Crossing Time: 25 Minutes
Regular Ship: AliCat / Argyll Flyer
Mainland - Mainland
(Mainland - Cowal)
1954 - 1969: Arran / Bute / Cowal
1970: Clansman / Iona
1971: Iona / Glen Sannox
1972 - 1973: Glen Sannox / Maid of Cumbrae
1974 - 1985: Jupiter / Juno
1986 - 2002: Jupiter / Juno / Saturn
2002 - 2005: Jupiter / Juno / Saturn / Alicat
2006 - 2011: Jupiter / Alicat
2011 - Present: Alicat / Argyll Flyer
Pioneer / Claymore / Coruisk
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.
Dunoon: Vessels originally berthed at the century-old pier set out into the Clyde. Modern breakwater located to the south of the pier and incorporating a linkspan. Passenger waiting room is a small hut close to the top of the linkspan. What was originally a car marhsalling area is now used as a car park.
The first ever Clyde car ferry service was operated on the Gourock - Dunoon crossing in early January 1954. The ferry, Arran was one of three near sisters, the others being Bute and Cowal. They were the first ferries on the west coast to use hoists to load their vehicles at each terminal (click here to see how hoists worked and how methods of loading changed over the years) and their introduction brought about the radical modernisation programme which was seen right up Scotland's west coast.
The Gourock - Dunoon crossing has always been an important commuter run, carrying hundreds of workers to Gourock and the connecting trains to Glasgow. But with the introduction of the new car ferries on the Upper Clyde, car travel was much more readily possible as well. Indeed as time has gone by, the number of vehicles crossing the Clyde at this point has steadily increased.
It was 1970 that saw the Gourock - Dunoon crossing receive new tonnage. The new incumbent ferry was the former Mallaig - Armadale vessel Clansman of 1964. She was a stop-gap solution until the new Iona was ready for service in May of that year. At first the latter struggled with the route because she had to hoist load instead of using her bow and stern ramps. Once the linkspans at Gourock and Dunoon had been completed however, the Iona came into her own. She could end-load at Gourock whereas Dunoon pier now incorporated a linkspan set into it, at the northern end. The ferry used her starboard side ramp to load and unload her cars - a method that is still used today.
An old favourite of Arran; the Glen Sannox took over the Dunoon crossing in late 1971, having herself been converted to a stern loading vessel previously. She was partnered the following year by the little Maid of Cumbrae which had also seen radical surgery. This pair looked after the crossing ready for a new purpose-built ferry to take over in early 1974.
The Jupiter, and shortly afterwards her sister; Juno revolutionised further the Upper Clyde ferry services. This was no accident however, for a rival operator was now running a car ferry service from just outside Gourock to just outside Dunoon, using very minimalist ferries. The 'Streakers', as they became known as, were highly manoeuvrable thanks to a special propulsion system and they could berth with at ease at both terminals.
In the 1980s there was something of a dirty game being played, in which politics inevitably played a part. CalMac were forced to reduce their timetable on the Dunoon crossing to one sailing per hour and only a couple of extra sailings at peak times. Needless to say, the rival operator faced no such barriers and for the next 25 years the Gourock - Dunoon crossing remained limited to one sailing an hour.
In 2002 the second Streaker was replaced on the peak time commuter runs by a newly acquired passenger ferry; the Ali Cat. This neat little catamaran was built for Solent and Wightline Cruises but was chartered to CalMac, entering service on 21st October 2002. Passengers boarded Ali Cat via the linkspans at Gourock and Dunoon and the passage time was that of the Streakers, just over 20 minutes.
The service was very much in a state of decline by the time Ali Cat arrived on the scene and it fell to Saturn to carry out the last ever car ferry service from Gourock to Dunoon on 29th June 2011. It was a sad irony that those last few sailings that day carried the numbers of passengers that would normally only be seen on Cowal Highland Games weekend. The following day saw the Ali Cat become the Dunoon ferry, assisted by the chartered Clyde Clipper as required and a few weeks later she was joined by a new permanent running mate in the form of ex Aran Islands ferry Banrion Chonamara, renamed as Argyll Flyer. A new operating company was created and so it was that the Gourock – Dunoon was handed from CalMac to Argyll Ferries. The two passenger ferries ran a half hourly service for the majority of the day, starting at 0620 and finishing as late as midnight on certain days.
The two little ferries settled in to their roles well, but their size did leave them prone to pitching and rolling quite a bit in heavy seas. This led them to earn the unenviable nickname of ‘the bathtub boats’. There were many calls for the Saturn to be brought out of retirement as folk realised just what they had lost when the vehicle service was withdrawn – and it didn’t go down well when people were reminded of the old phrase ‘use it, don’t lose it’.
The Dunoon run, as with the rest of the CalMac network, was awarded via a lengthy tendering process administered by the Scottish Government who were keen for a private operator to take over and provide an unsubsidised vehicle service at their own risk. It came as little surprise when the tender exercise failed – even Western Ferries, whom the government had effectively handed the vehicle service monopoly to on a plate by withdrawing Saturn, wouldn’t take it on. Argyll Ferries’ days were numbered when it was announced in 2018 that the Dunoon service would be handed back to CalMac in early 2019. The two ferries had by this time been bought by CMAL, who since 2006 had become the owners of the fleet, chartering them to Argyll Ferries as the operating company.
And so it was in early 2019 that Gourock – Dunoon once again became part of the CalMac network. In practise nothing changed other than the paint jobs on the two ferries, with Argyll Flyer receiving her black hull and red funnels during her overhaul in late spring and then the Ali Cat getting done in the autumn. Red lions are once again to be seen at Dunoon, and loading off the ‘new’ linkspan at the breakwater.
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