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Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Loch Buie (III) History

LOCH BUIE was a variant of the versatile Loch Class ferries and was designed specifically for one route; the Fionnphort – Iona service. Since the start of car ferry services to Mull, the route across the Sound of Iona has always seen large numbers of day trippers and tourists. Since 1979 the route had been in the care of MORVERN – one of the first batch of Island Class ships in the early 1970s. Following the introduction of the giant ISLE OF MULL on the Oban – Craignure service in 1988 the numbers of tourists turning up to sail over to Iona grew continuously through into the 1990s. The MORVERN found herself needing the assistance of larger sisters CANNA and then RHUM in order to cope with all the passengers requiring carrying on the ten minute journey across the Sound.
 

It was clear that a larger vessel would be needed and soon. As previously mentioned, the new ferry was designed purely with this route in mind. The route is unique in that it is foot passengers that form the bulk of all the traffic using the ferry as opposed to vehicles – in fact since MORVERN’s arrival in 1979 only cars belonging to islanders, or essential service vehicles were carried. To this extent the vehicle capacity could be reduced in preference for additional passenger accommodation.

The LOCH BUIE’s layout is similar to that of the original 4 ‘Baby Loch’s’ of 1986 and 1987 – her car deck was wide enough for two lanes of cars and she had a passenger lounge down each side of her hull. Towards the bow an additional lounge was incorporated, straddling the width of the hull, above the car deck. This meant a height restriction for vehicles and as such reduced her suitability for other routes where drive-through operation for high vehicles was really needed. Nevertheless this additional lounge meant her passenger certificate allowed her to carry up to 250 persons per sailing – somewhat more than her predecessor.


Early in her career, loading at Fionnphort


The LOCH BUIE’s layout is similar to that of the original 4 ‘Baby Loch’s’ of 1986 and 1987 – her car deck was wide enough for two lanes of cars and she had a passenger lounge down each side of her hull. Towards the bow an additional lounge was incorporated, straddling the width of the hull, above the car deck. This meant a height restriction for vehicles and as such reduced her suitability for other routes where drive-through operation for high vehicles was really needed. Nevertheless this additional lounge meant her passenger certificate allowed her to carry up to 250 persons per sailing – somewhat more than her predecessor.

Following trials on the Forth, the LOCH BUIE was delivered to the west coast via the Caledonian Canal (as were the first Loch Class ferries back in the 1980s) where she just managed to squeeze her 10 metre-wide hull through the locks and bridges, being the widest vessel design able to use the waterway.
 

Her first day at Fionnphort was in late spring 1992 and all did not go according to plan. What was meant to be MORVERN’s last day on the route before becoming spare turned out somewhat differently when the new vessel was making an approach to the Mull slipway and damaged one of her Voith-Schneider units on the concrete ramp. She was forced to sail to the Clyde for repairs to her propulsion and eventually returned early in the summer high season.
LOCH BUIE has been a great success on her route. Her vehicle capacity is never stretched and her design is only of inconvenience to wagon drivers who are required to reverse on via her stern ramp, although this rarely poses a problem. She tends to use her bow ramp at Fionnphort and then stern loads at Iona. Her stern ramp was extended specially after a few years, for using at the slipways so as firstly to avoid the risk of her disembarking passengers getting wet feet, and secondly to make it easier for large vehicles to board from the very steep slipways without becoming stuck.


Arriving from Iona

Picture: SoC Crew
On relief at Largs
Picture: SoC Crew
With Bruernish at Fionnphort


After her propulsion repairs the LOCH BUIE returned to the Sound of Iona and assumed her new role with no significant problems. Occasionally she is unable to sail due to low tides in the Sound, but for the most part her only disruption comes in the form of a rather long detour down the Sound of Iona so as to avoid the inconveniently located sandbank that lies directly between Fionnphort slipway and that at Baile Mor on Iona.
 

Picture: Saturn (SoC Forum / Daily Bute)
Collecting crew cars at Rhubodach
Picture: SoC Crew
Leaving Fionnphort

She rarely sails on other routes, due to the height restriction on her car deck, but did see service on the Largs – Cumbrae Slip crossing in late summer 1997 when some of the other Loch Class ships were busy breaking themselves. She was due to head away for her overhaul shortly after anyway so an Island Class was sent to cover at Iona while the LOCH BUIE operated on a predominantly vehicle-carrying route for the first time, in partnership with one of the other small Lochs. Other than this, the only other routes the LOCH BUIE has seen service on are the Tarbert - Portavadie and Claonaig - Lochranza runs, both as very short-term relief duties. Her sphere of operation has generally been from Fionnphort – Iona and the short sail north to her overnight berth in the Bull Hole, between Fionnphort and Kintra where at first she tied up to a buoy but she now uses a new purpose-built berth.


Loading at Iona


Each winter the LOCH BUIE is relieved for a couple of weeks by LOCH LINNHE or one of her sisters when it is time for annual overhaul and surveying, usually at Ardmaleish on Bute before returning in readiness for another season’s worth of tourists to descend.

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)


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