Crossing Time: 12 minutes
Regular Ship: Chieftain
Gourock - Kilcreggan
Mainland - Mainland
1967 - 1971: Countess of Breadalbane
1969 - 1972: One of the 'Maid' class vessels on the RNAD Charter
1972 - 1974: Maid of Cumbrae
1974 - 1977: Juno / Jupiter on the RNAD Charter
1977 - 1995: Juno / Jupiter / Saturn / Pioneer on the RNAD Charter
1995 - 2020: Not Calmac
2020 - Present: Chieftain (on charter)
Additional: Ali Cat
Gourock: CalMac headquarters located in terminal building, adjacent to railway station. Large passenger waiting room and facilities. Single linkspan and gangway at main berth for Dunoon ferry, but also used for Arran and Bute ferries in rough weather. Smaller vessels berth at second jetty, further up from linkspan berth. Vehicles queue back along the road in specially designated lanes. Car parking is available in limited form back towards main road although a large car park is located at the railway station. Chieftain departs from the steps at the head of the linkspan.
Kilcreggan: Old steamer pier with a waiting room at the head of the pier.
Kilcreggan, sited on the southern tip of the Rosneath peninsula had long been an important call as part of the vast network of Clyde Steamers. The first pier here was constructed in 1850 but services didn't head across to Gourock. Steamers calling were heading on to the Holy Loch, Loch Goil, Loch Long, Dunoon or Rothesay. It wasn't until 1889 that the link to Gourock was established when the Caledonian Steam Packet commenced sailings from the newly completed railhead of the Caledonian Railway.
Kilcreggan was a very busy pier which had a signalling system in place to allocate berths to approaching steamers. Despite this, a larger pier was contructed in 1897. The direct link to Gourock became established as part of the Holy Loch Run. The steamer would depart Gourock, call at Kilcreggan then head over to the Holy Loch.
Over the winter of 1951-52 an overhaul of British Rail Shipping Services saw small motor vessels placed on a route between Gourock, Kilcreggan and then either Blairmore or Craigendoran. In 1967 the Holy Loch run became the standard route of the Countess of Breadalbane all year round.
The deep waters of the Clyde lochs lend themselves well to submarine activities and a large Royal Naval Armaments Depot (RNAD) was constructed at Coulport employing many staff from the Gourock side of the river. The quickest way for them to get to work was to cross from Gourock, and to that end, the MoD started a charter on the 13th October 1969 using a 'Maid'. Originally she left Gourock at 0715 and 0745 and departed Kilcreggan at 1710 and 2015 for the return journey. The opposite leg of these sailings was open to the public.
The Holy Loch run was terminated on the 28th May 1971, the Countess of Breadalbane was sold to Roy Ritchie who placed her on runs from Gourock to Blairmore and Helensburgh as Countess of Kempock. After that Kilcreggan was serviced by two of the 'Maids' working the Upper Clyde services, including the RNAD runs. By this time the Maid of Cumbrae had undergone conversion to a vehicle ferry and became one of the dedicated Dunoon ferries. From November 1972 she also served Kilcreggan in a passenger capacity in between her Dunoon sailings.
1974 was the last year Calmac operated the public sailings to Kilcreggan, suncontracting the run to Roy Ritche who placed his Countess of Kempock on the route. A brief history of Ritchie's follows:
Running alongside the established railway services, since 1930, were Ritchie Brothers. They departed Goruock from a slipway around the head of Gourock steamer pier and sailed direct to Kilcreggan using vessels such as Port Star, Kempock Lad, Lady Jane Ritchie, Tiger and Westering Home. Ritchie's also ran services from Gourock to Helensburgh (from 1955 and using Granny Kempock) and between Rosneath and Rhu (from 1933).
More vessels were added to the fleet, including the former CSP vessel Ashton which was renamed Gourockian. Countess of Kempock (previously Countess of Breadlabane) joined Roy Ritchie's fleet in 1971 and for two years sailed from Gourock to Helensburgh and Blairmore. The year round service to Kilcreggan ceased in 1972 and the route became a seasonal on from the winter of 1972-73.
As we have seen, from 1974 Ritchie ran the Kilcreggan service using Countess of Kempock, or Granny Kempock while CalMac operated the RNAD charters using one of the Gourock based Dunoon vessels Juno or Jupiter. This situation continued until 1979. In that year Roy Ritchie died and the Granny Kempock and Countess of Kempock were sold, the last run taking place on 31st March 1979 .
To fill the breach, Clyde Marine Motoring services stepped in using vessels now well known on the Clyde such as Rover, The Second Snark, and Kenilworth. The latter vessel became the established Gourock, Kilcreggan and Helensburgh ferry whilst CalMac continued to provide RNAD services. From 1982 Clyde Marine ran the services, not as a sub charter from CalMac, but with a direct subsidy from the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive (SPT).
Kilcreggan was a busy pier in the 1980s and 1990s. Kenilworth called on her normal sailings as did one of Juno, Jupiter and Saturn on their RNAD charters. The streakers swapped rosters monthly. Also calling at Kilcreggan was Waverley, by then operating for the PSPS, Keppel, cruising for CalMac, and The Second Snark, cruising for Clyde Marine.
The RNAD charter ceased on the 30th September 1995, workers then being transported the long way round by coach, and CalMac ceased their involvement with Kilcreggan on the 13th October. Pioneer gave the final call and upon departure whistled three times. Clyde Marine continued to operate the Kenilworth between Gourock and Kilcreggan with occasional sailings extended to Helensburgh. By 2006 the veteran vessel was seen as outdated and 'not fit for service' so a replacement was ordered. The originally named Seabus was launched in September 2006 and took over the Kilcreggan route in March 2007. Surprisingly to many, after a retender of the route, a new operator took over the crossing from 1st April 2012, despite a protest of over 400 people with fears for the future of the service.
Clydelink took over the run and immediately dropped the Helensburgh sailings limiting the run to sailings between Gourock and Kilcreggan only. As part of their winning tender Clydelink had promised a brand new 16m vessel capable of carrying 60 passenegers which never materialised. Instead they purchased Island Princess from Southern England and she commenced service on a 7 day week timetable from the 1st April 2012. The Sunday sailings were dropped in October but before that Clydelink ran into difficulties with the safety management system. Forced to cease operations a coach service was put on between Gourock and Kilcreggan. Services resumed with a reduced timetable, and a second vessel was procured - Cailin Oir - which didn't have the certification to carry more than 12 passengers. Occasionally she operated the crossing when Island Princess was off for repairs but in 2014 she returned to Ireland leaving Island Princess to operate alone.
Clydelink continued to be troubled by breakdowns and provided a completely unreliable service, resulting in the contract being removed from Clydelink and Clyde Marine taking over the route again from the 14th May 2018. The Seabus returned but with a new colour - blue - and a new name - Chieftain. She had spent her years away from Kilcreggan operating in the Highlands along parts of the Caledonian Canal and on the Firth of Forth.
After a lot of campaigning from locals the route was incorporated into the Government supported Clyde and Hebridean Ferry Services Network. This meant that overseeing of the route passed from SPT to Transport Scotland. CalMac took over the route on the 1st June 2020 from Clyde Marine and are using Chieftain under lease from Clyde Marine. On the 6th May 2020 Ali Cat called at Kilcreggan for trials in case Chieftain was to be delayed returning from refit. In April, May and June 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic three sailings a day were proviided with no service at weekends, but when the restrictions were lifted CalMac operated to the same schedule set out by Clyde Marine.