Ships of the Fleet
Such was the immediate
success of the 18-car LOCH BHRUSDA after her introduction to service on the
Sound of Harris crossing, that only seven years later a new and altogether much
larger ferry was ordered as a replacement.
The hour-long sailing frmo Berneray to Leverburgh on
Harris began as a more frequent alternative to the HEBRIDEAN ISLES' sailings
from Tarbert on Harris to Lochmaddy on North Uist, often via Uig on Skye. The
LOCH BHRUSDA had plied the Sound of Harris for just a few months when it became
clear that vehicle reservations were a must and the timetable information was
changed accordingly. Just a few seasons later and it was crystal clear that with
the number of vehicles that could be accommodated on her car deck being just 18,
either far more sailings were required to keep up with demand, a second vessel
would be required to operate the route in partnership with LOCH BHRUSDA, or an
entirely new and larger unit would be needed.
Undertaking berthing trials at
As with most other routes in the Calmac network, the latter option was adopted
and a further order was placed with McTay Marine on the Mersey - builders of
LOCH BHRUSDA some years previously. The new ferry would be another large variant
on the highly successful Loch Class. And once again, 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 pump-jet system used on LOCH BHRUSDA was also to be used on the
The new ferry's naming ceremony took place at
McTay Marine's yard on April 23rd and the new MV LOCH PORTAIN was revealed.
Following her actual completion and launch, she undertook sea trials on the
River Mersey, with the city of Liverpool as a backdrop before making her way
north to Oban. Over the weekend of 31st May/1st June the new ferry was based at
Oban and was observed undertaking berthing trials at Oban, Fishnish and
Lochaline before leaving for North Uist where she arrived in the evening of
Sunday 1st June.
LOCH PORTAIN undertook further trials at her new
base on Berneray and at Leverburgh, passing LOCH BHRUSDA in mid crossing. The
size difference between the two ships was immediately obvious! A few days later,
on Thursday 5th June the new ship took over running on the Sound of Harris
crossing while the LOCH BHRUSDA lay on standby at the berth near Otternish - the
former terminal for the Berneray ferry, before the causeway was built. LOCH
BHRUSDA left and headed south a few days later ready to take over the Eriskay -
Ardmhor route on Saturday, 10th June.
...and again at Fishnish
The new LOCH PORTAIN was of a completely different appearance to previous Lochs.
Her car deck provided space for up to 32 cars and she was able to carry vehicles
of up to 5.1m in height. Above her car deck lay her passenger accommodation
which was fitted out to provide several seating areas, toilets, an information
display and vending machine catering. Her bridge sat proudly above the passenger
lounge and provided her master with a grandstand view - something which is
essential on such a tortuous route as that from Berneray to Leverburgh.
Passing Loch Bhrusda
in the Sound of Harris
Initially the top of LOCH PORTAIN's bridge was painted bright orange (as had
LOCH BHRUSDA's when she first entered service) although this has been painted
white in subsequent a subsequent annual overhaul.
Despite the almost 100% increase in vehicle capacity brought by the LOCH
PORTAIN, vehicle reservations on the Sound of Harris route remain strongly
advisable and during the high summer months it is not unknown for her to sail
Preparing to leave Harris
In the Sound of Harris
The LOCH PORTAIN was introduced after just a few years of the Berneray - Harris
link being started. At present she provides numerous sailings per day during the
summer and sails twice a day during the winter months (although never sailing on
a Sunday) and seems to be coping well with the level of traffic currently being
experienced. With a vessel of her size it is highly likely that further growth
in demand will occur in the near future, although for now the new ship looks set
to be in charge of the Harris crossing for some seasons yet.
Text thanks to SoC