Crossing Time: 55 Minutes
Regular Ship: Caledoian Isles / Isle of Arran (additional in Summer)
Ardrossan - Brodick
Mainland - Arran
1957 - 1969: Glen Sannox
1970: Glen Sannox / Caledonia
1971 - 1975: Caledonia
1976 - 1983: Clansman / Caledonia
1984 - 1992: Isle of Arran
1993: Isle of Arran / Caledonian Isles
1994 - 2003: Caledonian Isles
2004 - 2011: Caledonian Isles / Saturn (Summer only)
2011 - Present: Caledonian Isles / Isle of Arran (Summer only)
Iona / Pioneer / Claymore / Jupiter / Clansman / Isle of Mull (Additional runs or relief duties)
Ardrossan: Single linkspan set into the former entrance to a now filled-in dock, large vehicle waiting area and modern terminal building located close to the ferry berth. Large car park located next to queuing area, developed out along the breakwater. Direct passenger walkway from the ferry terminal building to the railway station platform a few yards away. There is also available a second linkspan, the "Irish Berth" which can be utilised at busy times (two ship operation) or times of maintenance.
Brodick: New terminal building located next to vehicle marshalling area. New pier with 2 berths nearby, perpendicular to the shore. One linkspan and one fixed concrete loading ramp. Passenger access to the linkspan berth is by way of raised airbridge walkway direct from the upper floor of the terminal building. Public transport facilities are also located close by, with Arran tour buses drawing up next to the terminal building.
It was 1957 that the Arran crossing became a modern car ferry service, upon the introduction of the now much-missed Glen Sannox. Initially Arran was served in the summer from Ardrossan and in winter from the more sheltered pier at Fairlie a few miles up the Ayrshire coast. Hoist loading was the order of the day for the first 13 years of car ferry operation, as neither terminal had a linkspan.
The Glen sannox was a fast vessel, achieving around 18 knots when she entered service. Because of this and her substantial passenger complement (1100) she became a popular ferry with islanders and tourists over the years. However, over the years she did encounter one main problem; her hoist - or rather the limitations it imposed. Being hydraulically operated it became slower moving and at low tides especially this led to substantial delays, often for tourists returning to the mainland at the end of a weekend.
It was in 1969 that a replacement vessel of drive through capabilities was purchased. The new ferry was formerly known as the Stena Baltica and after some months undergoing safety modifications, she took over the Ardrossan - Brodick crossing at the end of May 1970 as the Caledonia, reviving a name that had only been taken out of use the previous season.
Equipped with a visor, bow and stern ramps, the Caledonia could complete the crossing in just under an hour and required much less in the way of turnround time compared to her predecessor. She did have one fairly major drawback in that her vehicle capacity was only for about 40 cars and 650 passengers during the summer (less than 150 in winter). Before too long it was clear that another solution was required.
From the summer of 1976, Arran was served by the converted ferry Clansman which could carry significantly more cars than the smaller Caledonia, although the latter would resume the route during the winter seasons until that of 1983/84. The Clansman remained on the Clyde's longest crossing until the end of 1983 when a new, purpose-built ships was launched for impending entry into service.
The Isle of Arran maintained the main Arran crossing for nine years and set a new level of passenger comfort when she entered service - something which was repeatedly improved upon with subsequent launches.
Isle of Arran, like her two recent predecessors, used her bow visor and ramp at Ardrossan (or Gourock in inclement weather) and her stern at Brodick to load up to 76 cars on each sailling. But even with this level of capacity for cars, traffic levels still continued to increase and the Isle of Arran fell victim to her own success and so in 1993 she was cast aside in favour of the brand new Caledonian Isles - by far the grandest ship to serve Arran in terms of facilities on board, but not necessarily the most aesthetically pleasing to the eye!
The new arrival incorporated an intermediate level car deck to increase her capacity to 110 and her passenger accommodation was suitable for almost 1000 - only 100 short of the old Glen Sannox complement. In the first few seasons, the giant new ferry would be relieved by either her predecessor or the general relief vessel Iona.
After ten years on the crossing, the Caledonian Isles had, like all her predecessors, seen traffic levels rise during her employment there. In 2004 there was growing speculation that interests in Kintyre were eyeing up the Arran route with a view to running a rival ferry service, utilising former fleet member Claymore. This may or may not have led CalMac to announce that they would be running a two-ship service to Arran during the summer months in 2005. Their plan involved upgrading the Saturn, newly released from the Upper Clyde by the arrival of Bute, to Class III standard and deploying her as second ferry, based in Brodick. The deployment was officially a trial at first, but perhaps inevitably Saturn found herself returning in the summer months thereafter.
The two-ship situation has continued every summer since and following Finlaggan’s introduction at Islay in 2011, the Brodick based second vessel role fell to Isle of Arran. In addition to serving Arran she also began a further trial service and this saw her sailing three times a week from Ardrossan to Campbeltown, returning the following morning and calling in at Brodick on her inward Saturday run.
December 2017 saw the launch of the next new ferry destined for Arran. Named Glen Sannox in a public competition (as if the winner was going to be anything else!) she was held up as a shining example of progress. She was to be dual fuelled, running on either marine diesel or LNG and much glory was claimed by the incumbent SNP government. Unfortunately the Glen Sannox became embroiled in a political row that has led to years of delay – the ins and outs of the whole sorry affair, the alleged lies told on both sides, the political interference and negative publicity can be found elsewhere on the internet. At the time of writing (April 2020) she is still nowhere near anything even half resembling completion. Arran continues to be served by Caledonian Isles all year round, with Isle of Arran appearing during the summer months and also in January (with Hebridean Isles) for overhaul relief.
As well as the delays to Glen Sannox, Ardrossan harbour found itself at the centre of another argument. This time it centred around its suitability as a lifeline port. There were growing calls for the Arran service to be moved to Troon as a result of increased weather-related cancellations. Indeed berthing trials were conducted and for a day and a half in 2019, Caledonian Isles did actually have to divert there, with Gourock being unavailable. There were arguments fore and against each port, but the status quo won the day. Eventually whenever the Glen Sannox finally enters service, it is intended that she will partner the Caledonian Isles. In the meantime this delay does give the owners of Ardrossan time to live up to their promise of redeveloping the harbour. Watch this space, as they say…
Text thanks to John MacLeod and updated by Ships of CalMac
Dhuirnish approaching Rhubodach
Dhuirnish and Eilean Buidhe
Bruernish and Dhuirinish, Inchmarnock, 1985
Dhuirnish laid up at Port Bannatyne