Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Pioneer (III) History

All to soon this workhorse of the CalMac fleet has slipped into the 'Past Ships' section. Built some say too late for her lifetime, she has proved to be one of the company's most popular ships to ever serve in the fleet...

After her launch at Robb Caledon Ship Builder Ltd in Leith she visited CalMac's headquarters in Gourock. She then headed for her homeport, Port Ellen. After showing her flags at the ports she was to call at she took VIP's to Oban, before entering service on the 14th of August 1974.

PIONEER was built to replace the smaller ARRAN that operated between West Loch Tarbert and Port Ellen (Islay) she was designed to be the longest vessel to turn this far up the loch. With a Government subsidy behind her, she gradually won back traffic for the state company and Western Ferries within a few years withdrew their service. CalMac in fact moved their mainland operation to the WF terminal of Kennacraig in 1978.  This allowed a vessel with a deeper draught to operate She operated on this run until the IONA was able to function on this service in 1979.

PIONEER on Launch Day

The IONA was waiting for the linkspan completion and was needed for her drive thru capacity which was more that PIONEERS stern / side loading.

PIONEER (I) - The 1905 Paddle Steamer

Her name revived that of a MacBrayne paddle steamer that had served Islay from 1905 to 1939 and was the last paddle steamer to operate in the Western Isles. Her assigned summer services at that time saw her operating three runs from West Loch Tarbert to Port Ellen and back every day with one call each way at Gigha (where her two cranes were needed the most at this small pier!) She has also used her small cranes on many occasions such as a emergency run form Oban - Tiree - Barra.

On the 26th of June 1978 the PIONEER'S mainland base was moved three miles and down the loch /coast to Kennacraig the pier here had been especially extended to accommodate her. She operated from this port to Port Ellen (Islay). During the 70’s, rival private operator Western Ferries was covering Port Askaig. The following year one of CalMac's Island class ferries BRUERNISH began a sailing between Kennacraig and Gigha peir so the PIONEER ceased to call there. She was only to be on this run for a brief part of time, before for she was replaced by the larger IONA in February 1979 (she was replaced by the larger CLAYMORE), she then sailed to her birthplace at Leith.

When she arrived back from her overhaul pioneer looked very different. Her two cranes had been removed and two side-loading ramps were connected to a large car hoist (lift) just aft of her funnels (now removed), she was fitted with these because the terminals on her new run were not yet equipped with linkspans. The multitasking pioneer of the fleet was to set on another adventure in her career - the Mallaig - Armadale ferry. In summer 1979 she replaced her aging forerunner BUTE. Her bridge deck was also extended and her bridge wings were clipped at the same time to help the Load / unload at low tide due to the high tidal range at Mallaig.. She operated to a full schedule at this time in the summer but as a spare vessel in the winter.

From September 1979 to May in 1980 she had three spells on the Kilcreggan - Dunoon service. She spent her Christmas / New Year holidays helping out the CALEDONIA at Arran, Easter with Saturn at Rothesay and twice relieve the IONA on the Islay run. She relieved the LOCHMOR (for her annual overhaul) on the small isles service (she is the largest ship to operate on this service) will and for brief periods at Coll, Tiree, Barra, Colonsay, Canna, Lochboisdale, Lochmaddy Craighouse and Lochaline for passenger and livestock runs. Her relief sailings for the winter period remained the same over years. she covered the Islay run in October (while IONA was covering for the CLAYMORE). She then spent three months on the Clyde on the Kilcreggan run, had here annual refit and then came back to cover the small isles service from Mallaig. She also gave a winter evening passenger only sailing from Largs to Brodick (Arran). In case the older winter ship CALEDONIA had capacity problems the PIONEER was placed as a standby vessel, but the building of the Isles of Arran in 1984 she was no longer needed on this expensive duty.

In the summer to she has been on many emergency routes including COLOMBIA'S Oban - Colonsay run, Sky, Iona and very suddenly an overnight run from Mallaig to the outer isles. PIONEER has been on many charter trips in her lifetime, these have taken here to Campbeltown, Fort William and round the isles of Sky. On Saturday in the 11th of March 2001 around 50 members of the West Highland Steamers club were treated to join the PIONEER on an organised club outing "Round the Mull" to Port Askaig where they were due to join the HEBRIDEAN ISLES on the afternoon crossing to Kennacraig. That was sadly probably PIONEER's last visit to Islay, the island that she was built loyally to serve.

