Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Loch Portain History

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.

Picture: Neil Guthrie
Undertaking berthing trials at Lochaline...

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 newbuild.

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.

Picture: Neil Guthrie
...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.

Picture: Angus Morrison
Passing Loch Bhrusda in the Sound of Harris

Picture: SoC Crew
Approaching Leverburgh

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 full.

Picture: SoC Crew
Preparing to leave Harris
Picture: SoC Crew
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 Crew (C)

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