Jupiter, Juno and Saturn – three names that have been closely associated with the Clyde estuarial ferry services for thirty years now. They were the second generation of Clyde car ferries, the first being the 1950s vessels; Arran, Bute and Cowal which took control of the upper Clyde crossings to Dunoon and Bute. In the 1970s however the time for hoist loading was fast approaching the end and a quicker and more frequent service was required on the services from Gourock and Wemyss Bay. The answer was to begin the installation of linkspans so as to facilitate roll-on roll-off operation. To complement these new facilities, a new generation of Clyde ferry was designed in the first years of the decade. The finished result, Jupiter was launched in November 1973 from Lamont’s Yard on the Clyde. She was quite different in appearance to anything previously seen in the upper Firth. All of her passenger accommodation was situated towards her bow whilst the rear two thirds of her length was an open car deck. Loading was via her three ramps – one at the stern and then port and starboard side ramps towards the front of her car deck. Her main mast took the form of a tripod arrangement just aft of her side ramps, inside her twin funnels.
She undertook sea trials in the Clyde and marked up some very impressive statistics. Her service speed was around 15 knots (although she could also achieve 13 knots astern and 3 knots sideways!) and when coupled to her extremely high maneuverability – thanks to the fitting of fore and aft Voith Schneider units – her new route saw the benefits immediately. She used her stern ramp at Gourock and side ramps at Dunoon, where the linkspan had been built into the pier rather than along it as at Gourock. In practice over the years only the starboard ramp was used in service – with the port side ramp being used in the event of a technical fault only.
Jupiter entered service in early 1974 on the Dunoon run and was immediately I competition with the rival operators; Western Ferries. On her own the Jupiter could operate an hourly timetable from each terminal whereas whilst the second ferry was in service (at this point the second ferry was Maid of Cumbrae) there was a departure from each port every half hour; the two ferries passing at the half way point. Incidentally, the Maid of Cumbrae had previously been converted from a passenger ferry to a car ferry using the same combination of stern and side ramps.
Such was the success of the Jupiter that a second vessel was never going to be far behind. An indeed on 16th September 1974 her sister ship was launched as Juno. Identical in every way apart from a flying bridge, the new ferry joined her sister on the Gourock – Dunoon crossing in December 1974, allowing the little Maid of Cumbrae to be retired. The flying bridge was added to the design following the Jupiter’s entry into service and allowed the captain far greater visibility when manoeuvring into position at either terminal. This feature was added to the Jupiter during her first overhaul, from which she emerged indistinguishable from her twin, even down to having her route emblazoned down both sides of her hull.
The pair revolutionised the Upper Clyde crossing to Argyll and soon became popular with locals and tourists alike. Their ability to achieve quick turnrounds at either terminal was well in their favour. Only the largest of articulated lorries found the loading arrangements tricky, although because the side ramps were significantly wider than the stern ramp, this was seldom a problem. With their speed and ability to manoeuvre, the new ferries became known as the ‘Streakers’ by those who knew them.
Eilean Mhor (note name change from Eilean Mor)
Eilean Fraoich II
Eielean Fraoich II and Lochfyne
It was another four years before the other Clyde route today associated with the ‘Streakers’ was upgraded to drive-through status. The new Bute ferry was a design development of the original two ‘Streakers’ and incorporated a few changes. The Saturn eventually took up service on the Wemyss Bay – Rothesay crossing in February 1978, by which time the necessary linkspans had been installed. Rothesay had been given the same side-loading arrangement as had Dunoon some years previously. Again, predominantly the starboard side ramp was used in regular service.
The Saturn was easily distinguishable from the Juno and Jupiter from a distance. She had no flying bridge for a visibility aid. Instead the Saturn was given an extra high level bridge, the wings of which had the height of the earlier twins’ flying bridges. This extra height meant the area used by the bridge compartment on the Jupiter and Juno could be opened up for passenger deck space on the new ferry. Her mast arrangement was also very different. Gone was the tripod arrangement astern of the side ramps. A main mast was fitted on her upper passenger deck instead. Like her elder semi-siblings, Saturn also had her route plastered down the sides of her hull, for all to see that she was the ‘Rothesay Ferry’.
