Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Loch Tarbert History

The introduction of a drive-through ferry on the Claonaig - Lochranza crossing in 1987 was as a result of enormous demand by car-borne tourists. The LOCH RANZA coped well for five years on the back-door to Arran but in the early 1990s it was crystal clear that she did not have the necessary capacity to keep the queues at bay.

A package of two new ferries was ordered during 1991 for introduction the following summer. The first of these was launched from Miller's Yard in St Monans and took up service on the heavily used Iona service. The LOCH TARBERT was next down the slip and she was to carry out trials on the Forth before following in LOCH BUIE's wake through the Caledonian Canal and down to her new base at Lochranza on the Isle of Arran.

Picture: SoC Crew
Arriving at Lochranza

LOCH TARBERT's first day in service was on 25th July 1992 and she took her load of cars over to Claonaig whilst dressed overall to mark the occasion. The LOCH RANZA stood aside and prepared to move off for her new role as Gigha ferry, replacing BRUERNISH.

The LOCH TARBERT was essentially a variant on ISLE OF CUMBRAE's design. She could carry 18 cars on her car deck, 150 passengers could be accommodated in her starboard lounge but also on her two outer decks. The port length of her hull boasted an extra outside deck above the first vehicle lane - a feature that was much appreciated by her passengers in summer!

The Lochranza crossing has always been a seasonal service, so at the end of September, and more latterly nearly the end of October she would come off the Arran run and assume other duties. For the first few winters the LOCH TARBERT would be seen covering at Fishnish, Colintraive and Cumbrae in addition to providing additional dangerous loads sailings from Largs to Lochranza as an alternative to the more expensive ISLE OF ARRAN and then CALEDONIAN ISLES having to perform extra sailings. From 1995 however the Largs - Lochranza winter sailings were no longer required due to the daily service from Tarbert to Arran using the winter Portavadie ship (usually one of the 'Baby Lochs').

Over the seasons the LOCH TARBERT has seen a general growth in traffic on the Kilbrannan Sound crossing, but perhaps her busiest period came during a seaman's strike in the new millennium which saw the CALEDONIAN ISLES rendered immobile. Traffic for Arran was diverted round via the ferry across Loch Fyne and then Claonaig. With the inevitable extra traffic the LOCH TARBERT was partnered by the ISLE OF CUMBRAE, of equal size and the two provided a shuttle service in an attempt to keep the queues to a minimum.

Each winter she still changed duties, covering for the ISLE OF CUBRAE at Lochaline, the LOCH LINNHE or LOCH STRIVEN at Largs and the LOCH RIDDON at Colintraive, but in early 1996 she ventured well away from her normal sphere of operations when she opened the new Otternish - Leverburgh route across the Sound of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. The reason for this was to keep the route open for the brand new LOCH BHRUSDA.

Picture: SoC Crew
Lowering her stern ramp, having just arrived at Claonaig

Picture: SoC Crew
Unloading at Claonaig

Picture: SoC Crew
Relieving at Largs

Picture: SoC Crew
Approaching Portavadie on winter duties

In more recent years the LOCH TARBERT has finished each summer on the Claonaig service before moving round to Tarbert on Loch Fyne in order to start the winter service to Portavadie and then the lunchtime daily sailing to Arran. This duty usually keeps her occupied until late November or early December when she goes for her own overhaul at Ardmaleish. In previous years the LOCH TARBERT has also seen relief work on the Lochaline - Fishnish, Berneray - Leverburgh, Largs - Cumbrae Slip and Colintraive - Rhubodach crossings during the overhaul season, while in 2007 she broke new ground by serving Barra and Eriskay for several weeks while the LOCH BHRUSDA was away.

With changes in the fleet, LOCH TARBERT's winter role will be greatly diminished in the coming years, as the larger LOCH ALAINN has become part of the relief pool. Loch Tarbert will, at least for 2007/8 anyway, be restricted to the start of the winter on the Tarbert - Portavadie run and then in early spring on the Barra - Eriskay run as it is generally accepted that the majority of the routes now need larger vessels throughout the year.

With her capacity of 18 cars the LOCH TARBERT operates on a route that is steadily growing in popularity. In summer she often sails full or very nearly full while in winter she is now too limited in capacity for the routes that she used to relieve on. While there is no doubt she works hard, providing nine return sailings a day to Kintyre and back, it wouldn't come as a huge surprise if she were replaced in the future and moved to a route where she could provide room for growth. After all, she has been at Lochranza for 15 years now - quite an achievement!

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)

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