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Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Loch Arkaig History

LOCH ARKAIG was one of of those wooden-hulled, inadequate second-hand retreads MacBraynes acquired rather too often between 1945 and full nationalisation in 1969. By the Seventies the tired and ageing vessel had outstayed her welcome and only shabby politics on one of her services and the grossly uneconomic, very exposed nature of the other prolonged her career till the edge of the Eighties.

Built as long ago as 1941 for the Admiralty – she was a little minesweeper, so lowly as not to merit a name over a number, and wooden-hulled expressly to tackle magnetic mines – MS1246 was acquired by David MacBrayne Ltd in May 1959 when they were under considerable pressure to find a craft suitable for the rapidly declining Portree mail service.

MacBraynes were eager to delete the run entirely; the Skye public, in 1959, would not tolerate it, and in any event the Portree vessel was also the sole lifeline to little Raasay – indeed, it was RAASAY the Company first intended to call their latest acquisition, but the name would appear then to have been unavailable.

LOCH ARKAIG, as she was eventually commissioned, could not serve anywhere until a refit so massive it was practically a rebuild. She was stripped of her original superstructure and virtually all her original fittings, including her engines. The work was carried out by Jas. Lamont & Co. Ltd of Greenock, who fitted new lightweight aluminium superstructure, internal steel bulkheads and new, reasonably powerful Bergius engines. Fitting for passenger use was completed by Timbacraft Ltd., Shandon – whose expertise in small craft is employed by the Company to this day – and on 14th April 1960 LOCH ARKAIG was formally recommissioned as a member of the MacBrayne fleet by Mrs Cameron of Lochiel.

The ship shortly took up the Portree-Raasay-Mallaig-Kyle run in succession to the 1908 veteran LOCHINVAR, which had assumed the service in 1959 and whose sojourn at Portree had been little short of a disaster. The LOCH ARKAIG, it transpired, coud do little to stem the remorseless flow of traffic to road and the Kyleakin ferry and, in 1964, she was replaced at Portree by the still smaller LOCH EYNORT.

Nothing daunted, that year the Company modified LOCH ARKAIG for sturdier service – a Samson post and derrick for'ard, for cargo; a disembarkation door in her bulwark and, in May, a ferry-door in the deck lounge on the starboard side – and placed her on the Mallaig-Small Isles service in succession to the 1930 veteran LOCHMOR, who had doughtily served Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna as part of her twice-weekly odyssey round Skye to the Outer Isles and back.

It was a long, exposed run – over three hours on passage – and only Canna actually boasted a pier, but LOCH ARKAIG did her less than popular best and found time, twice a week, to cruise to Loch Scavaig. In the 1965 season the Portree and Small Isles rosters were combined – though LOCH ARKAIG had to be supplemented, on Saturdays, by Mr Bruce Watt's vessel WESTERN ISLES, on charter for the Small Isles leg. For a spell or two in the 1970s – 1971-73; and from 1977 – LOCH ARKAIG also revived her little excursion from Portree. The first two seasons of such even trips – usually to Raasay – were promoted by the Isle of Skye Tourist Association. In October 1972 LOCH ARKAIG relieved at Lismore and her own relief was actually a chartered car ferry, the stern-loading SOUND OF ISLAY (1968) from Western Ferries.

A dedicated Raasay-Sconser car ferry could have been laid on by the Company as late as 1972; it was stymied by the dreadful proprietor of Raasay House, Dr John Green, who refused to sell the tiny bit of land desired for a slipway. The row dragged on and it was 1975 before even the most rudimentary car ferry service could be provided; 1976 before it was officially rostered and, to this day, from a much less suitable point on the Raasay coast.

This stushie – and the very exposed, hopelessly uneconomic character of the Small Isles run – prolonged LOCH ARKAIG's career. In 1973 she added an Armadale call to her Kyle/Portree winter roster as LOCH SEAFORTH had been withdrawn. Portree cruising was abandoned for 1974 and LOCH ARKAIG left Portree as mail steamer, for the last time, on 17th March 1975. The rest of her career was devoted to the Small Isles, Mallaig-Armadale-Kyle (the winter service to Kyle did not long survive her passing) and, from 1977, the reinstatement of little trips to Portree, Loch Duich etc.

Her successor, the determinedly low-budget LOCHMOR, was almost complete at Troon when, on 28th March 1979, LOCH ARKAIG sank at her berth in Mallaig Harbour. Divers found a hole in her timber hull “the size of a football” and it seemed she had been breached by some projecting part of the underwater quayside. She was duly patched, pumped out and raised and on 6th April a tug arrived to tow LOCH ARKAIG to Port Glasgow

Shortly LOCH ARKAIG was declared to be a constructive total loss and was offered for sale “as is, as lies.” Her purchase by Ship & Yacht Consultants Ltd., London, was reported in October 1979; apparently for conversion to a private yacht. In 1980, it was reported she had been further sold, to Arab interests. She was briefly “arrested” at Milford Haven, for non-payment of harbour dues, but in July was removed to Dubai. She seems not to have been in service again and was reported to have sunk on trials, off Cadiz, in October 1985.

Text thanks to John MacLeod (C)


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