For a number of years, the three sisters remained closely tied to their intended routes, however the Jupiter broke the mould when she was upgraded for passenger certification purposes. This was to allow her to provide additional sailings to and from Brodick on Arran – somewhere the other two were prohibited from taking passengers. Indeed the Jupiter gave several runs from Ardrossan to Brodick during the early 1980s, although this was often for gas tankers which the regular vessel, Clansman could not carry in her enclosed car deck. This practice ceased in early 1984 however when the new Isle of Arran joined the fleet and took over the Arran service.
There was a serious threat to one of the two original sisters in the early 1980s. It was recommended that one of them should be disposed of (along with several smaller vessels) as there was not enough demand for a half hourly car ferry service from Gourock to Dunoon and keeping one ‘Streaker’ for passenger runs was too expensive. This threat passed however and all three ferries survive to this day.
n 1986 there was something of a shake up in the Upper Clyde. The three sisters now moved between the Dunoon and Bute crossings on a roster system – a process that has continued ever since. Between the years of 1993 and 2000, weekdays saw one of the ferries employed on cruise duties during the high summer seasons. The little Keppel had been doing this but was withdrawn in 1992. Destinations for the ‘Streaker’ cruises varied from Tighnabruaich in the Kyles of Bute to Tarbert in Loch Fyne and Largs and Rothesay etc. As traffic levels grew on the Rothesay crossing in the mid to late 1990s, the cruises still carried on during the weekdays as an extra vessel was put on to cover the new secondary Rothesay timetable – the much travelled and popular Pioneer. Several years previously she had been converted to the same stern and side ramp combination as the Jupiter and family – the vehicle hoist being removed in the process.
With four ferries operating in the Upper Clyde towards the end of the decade, the possibilities and variety of routes increased, albeit for only three seasons. In addition to the midweek cruises provided by one of the sisters, Pioneer also offered a twice weekly return sailing from Rothesay to Brodick. This could be tied in with connecting sailings to Rothesay by a ‘Streaker’ (which in turn took up the Bute run in lieu of the Pioneer).
In the last few years things have settled down to a regular routine, compared to ten years previously. The Juno, Jupiter and Saturn continued to switch between services whilst the Pioneer became the dedicated second Bute ferry and also covered on the Dunoon crossing at selected peak times and when the ‘Streakers’ were on overhauls or off for maintenance.
It is clear now though that change is inevitable in the near future. Even now the ‘Streakers’ are already under additional pressure to provide the Dunoon and Bute crossings at the level they have now been for several years. Currently there is no spare vessel on standby. The Pioneer lies all melancholy in the James Watt Dock at Greenock awaiting her fate. Should there be a major failure of one of the ‘Streakers’ then one of the others would have to leave their route and go and cover. In winter there is additional tonnage available in the form of the new Coruisk, although this does involve a period spent upriver having gangway wings added to her already oversized superstructure if she is required for the Rothesay crossing!
In spring 2005 Caledonian MacBrayne are expecting to take delivery of the first of what is likely to become the third generation of Clyde ferry. As yet she does not have a name assigned to her (and there is much speculation as to what this might be) but upon her arrival, it has already been announced that one of the current ‘Streakers’ will be withdrawn. Whether this means the end for that particular vessel remains to be seen. There are two options possible at the current time. One is that the Jupiter, or whichever of her sisters the axe falls on, will be either sold or scrapped at the age of approximately 30. The other possibility is that she will be retained in a spare capacity for some time to come, although given that the new ferry will have bow and stern ramps as well as on the starboard side, and there have already been drawings of potential modifications at Rothesay pier to allow drive-through operation, it is unlikely that if she is kept as spare it would be for much longer than the new vessel’s settling in period.
So after 30 years it would appear that the end is approaching for the ‘Streakers’. They have been a familiar sight for thousands as they ply their way across the Clyde estuary day in, day out; transporting the many thousands of commuters and tourists alike. Their versatility and reliability have been a credit to their designs and the fact that the eldest of the ships has just celebrated her 30th birthday just shows these ferries were built to last.
Text thanks to John MacLeod
Dhuirnish approaching Rhubodach
Dhuirnish and Eilean Buidhe
Bruernish and Dhuirinish, Inchmarnock, 1985
Dhuirnish laid up at Port Bannatyne
Text from SoC Crew
29 October 2021