shipshistories...
Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Jupiter (III) History

It is over thirty years since JUPITER first sailed on the Firth of Clyde for Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd. - she made her first commercial run on 19th March 1974 – and she is, accordingly, the oldest major unit of the present fleet. Unlike the very oldest, the little BRUERNISH of 1973, which has enjoyed frequent and sometimes lengthy lay-ups, the JUPITER has been in almost constant service ever since and has now even surpassed the GLEN SANNOX – finally withdrawn in 1989 after 32 years of service – as the Company's longest-serving car ferry. (No motor vessel in the fleet has ever attained forty years, though the LOCH FYNE of 1931 was withdrawn just short of this.)

JUPITER was the first of a pair of large car ferries finally ordered by the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. Ltd, under the aegis of the new Scottish Transport Group, from Lamont's yard in 1972. They were the first ferries to be built for the CSP's Clyde empire since the STG's 1969 formation and in fact JUPITER was the last new-build for which the CSP signed a contract; Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd, of course, emerged at New Year 1973. Though she appeared in CalMac colours from the start, Alistair Deayton records that the lions on her funnels are second-hand (they originally adorned the MAID OF SKELMORLIE) and for many years after her launch the JUPITER boasted a metal CSP pennant on her jack staff forward.

Picture: ???
Awaiting launch from Lamonts

Picture: ???
Leaving Dunoon in original condition

In fact the CSP had been considering the building of two new Clyde car ferries for quite a number of years and a 1969 bid to revive an order for two hoist-loading ferries was sensibly shot down in flames – the Scottish Transport Group dedicated itself to creating a fleet of drive-through endloaders, operating efficiently off tide-adjustable linkspans.

The fraught politics of Argyll, however, forced an unhappy compromise. The Company wanted to upgrade the Gourock-Dunoon service to full drive-through operation – conscious from 1971 of Western Ferries breathing down their necks, and threatening a privately run “Clyde Cross” ferry of their own from Renfrewshire to Cowal. Dunoon Town Council, however, were loathe to construct the necessary causeway and a linkspan of stern-loading alignment. Caley masters, too, were worried about berthing in heavy beam-on wind and seas with such an arrangement – unless it were complimented by a long and very expensive breakwater.


Reluctantly, the CSP and STG negotiated for a halfway-house option; the linkspan could be built into the existing pier (or at least alongside it) at right angles to the “berthing face”, and ferries could then load and unload by side-ramp. “The practicality of this method was carefully researched using models and mock-ups,” records John Whittle in Speed Bonny Boat (Saltire Communications, 1990) “and, once proved, the idea was put to Dunoon Town Council.” But Western Ferries had their own proposal; a short linkspan ramp inside Dunoon Pier – which no CSP vessel could have served and which would grant the private enterprise a monopoly of vehicle traffic. “Dunoon Town Council heard from both parties and was evenly divided in its views. The CSP proposal was, however, to win the day on the casting vote of the Provost and the new Dunoon terminal was completed with financial assistance from CSP and brought into service in April 1972.” It was inaugurated by the GLEN SANNOX – which had already acquired a stern-ramp and now had her side-ramps especially modified for this Dunoon novelty – and in May 1972 she was joined by the spectacularly butchered MAID OF CUMBRAE, now a 15-car ferry and able to serve as her “pup.”
 

At the time, it all seemed a good idea. But Western Ferries duly opened a rival service in 1973, from McInroy's Point, south of Gourock, to Hunter's Quay, north of Dunoon and the only Clyde community to be named after a pier! Using a succession of second-hand, cheap double-enders, Western Ferries provided a quicker and slightly cheaper passage and the years have proved their arrangement much more popular with drivers of long commercial vehicles, who find CalMac's Dunoon arrangement a decided bind. The Company has never admitted error in the Dunoon compromise – forced on it by small-minded and tight-fisted local politicians – but it has never been able to operate the Gourock-Dunoon ferry with entire efficiency, and even – in 1976/77 – adopted a similar expedient at Rothesay. It was for this stern-and-side-loading arrangement, somewhat short of the STG's first and ringing RO/RO mission statement, that JUPITER and her sister were designed and built.

