Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Loch Dunvegan (II) History

Twenty years after their introduction, the former Skye ferries LOCHALSH and KYLEAKIN were starting to show their age as traffic built to unprecedented levels. Calls were for a twenty-four operation and larger ferries. It was only a matter of time...

LOCH DUNVEGAN was loosely based on the 1986 built LOCH STRIVEN and her sisters in terms of general layout. Her passenger accommodation was found down the starboard length of the hull. The car deck was wide enough to hold four lanes of nine cars, meaning that the new vessel could accommodate 36 cars. Her size directly led to her being referred to as the first of the 'Super Lochs'. She and her sister LOCH FYNE were the largest double-ended ships to enter the fleet, and indeed in the 14 years since she first appeared, no other new 'Loch' has come close to her size.

Picture: SoC Crew
Arriving at Kyleakin

The LOCH DUNVEGAN entered service in May 1991. Initial teething problems were soon ironed out - such as the risk of long vehicles grounding on her ramps by lengthening the central fingers thus altering the approach angle of the bus / lorry. After a few seasons on the crossing her ramps were actually replaced by narrower ones which put less strain on her hydraulics.

It could be argued that one of the weaknesses in her design was the high sided passenger accommodation she had. In strong winds it was often harder to control her whilst manoeuvring onto one of the slipways - her Voith Schneider units being used to the full to keep her in position.

The Kyle of Lochalsh - Kyleakin crossing became a round-the-clock affair with one of the 'Super Lochs' running to a timetable through the night and then the pair operating the usual shuttle service throughout the day.

Overhauls were to take place in the winter months once the relief ferry ISLE OF CUMBRAE has arrived to provide cover. The LOCH DUNVEGAN would then have her ramps folded before she sailed south for the Clyde and dry-docking.

When she returned for the 1995 season the LOCH DUNVEGAN was preparing for her final season in service. The infamous Skye Bridge was gradually taking shape about half a mile from the slipways - a structure which was to spell the end of regular employment. In this year however she was to venture out of her regular sphere of operation As the photo below left shows, she sailed round from Kyle to Raasay to undergo berthing trials for the Forestry Commission, fitting in around the RAASAY's scheduled timetables.

Picture: Fladda (SoC Forum)
Sitting at Raasay slipway

Photo by Kevin McGroarty
Laid up in JWD whilst up for sale

Seen in a rare appearance at Fishnish in 1998

Arriving at Colintraive in May 2004 

The bridge was opened on October 16th 1995, shortly after which the LOCH DUNVEGAN and LOCH FYNE sailed south for the last time and were laid up and put up for sale. Originally the condition of their construction was that they be redeployed elsewhere in the network once the bridge was completed, although the government overruled this. The end result was that the redundant Skye vessel spent two years sat idle in the James Watt Dock at Greenock.

A change in the government brought about a change in vessel deployment. The Secretary of State for Scotland decided the LOCH DUNVEGAN and LOCH FYNE be brought ready for service in 1997. This was no bad move, for in August the brand new Fishnish - Lochaline ferry LOCH ALAINN failed in a big way only six weeks into her career and with all other Loch Class vessels otherwise employed, it was the LOCH DUNVEGAN which was sent up to take over the route - only to break down herself a few weeks later.

The LOCH DUNVEGAN was sent back for repairs while her sister took over the Sound of Mull route and went on to become the regular ferry.

Following completion of the repairs, LOCH DUNVEGAN was employed on relief duties, such as covering at Mallaig when PIONEER was required elsewhere, relieving her sister in February 1998 at Fishnish and providing a passenger-only service on the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay route when the mainland linkspan underwent maintenance (vehicles being shipped via Gourock).

It was early 1999 before the LOCH DUNVEGAN was given a new permanent role of her own. New facilities had been constructed in the Kyles of Bute, with a specially widened slipway and a new pier so that the LOCH DUNVEGAN could tie up overnight instead of resorting to the previous solution of using a buoy offshore. The vessel took over from the ISLE OF CUMBRAE in early 1999 and became the new regular ferry on the secondary Colintraive - Rhubodach route, bringing with her the largest capacity ever seen on the route.

Not long after taking over her new role, the LOCH DUNVEGAN saw activity on a route which was younger than she was. A landslide blocked the A83 between Tarbert and Lochgilphead, completely cutting Kintyre off. The vast capacity of the LOCH DUNVEGAN meant she was the inevitable choice to go round and provide additional sailings on the Tarbert - Portavadie crossing in conjunction with the smaller Cumbrae ferry LOCH ALAINN. The latter was called on to provide 24-hour sailings but the larger ship was used for a few days until the Kintyre road was reopened and she could return to the Kyles of Bute.

Picture: SoC Crew
Crossing to Rhubodach

LOCH DUNVEGAN is still on the Kyles of Bute crossing 6 years after first appearing there and looks set to stay the dedicated ferry. She has just received new ramps, following numerous problems with her old ones during the last 12 months. The new ones were built in Poland and shipped over towards the end of 2004 before they were tried out at Largs (not without their problems, requiring a trip back to the dock for further modifications). There was at one time speculation that LOCH DUNVEGAN would one day be transferred to the Largs - Cumbrae Slip crossing following berthing trials being carried out in the last few seasons, although due to the depth of the water around Largs pier at low tide, this would not be able to happen.

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)

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