In 1989 she was replaced at Mallaig by the IONA (now PENTALINA~B operating for Pentland ferries on the mainland - Orkney Crossing) and became the company spare vessel again, Assisting on the Upper Clyde, she replaced the GLEN SANNOX. At this time also, PIONEER’s hoist was removed and replaced with simple side ramps to allow her to use the linkspans let into the face of the pier at Dunoon and Rothesay. She has had a very (and I hope she will continue to have) varied life covering nearly all of CalMac's varied routes. She has been pressed into service with her former running mate IONA (sold and renamed PENTALINA on charter from Pentland Ferries) to operate on the Oban - Craignure Mull link in May 1998, the two ships worked hard at the service when the much larger regular ship ISLE OF MULL was required to cover the Stornoway link for a brief shift before the new ISLES OF LEWIS entered service.

Picture: Stuart Cameron

In the summer of 1995 she was operating on the Rothesay - Largs - Brodick service. Now she is most commonly seen in service on the Dunoon or Rothesay services alongside the 'streaker's' (JUNO, SATURN + JUPITER).

On Saturday the 11th March 2001 PIONEER left the Clyde to begin annual visit to Mallaig to relieve LOCHMOR for her annual overhaul on the Clyde. However, that will be the last time that she carries out this duty as, with the introduction of the new LOCHNEVIS and custom built island terminals, she will no longer be required to perform these duties.

Her supposed last day in service on the Clyde came on Friday the 24th January 2003 where she left Rothesay and headed to the James Watt Dock in Glasgow for a brief overhaul, she then will head up to Skye to take over the route between Mallaig and Armadale before the new ship CORUISK arrived. This did go to plan but it wasn't her last day by far. Due to technical difficulties the CORUISK had to make several trips to fitters for repairs. This resulted in the PIONEER staying much longer than anticipated on the Mallaig station. A specially arranged two day cruise for the public to join her on a sentimental voyage from her home in the Western Isles to the Clyde via Oban had to be cancelled to cover for her stricken fleet mate. She returned to the Clyde empty and tired from her extra stints - something by now she was well used to. Not all was forgotten however, CalMac decided to arrange a cruise in August 2003 for all those who's was cancelled to take them round on a memorable final sailing from Gourock to the Kyle's of Bute and back - a fantastic day out for all who made it - she was packed to the boards with supporters, people who wanted to say good by to there favourite ship and trippers who wanted to remember her Clyde cruising days. On the 1st November 2003 however she unexpectedly made a return north to Mallaig to perform her very last final day of service with CalMac when she covered on the Small Isles Roster, her crew leaving a lasting mark on the rocks of her visit. When she arrived back in Mallaig after the sailing, the new Lochnevis awaited her. She duly loaded crew cars and headed for Gourock and onto Greenock’s James Watt Dock - her final resting place with the company.

Picture: Kevin McGroarty
PIONEER at Armadale 2003
Note the 'Mallaig' Destination Board

CalMac Managing Director Lawrie Sinclair said: “MV Pioneer has completed her distinguished period of service in the CalMac fleet and I can confirm that we have put in place the arrangements to maintain the name for possible future use. While MV Pioneer may be departing these shores, she will always have a place in our history and she had many friends and admirers on the West Coast.”

Star of books named after her, BBC films and peoples hearts its is now that she embarks on another chapter of her successful and highly faithful career renamed BRENDA CORLETT after the new owners wife. She has been bought by an operator who intends to use her to serve the islands of Sao Tome and Principe in the Gulf of Guinea, straddling the Equator. It is anticipated that she will leave the James Watt Dock before the end of 2004 - 30 Years and her lifetime spent in the Western Isles....

Text thanks to SoC Crew (C)

 SoC Special Pictorial Tribute...

PICTURE: Lawrence Macduff
Taking the worst in her stride

Without her nose in JWD

Covering shuttle work for the Isle of Mull with long term fleet mate IONA on the Craignure run.

 Farewell and Final Pictures...

PICTURE: Stuart McMohan
Dressed Up for her final cruise

Trademark lions removed

Renamed and ready for a new life...


All material on this site © Ships of CalMac 2001 - 2017, unless otherwise stated.
Join us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Join us on Flickr View us on YouTube SoC AIS SoC Forum Site NOT linked to Official Company
This site is NOT connected to the Official Company Site -
Contact Us ¦
Read our Privacy Policy