Picture: SoC Crew
Pulling away from Gourock


JUPITER was launched at Port Glasgow on 27th November 1973 and her fitting-out was completed within four months. She was the third to bear that name, of a Roman deity nomenclature that originated with the Glasgow & Southern Western Railyway Co. Ltd., whose steamers and Clyde operations were first pooled with thed CSP in 1908; both were finally acquired by the LMS Railway Co. Ltd in 1923, and the GSWR namer disappeared. The first JUPITER was a fast little paddler built for the GSWR's Greenock to Arran service. This popular ship was finally scrapped in 1935. 1937 saw the second JUPITER, a handsome CSP ferry-paddler of the new “concealed paddlebox” design, also built with Arran in mind and with space for cars between her funnels. Her frame and scantlings were built to the toughest standards to allow winter service. This fine ship (whose twin JUNO was sunk by enemy action during the Second World War) had a wretchedly short career; laid up at the commissioning of GLEN SANNOX in 1957, she was sold in 1960 and scrapped at Dublin in 1961.

In some important ways, as Ian McCrorie records, the third JUPITER was a “revolutionary vessel”. The new Clyde car ferry had twin funnels, an entirely open vehicle deck at the stern with space for 40-odd cars, and all her passenger accommodation fitted forward on three decks. She had twin funnels, linked by tetrapod mainmasts; a mighty stern-ramp; and two equally impressive side-ramps – but no hoist. The accommodation on both sisters was of a high order – certainly superior to that of the first-generation “ABC” car ferries of two decades before. “On the main deck level forward,” recorded G E Langmuir, “are a lounge, ticket-office and toilets, while on the deck above is another lounge with self-service cafeteria. JUPITER and her sisters (if one counts the Ailsa-built SATURN of 1977) were also the last CalMac ships to be constructed with wooden passenger decking, and this caulked teak planking is now unique to them.

But the most important feature of the new ferry was her propulsion. Instead of conventional screw-propellers and rudders, JUPITER's powerful Mirrlees-Blackstone diesels drove two fore-and-aft Voith-Schneider units. (For a full description of this technology, see KEPPEL.) They had already proved their worth on the new Kyleakin ferries and made JUPITER astonishingly manoeuvrable. Varying the pitch of these units – whose blades hang vertically from a spinning drum and remind you of nothing as much as a blender – controlled the amount of thrust and therefore the speed; they were coupled to “continuously rated” engines, running at a constant rpm. Even better, adjusting the pitch granted thrust in any desired direction, through a full 360 degrees. On her trials, the new JUPITER gaily showed her abilities – achieving 15 ½ knots ahead, thirteen knots astern and a rather touching three knots sideways. She could even spin in her own length.

“On a demonstration to the Press,” John Whittle notes with undoubted glee, “ Captain Hutcheson, Master of the JUPITER, took great delight in stopping alongside a competing Western Ferries vessel which was proceeding in the opposite direction – and, putting the controls astern, he rapidly left the Western Ferries vessel wallowing far behind! The real advantage of these units lay, however, in the speed of berthing and undocking. Arriving at Gourock, for example, the conventional ship reduced speed approaching the pier, made a sweeping turn, landed just ahead of the linkspan then worked her way back to the berth. The “Streakers”, as JUPITER and JUNO became known, attacked this differently. They would make a direct approach to the berth at a constant speed, slackening off at the last moment, then spin round to slip neatly back into the berth with the propellers set to gently nudge them in to the pier. The time-saving which this provided enabled each ship to operate a return trip every hour, giving a thirty-minute service between them. To complement the new ships, a new passenger waiting room and covered walkway from the railway station were constructed at Gourock and were, no doubt, very welcome on those rainy days which happen from time to time on the Clyde!”

