Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Loch Bhrusda History

For many years the only way of getting across the Harris to North Uist was by means of the Uig Triangle service, from Tarbert to Lochmaddy, often via Uig on Skye. HEBRIDES operated this route for 20 years before being replaced by the larger HEBRIDEAN ISLES in 1985. However the journey between the two Outer Hebridean islands would take at least two hours (as many as four if the sailing was to be via Skye).

There was talk of a new service across the Sound of Harris for many years, and it was the mid 1990s before such a service became a reality. Trials were carried out using one of the versatile Island Class ferries in the early 1990s, operating from Otternish in North Uist to Leverburgh in the south of Harris. Following the successful completion of the trials and all the relative feasibility studies into the proposed new crossing, Calmac placed an order for a new Loch Class vessel which was to be introduced on the new route, which itself was to commence in time for the summer 1996 season.

Photo: Bruce Biddulph
Lying in JWD

Due to the geography of the Sound of Harris – ie its lack of depth in many places – it was revealed that the new ferry would differ somewhat from the previous members of the Loch Class. Voith Schneider units, which gave these ferries a high degree of manoeuvrability, propelled earlier ships, however it was decided that these units would be at risk of damage in the very shallow waters. Instead, a water-jet propulsion system was to be adopted, thus eliminating the need for anything protruding below the bottom of the vessel’s hull.

The order for the new ferry was placed with McTay Marine on the Mersey and she gradually took shape prior to launching in March 1996. Her delivery voyage saw the new vessel, named LOCH BHRUSDA after a loch on North Uist, leave the Mersey following trials and venture up the Irish Sea and onto the Clyde where she was handed over to CalMac.

The LOCH BHRUSDA was built with a capacity of 18 cars and approximately 150 passengers, like the ISLE OF CUMBRAE and LOCH TARBERT, however her overall appearance was somewhat different to previous Loch Class ferries. Whilst the car and passenger accommodation was the same, with the passenger lounge down the starboard side of the ship, gone was the small red wheelhouse above the starboard side passenger lounge. The bridge was instead to be located above the car deck in the centre of the vessel. Her bulwarks on either side of the ship provided the height for the bridge, which gave her an altogether better view of the waters around her than the starboard bridge favoured previously. It was also her bulwarks that were to receive the attention of the painters, for it was these that were painted in the company colours.

After she was accepted into the fleet, the LOCH BHRUSDA underwent a series of berthing trials at Largs and Cumbrae Slip, to assess her suitability on that run, should she ever be required on there on relief duties at a future date. These were successful, and following repairs to one of the toe plates on her stern ramp, she set sail on the long journey to the Outer Hebrides.

The new service across the Sound of Harris had been advertised fro the start of June and the duty of opening the new route had fallen to the LOCH TARBERT. She was replaced by the new LOCH BHRUSDA on 8th June and so began a new era of inter-island travel in the Outer Isles.

Photo thanks to Undiscovered Scotland
In service in the Sound of Harris

Picture: SoC Crew
Off duty at Rothesay while awaiting her overhaul

The new crossing took an hour to complete with the ferry sailing at about 10 knots between Leverburgh and Otternish, which was also the departure point for Berneray on the previously council-operated ferries. For the first couple of seasons the LOCH BHRUSDA also carried out sailings to the nearby island of Berneray as part of her timetable, although these were discontinued once the new causeway was completed, linking Berneray to Otternish on North Uist.

Picture: SoC Crew
Leaving Eriskay for Barra

Because of the numerous reefs that litter that particular stretch of water, a specific route had to be marked out to ensure the ferry’s safe passage between North Uist and Harris. An additional condition laid down by the MCA was that the vessel could only proceed so long as at least the next two marker buoys were visible, and as a result, delays were experienced in poor visibility.

The LOCH BHRUSDA settled down into her role well and by the end of the 1996 season it was obvious that the new route was a huge success. Vehicle reservations became a necessity and it was a regular occurrence for the LOCH BHRUSDA to sail with a full car deck, leaving behind those who had turned up on the off-chance of there being a space for them.

Such was the success of the new ferry that a further order was placed with McTay Marine in 2002 for delivery of a much larger ferry to replace the LOCH BHRUSDA the following season. The new LOCH PORTAIN arrived on the scene in early summer 2003 and the LOCH BHRUSDA then moved south along the Outer Isles to the Sound of Barra where she found the LOCH LINNHE awaiting her arrival. This was another new route in the Calmac network, sailing from Ardmhor on the northern side of Barra on the forty minute sailing to the Isle of Eriskay, itself linked by causeway to neighbouring South Uist.
Upon the arrival of LOCH BHRUSDA, the LOCH LINNHE retreated to Tobermory where she resumed her own duties, allowing the new arrival to take over the four or five daily return sailings from Ardmhor to Eriskay. Right from the start of this new route reservations for vehicles were required, having seen how popular the Sound of Harris route had become in a very short time. Unlike her previous role up at Berneray, this new route was not the only way of getting across the Sound of Barra. The established route from Castlebay to Lochboisdale, on the Oban ferry, was retained and thus relieved the LOCH BHRUSDA of some of the traffic. This measure has ensured that there is nearly always space available on the smaller vessel and has also allowed for future development and growth.

In 1996 the LOCH BHRUSDA was only 10 years old and had already fallen victim to her own success once in that time, being displaced from the Sound of Harris and with the announcement of the new LOCH SHIRA for the Cumbrae route, it was also revealed that she was to be replaced once again on the Sound of Barra run, this time by he LOCH ALAINN in 2007. The larger vessel came up for berthing trials early in the spring and then arrived in June to take up residence. The LOCH BHRUSDA then headed down to Lochaline, Campbeltown and the Clyde where she assumed the role of spare vessel. Within weeks she was called upon to carry out relief service on the Cumbrae crossing for 5 days in July, relieving the LOCH SHIRA which required maintenance and then for 4 days in August on the Lochranza - Claonaig run in place of the LOCH TARBERT. Her new role was split into two parts; in the summer she was to be based at Fairlie or Rosneath, available for relief work, while in winter she would return to Eriskay and the Sound of Harris to cover for overhauls.

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)

Photo: SoC Crew
Crossing to Largs while covering for Loch Shira

Photo: SoC Crew
Arriving at Claonaig while on relief duties

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