Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Lochnevis (II) History

Life for the Lochnevis started in the late 1990s when the announcement came that a new vessel was to be constructed as part of a multi-million pound investment for upgrading ferry services in the Western Isles.

Since 1979 the Lochmor had been in charge of the routes from Mallaig to Rum (or as it had previously been spelled, Rhum), Eigg, Canna and Muck. She was a capable little vessel of around 30m but the time taken to get round all four islands was about ten hours and took the majority of the daylight hours. In addition she was unable to berth at three of the isles and lacked a vehicle capacity.

The first new ferry to form part of this new investment was the mighty Hebrides, destined for the Uig triangle. Smaller, but nonetheless packed with state-of-the-art facilities was the new £5.5m Lochnevis, reviving a classic name from many years ago. Construction commenced at the Ailsa yard in Troon – coincidentally the birthplace of her predecessor Lochmor 20 years earlier.

The new ship’s design was unlike anything seen before. Whilst primarily a passenger route, the new ferry was also earmarked for operating a winter service to Armadale on Skye, which would see her loading a fair number of cars. With this in mind, her size would inevitably be far greater than the ship she was to replace. Indeed her car deck can best be described as cavernous, with space for 14 cars and wide enough to comfortably load two articulated lorries side by side. This latter facility was a design requirement enforced by the powers-that-be and would very seldom, if ever, be required for the crossing to and from the Small Isles! Loading was by means of a huge stern ramp, folded into two sections as on the other Loch Class ships, although this one was designed for use with conventional slipways and the linkspans at Mallaig and Armadale.

Picture: Robbiem93 (SoC Forum)
LOCHNEVIS ready for launch

Picture: Tom McNeill (
Close up of the azi-pods

The ramp’s length was a safety element to ensure that the azi-pod propellers were free of grounding risk when the vessel would come astern towards a slipway. This would work by lowering the main ramp down into the water while the ship crawls gently astern so that the first part of the ferry to contact land would be the ramp as it lands on the slipway. To use a linkspan the Lochnevis would berth in the same way as one of the larger vessels although the linkspan would have to be lowered into the water to avoid a steep climb from the car deck.

Forward of the car deck lay the majority of the crew accommodation, while above could be found the cafeteria (known for its excellent breakfasts!!). Aft of the cafeteria was the upper extremities of the car deck and there were passageways running towards the stairways at the stern. On the starboard side of the cafeteria was the gangway entrance for use at Canna. Forward of the cafeteria seating was the serving area and galley. On the next deck was to be found the observation lounge with its rows of seating arranged diagonally across the breadth of the lounge. This area also seems to double up as a dormitory, for whenever the SoC Crew have been aboard, other passengers used the seats as mattresses! There was further officers accommodation forward of the lounge, while to either side there were heavy doors leading to the open deck.

Picture: SoC
LOCHNEVIS' main passenger lounge

The open deck space was impressive to say the least. For a start the Lochnevis was designed to incorporate an open bow where passengers could enjoy the view ahead – something of a rarity on Western Isles ferries these days. Aft of the lounge was an area of red plastic seating, again laid out in a diagonal arrangement. To the port side was the fast rescue craft launching platform, while to starboard was the single funnel and the hydraulic goods crane immediately aft again. The bridge was located immediately above the lounge and was of a design which provided the master with all-round visibility.

Launching took place on 8th May 2000, with the ceremony being performed by Rev Alan Lamb, Minister in the Small Isles. Fitting out followed this and trials were carried out. During these Lochnevis called at Largs, Wemyss Bay, Rothesay, Ardrossan and also at Colintraive where she was able to use the slipway. Once her trials were complete, the new ship ventured north to her new home of Mallaig, carrying out a few berthing trials along the way, like at Sconser on Skye. The Lochmor was sold out of the fleet and the new Lochnevis quickly settled in to her new role. Unlike the smaller ferry, the Lochnevis employed a propulsion involving three azimuth pods mounted towards the stern. These pods removed the need for separate rudders as they rotated to point the propeller blades in the desired direction of thrust. This took care of basic propulsion while at the bow, Lochnevis was ably assisted by two powerful bow thrusters for when docking took place in tight spaces.