More welcome, perhaps, than a split infinitive; the efficiency of the new vessels has in recent years been equally complemented by handy powered gangways at both Gourock and Dunoon and (an easily overlooked point) the highly impressive verve of pierhands and crew. It is fair to note that at least one CalMac skipper has subsequently (and, of course, off the record) observed that the JUPITER and her very similar consorts have a fundamental flaw in design; with both Voith-Schenider units on the midline (most diagonally, as on double-ended craft) there is a slight but real degree of “cavitation”, with vacuums in the water created by the forward thruster rather compromising the performance of the aft unit. In extreme cases, the shock of hitting such underwater voids can literally blow chunks out of a propellor, and this highly experienced Clyde master told me in March 1992 that as far as he was concerned these Upper Clyde ferries were a “failed design”.

Yet the new JUPITER and JUNO proved rather popular for the Cowal service; the undoubted awkwardness in discharging longer vehicles at Dunoon being offset by their equally undoubted passenger comfort – better than the 1954 car ferries and certainly better than the glorified bus-shelter commuters might enjoy on Western Ferries. Time for berthing was reduced to negligible proportions and JUPITER's fast turnrounds enabled her to keep a tight schedule through her first seven years of service. They also quickly won her (and JUNO, and their younger sister, the Ailsa-built SATURN of 1977) an affectionate nickname, “the Streakers”. It referred, of course, to their turn of speed – though streakers of the nude variety were much in the news in 1974.

JUPITER enjoyed other duties as well as the main ferry passage to Cowal. For many years she and her sister ferried Admiralty workers from Gourock to Kilcreggan, for the RNAD base at Coulport on Loch Long, and on very wintry occasions JUPITER or JUNO would sail directly to Coulport when the road from Kilcreggan was blocked by snow.
 

Picture: SoC Crew
Lying at the wires

Picture: SoC Crew
Arriving at Dunoon

From September 1974 the sisters also made regular runs, twice or thrice weekly, from Gourock to Rothesay, bearing natural gas tankers, which could not readily be accommodated on their older hoist-loading consorts – no passengers, of course, could be carried on such runs. They were relieved of this chore from May 1978 once the SATURN had settled down on the newly converted Wemyss Bay-Rothesay passage – though then, as occasion demanded, they had of course to relieve her, or provided added capacity for Bute at peak holiday seasons. JUPITER also assisted on occasion with CalMac's Ardyne contract in the mid70s, ferry workers to the McAlpine oil platform yard from Wemyss Bay.

The “Streakers” were, in these early years, usually relieved by MAID OF CUMBRAE, and the ARRAN; with their demise, from 1979 the usual Upper Clyde relief vessel was the (modified) PIONEER, another 1974 build for the Company.

After 1980, life grew a little more exciting for JUPITER. She was briefly threatened with lying in reserve at Greenock all summer of 1981, the idea being that GLEN SANNOX (which, unlike JUPITER at that time, had a passenger certificate for Arran) could serve as secondary Gourock-Dunoon ferry and be available for the odd Arran dash as required, not to mention her much-reduced cruising programme. In the event a chapter of accidents forced GLEN SANNOX to spend much of that summer in the Hebrides and JUPITER sailed as usual.


Then, on 2nd July 1981, she was caught up in a political storm. The new Conservative government had no natural love for State-subsidised transport. On that day the Secretary of State for Scotland, George Younger, decreed that henceforth he was withdrawing all subsidy for Caledonian MacBrayne's Gourock-Dunoon crossing and, instead, the Scottish Office would lend a helping hand to Western Ferries (properly known as Western Ferries (Clyde) Ltd.) They would be granted £300,000 to obtain an additional car and passenger ferry if, in addition, the private concern would deploy their much-publicised passenger-only hydrofoil HIGHLAND SEABIRD for direct Gourock-Dunoon commuter runs. After two weeks recovering from this shock, Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd had no portion but to announce their full withdrawal of a Gourock-Dunoon ferry service from 17th October 1981.

