Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Loch Linnhe History

LOCH LINNHE’s history goes back to the early 1980s when the order for four new drive-through ferries was placed with Dunston’s of Hessle on the Humber. For years previously a number of routes had seen traffic levels build up steadily and were now at the point where the small ferries that were used could no longer cope with demand. Prime examples of this were the Largs – Cumbrae Slip, Lochranza – Claonaig, Colintraive – Rhubodach and Fishnish – Lochaline routes.

The new ferries were modified versions of the ISLE OF CUMBRAE, at that time operating the Cumbrae route on her own. Their overall size was roughly the same as the 1977-built vessel, however their car decks were only wide enough to take two lanes of vehicles as opposed to three. The space that would have been allocated for the third vehicle lane, on the port side of the ships was actually given over to a second passenger lounge in addition to that on the starboard side. This modification reduced car capacity to 12 but increased passenger capacity to around 200.

As with the ISLE OF CUMBRAE, the new ferries received Voith Schneider propulsion units fore and aft which meant they could manoeuvre around the tightest turns and berth with ease at their given slipways. The newbuilds were also more aesthetically pleasing when they emerged in 1986 and 1987. They had no funnels as such so their wheelhouses were painted red and given a black top. The lion emblem was added to either side of the wheelhouse and the mainmast rose at an angle above it

Off duty at Largs with her sister in service

Picture: SoC Crew
In service at Lochaline

The first of the four new ferries had been named LOCH STRIVEN. LOCH LINNHE was the second vessel completed and followed her sister up the east coast from the Humber to Inverness and through the Caledonian Canal before emerging at Corpach and sailing off down the loch with which she shared her name. After passing Lismore the LOCH LINNHE then headed up the Sound of Mull and to Fishnish and Lochaline for berthing trails. Following successful completion of these, the new ferry then entered service in early July 1986, replacing the CANNA on the secondary route to Mull. Her introduction into service brought with it double the capacity on the route as well as removal of reversing on and off the car deck.

LOCH LINNHE remained on the Lochaline crossing for about four weeks before transferring to the Clyde in place of ISLE OF CUMBRAE which then took her place at Lochaline. Upon arrival at Largs she joined LOCH STRIVEN on the Cumbrae Slip service and allowed a two-ship, quarter hourly service from either terminal at peak times. Up to 48 cars could be carried in either direction in an hour when both sisters were in service – a 33% increase on a year earlier with just the ISLE OF CUMBRAE.

The Cumbrae crossing became the home of the two sisters for 11 years. Both would be in service during the summers and one would venture off to other routes on relief duties in the winters while the other one remained at Largs. As such LOCH LINNHE saw service at Iona, Lochaline, Lismore, Gigha and Bute while on relief duties. In the mid 1990s, like her sister, the LOCH LINNHE saw a winter on the Tarbert – Portavadie/Lochranza crossing as well.

At Portavadie, loading for Tarbert

1997 saw the Cumbrae Lochs being split up as the LOCH STRIVEN went north to take over the Sconser – Raasay route. LOCH LINNHE was given a new partner in the shape of LOCH RIDDON. The following year however saw LOCH LINNHE leave, also for pastures new. For the 1998 season she was placed on the Tarbert – Portavadie crossing. Until this time RHUM and then BRUERNISH had operated the summer service but it was clear that the demand was there for a larger ferry. LOCH LINNHE brought year round drive through capability to the route and as a result traffic grew. Gone was the potential problem of there not being space on the ferry after a lengthy drive down Kintyre.

Despite her success on the Loch Fyne crossing, the LOCH LINNHE was transferred again in early 1999 when she was replaced by the very vessel she ousted from Largs over a decade previously. The ISLE OF CUMBRAE arrived to take control of the Portavadie run in time for the summer season and the displaced ship moved over to the Western Isles for her next assignment.

Heading out of Kilchoan
Picture: SoC Crew
Passing Lord of the Isles off Rubh na Gall

Picture: SoC Crew
Passing Loch Ranza off West Loch Tarbert

In 1999 she began her the next stage of her career when she displaced the EIGG from the Tobermory - Kilchoan crossing, bringing drive-through loading to this route as she had done in her previous role. To accommodate her, the slipways at Tobermory on Mull, and Kilchoan on Ardnamurchan had to be specially widened. Her crossing time was between 30 and 35 minutes and for the duration of the summer timetable she gave up to six or seven crossings. LOCH LINNHE was relieved in the winter months by the RAASAY which in turn allowed her to become part of the relief pool and in this capacity she saw year-round service all over the network. Relief duties since 2000 have included the Tayinloan - Gigha, Sconser - Raasay, Barra - Eriskay, Tarbert - Lochranza, Largs - Cumbrae Slip, Fionnphort - Iona and Lochaline - Fishnish routes.

One departure from the routine did occur in the summer of 2001 when LOCH LINNHE switched places with the LOCH RIDDON for one summer and she returned to the Largs - Cumbrae Slip run. She also called at Eigg on the 22nd of December 2000 to tow her tiny fleet mate ULVA to Tobermory for breaking up.

LOCH LINNHE has remained the summer vessel operating out of Tobermory since 2002, and it looks as though she is set to become the main vessel on this route for 9 out of 12 months of the year, as she is becoming a bit on the small side for relief on the Barra and Lochaline routes - even in the winter months. Her relief for while she is away at Raasay and Gigha over the winter of 2007/8 is set to be the ISLE OF CUMBRAE.

Despite coming of age and turning 21, LOCH LINNHE is still very much a welcome member of the fleet, providing reliable service on her own route and providing useful extra capacity as relief cover for her fleetmates.

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)

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