Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Loch Ranza History

Loch Ranza’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.

Arriving at Lochranza

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.

The first three of the new ferries had been named Loch Striven, Loch Linnhe and Loch Riddon respectively. The fourth and final one put in an appearance in early 1987 when she replaced the Rhum on the 30 minute crossing from Lochranza on Arran to Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula. Her arrival brought the completion of that particular phase of improvements on the routes operated by smaller members of the fleet. The Lochranza route was the fifth to be upgraded in twelve months, in terms of vehicle and passenger capacity.

Picture: SoC Crew
Lying at Gigha

 The Loch Ranza has led a far more sheltered existence than her counterparts. She spent five seasons on the summer only crossing of the Kilbrannan Sound with a little bit of relief work in the winters on other routes such as Fionnphort – Iona and Lochaline - Fishnish. Overhauls were usually carried out at Ardmaleish on Bute in the quiet season before she returned to service in March or April, depending when the summer timetable started.

Picture: SoC Crew
In the Sound of Gigha
Picture: SoC Crew
Pulling away from Tayinloan

As with many other routes in the network, the demand for this secondary crossing grew as the 1980s were left behind. After only 5 years in charge of the Lochranza crossing a new and larger ferry was introduced. The new arrival had a capacity for 18 cars – basically a more modern version of the Isle of Cumbrae. The Loch Tarbert entered service in July 1992, at which point the
Loch Ranza moved away for a new role. She had been promised to the islanders of Gigha when her replacement was announced and she duly took up service on the 20 minute sailing from Tayinloan on the mainland, to the south of West Loch Tarbert. The vessel she replaced was the Bruernish, the main Gigha vessel since Tayinloan slipway was completed back in 1979. Loch Ranza brought drive-through capacity to Gigha for the first time.

One new factor in her current role has only surfaced in the last year or so and can perhaps be seen as a sign of climate change. Winter storms in 2006/7 seemed to be far worse than in previous years and the Sound of Gigha seemed to bear the brunt of the weather at times. The slipway at Tayinloan fell to the mercy of the heavy swells that developed and for a good part of December 2006 and January 2007 the slipway was rendered unusable due to large amount of sand and seaweed being washed up. During this time the Loch Ranza had to deviate all her sailings to Kennacraig - a full hour's sail to the north. Vehicles were carried but disembarking at Kennacraig wasn't guaranteed due to the linkspan only being at a suitable angle at certain states of the tide. Her passenger certificate was reduced to 12 for the temporary route and assistance was required from the Loch Linnhe.

Picture: SoC Crew
Heading into West Loch Tarbert

Picture: John Newth
Lying at Kennacraig linkspan
Picture: SoC Crew
Heading from Kennacraig to Gigha

The seaweed situation resurfaced in February 2008 and Loch Ranza was once again diverted to Kennacraig on three return sailings a day. Bad weather caused numerous cancellations during that period. Raasay was even dispatched from Oban in order to provide assistance if needed, however she merely lay at the south pier on Gigha.

The Loch Ranza’s history is almost complete. She has remained on that one route for the last 15 years, barring her annual overhauls when she is relieved by usually the Loch Linnhe in December and January. With Gigha not really being a major tourist destination is seems unlikely that a larger ferry will be needed therefore it seems logical that Loch Ranza will stay at Gigha for a while yet.

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)

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