It was all eerily reminiscent of the Islay stushie,. Nearly a decade before, and it all ended in tears on both sides. There was a public outcry. The folk of Cowal rose almost as one and no less than 376 formal objections were tabled from the locality. The Scottish Transport Users' Consultative Committee had forthwith to hold an inquiry and duly found that “serious hardship, inconvenience and difficulty” would result if CalMac withdrew. The Scottish Office – some might say rather too meekly – accepted
this, and declared itself willing to subsidise CalMac, on considerably reduced terms, for a continued passenger service, ordering the Company to acquire a suitable ship. The offer of funding to Western Ferries was withdrawn but CalMac and the private company would have to slug it out on free-market terms for any available vehicle traffic.

Of course no such ferry could be found, even by charter – at the height of the storm the lovely Denny-built PRINCE IVANHOE, formerly the Solent ferry SHANKLIN of 1951 and just converted the previous winter for Clyde and coastal cruising as consort to WAVERLEY, was wrecked and written off before the end of the summer. (CalMac had in fact begun talks with her directors about chartering PRINCE IVANHOE off season, at least for Arran weekend duties) Nevertheless, CalMac were awarded that foot-passenger subsidy – initially only around £250,000 a year, and on condition that they did not advertise anything more intensive than an hourly service between Gourock and Dunoon. The two 1974 streakers could no longer toil full-time.

It wasn't a barrel of laughs for Western Ferries either, who had every right to be deeply upset – they had expressly bought the ex-Humber paddle ferry FARRINGFORD to be converted for their Cowal fleet, on the basis of George Younger's blithe promises – but it was almost the end of the JUPITER. She probably owed her survival as a CalMac ferry to to a twist of Providence – the increasing decrepitude of the 1964 CLANSMAN, summer ferry at Arran since 1976, and the very limited capacity of the winter vessel at Arran, CALEDONIA.

If back-up she had to be, JUPITER might as well be a wide-ranging and adaptable back-up. 1982, then, saw the eldest “streaker” fitted with radio-telephone and and additional fire-fighting equipment, and thus qualified for a Class V certificate for 694 passengers and making the exposed crossing to Arran as required. That summer saw GLEN SANNOX unexpectedly laid up for much of the season while JUPITER, midweek, interchanged with JUNO on the Dunoon and Kilcreggan roster and, come the weekends, gave extra runs not only to Rothesay, from Wemyss Bay, but indeed to Arran – from both Wemyss Bay and Ardrossan.

The fright in 1981 was fast succeeded by alarm in February 1983 and a Report by the Monopolies & Mergers Commission, ordered by the Government with, no doubt, an eye on possible CalMac privatisation. To apparent surprise the Report was for the most part very supportive of the Company's endeavours and operation, but made various controversial recommendations, not least of which was that either JUPITER or JUNO be disposed of – the RNAD income being insufficient to justify their joint existence – and that CalMac's subsidy for Cowal ferry services be abolished entirely. The Admiralty contract was shortly afterwards renegotiated, and some Monopolies & Merger Commission ideas were implemented – such as the sale of the LARGS (ex KYLEAKIN of 1960) at year's end – but JUPITER and her sister survived, as did their Gourock-Dunoon passenger subsidy, with some wee tweaks.
 
Her Arran sailings were not advertised in the 1983 timetable, but JUPITER did nevertheless sail to Brodick on eight occasions that last summer of the prematurely aged CLANSMAN – and, in sensible accordance with her wider remit, 1983 was also the year she lost GOUROCK_DUNOON FERRY from her hull. (Two winters later she acquired the “Caledonian MacBrayne” lettering like almost everyone else.) A routine set in, as Ian McCrorie describes. “In summer, she and JUNO continued to serve Dunoon and Kilcreggan between them; in October, the JUPITER reverted purely to Kilcreggan (or on emergencies as required); in November one of the Dunoon ferries relieved on the Rothesay station; in December the JUNO was overhauled and the JUPITER was invariably the Dunoon vessel: the JUPITER herself was refitted in January and from then until the summer she once again took up the Kilcreggan sailings, perhaps allowing the JUNO a week or two on lighter duties to be spruced up just before the summer”.