Picture: SoC
LOCHNEVIS leaving Mallaig for Eigg

Initially the Lochnevis carried out her duties in the same way as her predecessor, only faster. Her service speed was set at around 12/13 knots – similar to that of Juno, Jupiter and Saturn on the Clyde. She could get round all four of the Small Isles in around 7 hours and so could offer two full round trips in a day if need be.

At the same time as her construction was announced, it was also revealed that the isles were to have new terminals constructed. Until this time, and for many, many years previously, flit boats and tenders were the order of the day. The Loch Arkaig and more recently the Lochmor had been unable to land goods at three of the islands as only Canna – the most remote of the archipelago – boasted its own pier. Upon her approach to Port Mor on Muck, Galmisdale on Eigg and Kinloch on Rum, smaller boats such as the Ulva, Dart Princess, Wave and more recently Laig Bay would come out from the shore with passengers and goods for the mainland. They would then board the ferry in what some saw as a precarious ship-to-ship transfer, but what regulars classed as routine. Passengers traveling from the mainland would then complete the process in reverse and the ferry would then move on to its next destination. At Canna the ship would actually tie up alongside the pier towards the eastern end of the island, where goods could be taken ashore by crane and passengers were spared the chance of a soaking, instead going ashore by way of the gangway.

For her first few seasons the Lochnevis carried on as her predecessors had done for many years before her, but new slipways and piers gradually took shape and eventually in 2004, the now established ferry was able to berth stern-in at the new slipways. She tied up at the piers which were nothing more than huge blocks of concrete connected by steel walkways for the shore crew to negotiate while handling the ropes. The pier at Eigg was not actually located on the shore of the island itself. Due to the depth of the water at the chosen location, it was necessary for the slipway to be set out a considerable distance from the shore and connected to the island via a causeway. This was also not the location favoured by either the islanders or Calmac themselves, but the council insisted that Galmisdale Bay be used. As a result the narrow channel and tight turning space could, and still does lead to the Lochnevis having to miss her calls at Eigg in rough weather for safety reasons. Into 2006 and the next new pier steadily takes shape at Canna. Eventually here too she will be able to use her stern ramp at the new slipway, thus completing the improvements to the Small Isles route for the time being.

Jumping to the present now and the Lochnevis has been in service for 5 years. In addition to her regular duties serving Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna she also operates the winter vehicle service from Mallaig to Armadale. In this role she provides one return sailing in the early morning before her Small Isles sailings and then another in the late afternoon on weekdays. According to one of her crew, she is the only vessel in the fleet that sees more activity and sailing hours in the winter than she does in the summer!

Picture: SoC
Lochnevis craning goods aboard at Canna

Picture: SoC
Swinging to berth at Muck

Each winter, usually in late October, the Lochnevis takes leave from Mallaig and heads south to the Clyde, following in the footsteps of her summer consort Coruisk as she goes out of service for annual overhaul at Garvel. At the start of her career she was relieved by the ever-popular Pioneer (in fact the relief Small Isles sailing on 1st November 2003 turned out to be Pioneer’s last passenger sailing with Calmac, as Lochnevis by then had returned from the Clyde). Since the 1974 ferry’s withdrawal and sale to foreign interests, the Lochnevis has been relieved by a combination of passenger launches chartered in for a three week period and also the Island Class ferry Raasay, using the linkspan and slipways to convey goods and occasionally vehicles to the isles.

Several years ago few would have envisaged a ship the size, and indeed with the level of comfort of the Lochnevis operating on a route which carries far fewer passengers than others in the network. But sure enough there she is, plying her way out of the Sound of Sleat six days out of seven on her busy schedule. Come 2006 and her schedule was set to become even busier with the completion of another new pier at Inverie in Loch Nevis. Lochnevis had been mentioned in connection with operating a regular ferry service to Inverie in addition to her Small Isles commitments. There was, however, insufficient time in her schedule to fit in this extra duty and nothing more has been heard of the rumour ever since.

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)

Picture: Charles McCrossan (
Lying at the pier with Pioneer at Mallaig

Picture: SoC Crew
Lying at Port Ellen en route from JWD to Mallaig

Picture: SoC
Lochnevis and Coruisk off Mallaig

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