Ships of the Fleet
For a detailed description of this ship and her
near-identical sisters see the profile for the first,
MAID OF ASHTON.
MAID OF CUMBRAE was the only 'Maid' built by the
Ardrossan Dockyard Company and their first contribution to the Clyde passenger
fleet – though they had built the 1933 ARRAN, a small cargo-vessel, for the
LMS/CSP in 1933, and subsequently built such ferries as the MAID OF GLENCOUL
(1975) for Highland Regional Council's service at Kylesku in West Sutherland.
The MAID OF CUMBRAE was also the only member of
the 1953 quartet to bear her name in white on the black portion of her hull,
rather than in black on the white upper strake; her galley chimney was also
differently positioned from those of her sisters.
Launched at Ardrossan on 13th May 1953
by Mrs David Blee – he was a member of the Railway Executive p- MAID OF
CUMBRAE was not ready for trials until 10th July, right in the middle
of the summer season, and compounded her tardiness by emerging as the slowest of
the sisters, recording a mean top speed of 15.2 knots. This, however, was
perfectly adequate for her duties and, as the last of the 'Maids' in Company
service – and that in a most unexpected new capacity - she would have the last
Her first passenger sailing was noteworthy: from
Bridge Wharf in Glasgow, an afternoon excurion on Fair Saturday - 18th
July 1953 – to Dunoon. MAID OF CUMBRAE continued to offer a limited number of
such trips from the city, supplementing the cruises of QUEEN MARY II, and also
managed short afternoon trips from Dunoon. There were also the faintly sad
“Morning Coffee” cruises; the fare included, for lucky passengers, a free
cup of coffee and a chocolate biscuit.
On Saturdays she generally assisted on the
hard-pressed Gourock-Dunoon service; but, as we have seen, through the Fifties
and Sixties the duties of the various 'Maids' became increasingly intermeshed
In any event, their market was fast disappearing.
Piers all over the Clyde were closing and the public appetite for short cruises
rapidly dwindled. What the rising generation of trippers and holidaymakers and
even commuters wanted was car-carrying capacity. Thus the 1953 quartet became,
slowly but remorselessly and without even the nostalgic glamour of steam,
The MAID OF CUMBRAE was withdrawn at the end of
the 1971 season and dolefully consigned to Glasgow's Princes Dock. She was on
the brink of sale to new owners when she was saved by a remarkable turn of
STG/MacBrayne endeavours to pull out of the Islay
service – and thus free the 1953 car ferry ARRAN (II) for use on the Clyde –
were unexpectedly defeated. ARRAN should have shortly joined the 1957 GLEN
SANNOX (III) to serve as her pup on the Gourock-Dunoon roster. Now ARRAN was
trapped on another tedious, thankless summer serving the ingrates of Islay,
Jura, Gigha and Colonsay – and the CSP faced crisis on the Clyde.
There was a sudden and urgent need for car ferry
tonnage – and desperate expedients. Early in March 1972, MAID OF CUMBRAE was
hastily reprieved and rushed to Barclay Curle's Elderslie shipyard for rapid
conversion to a 15-car vehicle ferry.
This almost melodramatic surgery – the only
passenger vessel in the Company's history to have been so modified, and
certainly the last – cost a cool £60,000. The MAID OF CUMBRAE's entire
superstructure aft of her funnel was cut away to main deck level.
Two side-ramps and a stern ramp were fitted –
the CSP/STG had been forced to agree to rather unsatisfactory side-loading
linkspan arrangements at Dunoon, which are far from ideal. Very sensibly, a
deck-turntable was fitted to assist the necessary shunting of vehicles, and the
forward car deck below U-shaped plating under her lounge.
Her passenger facilities were re-arranged as best
as they might be. Apart from other little jobs and modifications, a
“capuchon” was fitted to MAID OF CUMBRAE's funnel to reduce the diesel smart
nuisance on the newly exposed vehicle deck. It certainly lent her a jaunty air;
so lightweight was the construction and so flimsy the railings on the car deck
now appear that, by modern safety standards, one wonders how she was ever
allowed out. Predictably, her passenger certificate – Class V – was cut
considerably, to 310.
