previously begun a new duty in her spare time – relief for the freight vessel Muirneag. It was during this spell idle on Lewis that she was joined by the Clansman – herself relieving the Isle of Lewis on the main ferry roster.

2005 again saw Isle of Arran doing the back-up duties. She has been seen quite a lot at Oban throughout the year. In April she was called upon to take Outer Isles and Coll – Tiree sailings in lieu of Lord of the Isles which had developed stabiliser problems shortly after Easter. She was on station for four days before handing back to the regular ship on the afternoon of Wednesday 6th after completing the long haul in from Castlebay and Lochboisdale. She was back at Oban later in the month covering for the Clansman and then proceeded to test out the new linkspan at Dunoon amid speculation she might one day find herself employed on that run. Speculation aside, apparently the plan was to have her operating at Dunoon over the May Day weekend while the Streakers would be busying themselves at Rothesay.

The middle of the summer saw Isle of Arran handling all Islay traffic for a few days when Hebridean Isles went off to play on the Tiree and Outer Isles rosters in place of the broken down Clansman, while in October she found herself in Oban once more while Clansman was of duty having her rudders sorted out on the Clyde. Following on from this she relieved the Isle of Mull on the Craignure run for an afternoon while the regular ferry was prepared for a private charter.

More recently Isle of Arran became more closely tied to the Islay routes once again. The winter of 2007/08 saw her continuing as the second vessel and running in tandem with Hebridean Isles. This was the first time her duties had extended into the winter and the move came as a response to rising demand from the distilleries and this seemed to set the scene for the seasons to come. Another development to come in 2007 was the publication of a proposal for opening (or rather reopening) the link from Mallaig to Lochboisdale and Barra. One of the draft solutions was to utilise the Isle of Arran for this duty following her release from the Islay route in 2011, once the new Islay ferry enters service. Full details of the CalMac proposals can be seen at this link. Despite being 25 years old it would appear that there is still very much a place in the fleet for the well-travelled Eilean Arainn.

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C) Images: Paul Strathdee, Stuart Cameron & SoC




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