Picture: ???
Leaving Ardrossan for Brodick


With her speed, comfortable facilities, and fair amount of open (and indeed teak) decking, JUPITER was also a popular vessel for excursions on charter. Even before she was put to timetabled cruise duties, such outings had already taken her to Tarbert and Ardrishaig, Millport (Old Pier), Loch Striven, etc.

When Sir William Lithgow sold his interest in Western Ferries, CalMac made another bid to win Scottish Office approval for a restored half-hourly service between Gourock and Dunoon. The Government did not relent and in 1985 CalMac decided to make better use of JUPITER by reviving Clyde cruising for the first time since 1982. That summer, then, the 1974 car ferry sailed from Gourock on a rather well designed afternoon roster, to Long Long on Tuesdays and Lochgoilhead on Thursdays, while still available to assist at Rothesay or Dunoon when the pressure of traffic demanded it. To general surprise – for 1985 saw a singularly wet and miserable summer – the cruises proved extremely popular and she attracted much custom. She also had a interesting time that spring, as she and JUNO did several runs with heavy vehicles to the US Depot Ship in the Holy Loch. In the summer of 1986 she was restored to the primary Gourock-Dunoon roster, with SATURN as back-up and the JUNO despatched to Rothesay. The wee KEPPEL also assumed CalMac's timetabled public excursions that year and JUPITER remained based at Gourock.

Later interesting destinations for the JUPITER have included Blairmore and Helensburgh, and she has continued to assist or relieve at Rothesay and, very occasionally, to serve the Isle of Arran , though such duties were naturally mitigated with the commissioning of purpose-built Arran ferries in 1984 and (still more vastly) in 1993. With the KEPPEL's demise that year, the “streakers” did subsequently again undertake light excursion duties, but CalMac have not advertised or timetabled a Clyde cruising programme since 1999.
 

Picture: SoC Crew
Heading over to Wemyss Bay

Over the last few years JUPITER has, like the other streakers, been operating a three-weekly cycle, spending two weeks on the Bute crossing before carrying out a week of Dunoon sailings. The introduction of the BUTE in mid July 2005 meant that sooner or later, one streaker would be surplus to requirements - it seemed inevitable that this would be the JUPITER, however she remained in service through the high summer, as the SATURN was moved down the firth to Ardrossan to back up the CALEDONIAN ISLES. The remaining streakers' rosters were amended to alternate on a weekly basis with the BUTE concentrating solely on her own route.

Cowal Games Weekend at the end of August 2005 saw the three sisters at Dunoon to keep up with demand. JUPITER was then taken out of service at the end of the games weekend and sailed for Rosneath in the Gareloch where she was laid up for the winter. There was an opportunity for her to go back into service within days as JUNO required some time off for repairs, but it was felt that BUTE would have to manage on her own and the island's service was reduced to one sailing every 90 minutes - 50% of the normal frequency.

JUPITER is now found permanently on the Gourock - Dunoon crossing and has outlived her younger sister JUNO, which was withdrawn in April 2007. She is now the oldest member of the fleet and dedicates all of her time to the route for which she was built and is no longer required on the Rothesay crossing a few miles south.

Text thanks to John MacLeod & SoC Crew (C)

Picture: SoC Crew
Back on the Dunoon run once more


All material on this site © Ships of CalMac 2001 - 2013, unless otherwise stated.
Join us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Join us on Flickr View us on YouTube SoC AIS SoC Forum Site NOT linked to Official Company
This site is NOT connected to the Official Company Site - www.calmac.co.uk
Contact Us ¦
Read our Privacy Policy