At any event she gave three years of loyal and
unstinting service on the Gourock-Dunoon station – even if the advantage of
her very limited car capacity was largely psychological – and, early in 1973,
MAID OF CUMBRAE notched up another minor role in history; she was the first
vessel in either fleet to don the new Caledonian MacBrayne livery, following the
merger of CSP and MacBrayne operations from 1st January that year. By
the end of April she was the only 'Maid' left.
The new JUPITER replaced GLEN SANNOX as main
vessel on the Gourock-Dunoon station in March 1974; MAID OF CUMBRAE partnered
her with like loyalty until the arrival of the JUNO in December 1974. Thereafter
she became spare vessel, lying at Gouerock through winter as back-up for the
Dunoon service and, in the main season, in Greenock's East India Harbour. She
remained a very popular choice for private charter, however; noted outings
included a cruise to Inveraray in April 1977.
MAID OF CUMBRAE's last sailing for the Company was
on the Gourock-Dunoon station, on 20th May 1978. She was then laid up
in the James Watt Dock, Greenock, until her sale on 16th August to
Panama interests. She left the Clyde for Trieste on the Adriatic on 25th
August and under her own power, with a spare propellor and propellor-shaft
welded to her car deck against mishap.
She entered service from Trieste, operated by
Navigazione Alto Adriatico, in 1979 and with the faintly tragic name of NOCE DI
COCCO (it means “Coconut”); to add an additional note of farce, she was
still otherwise resplendent in Caledonian MacBrayne livery. She spent less than
a year on this run – to Muggia – before she was sold on to Neapolitan owners
and allowed to regain her dignity in the Bay of Naples, in the company of her
old sister MAID OF SKELMORLIE – now ALA – and herself bearing a rather more
pleasing name than “Coconut”, CAPRI EXPRESS.
At first the former MAID OF CUMBRAE sailed between
Capri and Positano. These day cruises included such delights as an inflatable
swimming pool on the vehicle deck; its enclosed forward end had become a
passenger lounge. She still incongruously wore CalMac lions on her funnel; they
must have appealed to the Latin temperament of her new owners.
Alistair Deayton records dryly that the cruises
were not a great success. Latterly she ran as a car ferry between Naples and
Sorrento, now owned by Alimar Spa and directly partnered with ALA who had
herself (and rather less elegantly) been converted for car ferry operations. For
these duties the ex-MAID OF CUMBRAE was painted blue. She was laid up for a time
in 1996, but was back in service at Naples in 1998, this time with a white hull.
From the autumn of 2000 the CAPRI EXPRESS has
sailed from Pozzuoli to Procida, and was joined by the ex-MAID OF SKELMORLIE the
following spring. The longevity of both vessels is quite remarkable – launches
apart, only a handful of motor-driven ships in Company history have, in that or
any subsequuent ownership, attained their Jubilee – and testifies to the
quality of their construction.
The two ex-'Maids', tough old things that they
are, still partnered one another in the Mediterranean, as they did on the Clyde in
the flush of their youth, over half a century ago right up until the beginning
The start of her 53rd year afloat looked grim as she was earmarked for
withdrawing and scrapping altogether. It was
reported that the CAPRI EXPRESS had been sighted beginning her tow to the
breakers in Aliaga in March. However on the 12/03/06 while under tow of the tug
SAINT JAMES from Naples to Aliaga, the vessel she was in tandem with, the
SALVATORE LAURO sank 10nm SW of Gerolimenas Bay, Peloponnese. There were no
injuries or pollution reported. She survived this rather sharp fate and duly
arrived two days later and beached, never to sail again.
Text thanks to John
Berthed in Naples harbour 2005.
Arrived for Scrapping, Aliaga 13/03/06.
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