Crossing Time: 10 Minutes
Regular Ship: Loch Shira / Loch Riddon (summer only)
Largs - Cumbrae
Mainland - Cumbrae
1972 - 1976: Coruisk & Largs
1977: Coruisk & Largs / Isle of Cumbrae
1978 - 1985: Isle of Cumbrae
1986: Isle of Cumbrae / Loch Striven & Loch Linnhe
1987 - 1996: Loch Linnhe & Loch Striven
1997: Loch Riddon & Loch Linnhe
1998 - 2006: Loch Alainn & Loch Riddon
2007 - Present: Loch Shira & Loch Riddon
Various members of the Island Class and Loch Class ferries on relief duties
Largs: Substantial breakwater pier housing the slipway and providing several vessel berths. Ticket office at the top of the slipway, adjacent to the main road through the town. Car parking and toilets located close-by. Vehicle queue is accessed from a back street via a one-way system.
Cumbrae Slip: One slipway, wide enough to accommodate two ferries at once. Bus shelter at the top of the slipway, with a frequent bus service to Millport. Car park and toilets located adjacent to slipway.
Cumbrae gained its current car ferry service back in 1972, following the wave of vessel redundancies at the Caledonian Steam Packet Company's northern outpost at Kyle of Lochalsh. Two of the ferries from that service were converted to a bow-loading arrangement and began a frequent service from a new slipway at Largs to one built opposite on Cumbrae, just ten minutes away. The ferries that made this route 'home' were the Coruisk and the Largs (ex Kyleakin). Each could carry a handful of cars and around 50 passengers on their open car decks. Prior to this service being introduced, the only way of getting vehicles onto the island was by ferry From Fairlie to Millport. It was decided that the more frequent service would be far more beneficial than the direct route to Millport, especially with the provision of the buses between the town and the ferry.
During the 1970s, a wide variety of ferries saw service on the route as it was seen as a handy testing point for the new 'Island Class' ships. Indeed, the Kilbrannan saw a period of time as back up on this route, when traffic levels were too high for the just two boats.
With traffic levels in mind, CalMac announced the imminent arrival of a new and purpose-built ships intended for the Cumbrae route. The Isle of Cumbrae duly arrived on station in 1977, brining with her a vehicle capacity of 18 per crossing. She could operate two double runs every hour, with five minute turnarounds to reload at either terminal. Upon her introduction the two older ex Skye ferries were used only as back-ups or winter relief ships. Indeed, by the time the Isle of Cumbrae was herself moved off the Cumbrae run, the Largs and Coruisk were long gone.
1986 saw new more new ferries enter service. Though slightly smaller than the Isle of Cumbrae, the new Loch Striven and Loch Linnhe could carry between them 48 cars in each direction per hour when they were both in service. The two new twins, all but indistinguishable from one another, settled quickly into their new roles. At peak periods both ferries worked in tandem, while in the quieter times one could handle all the traffic while the other would lie idle or, as was more often the case, relieve on another crossing elsewhere.
The twins were paired with each other for ten years, until 1997 when the Loch Striven was transferred to the Western Isles and took over the Raasay crossing. Loch Linnhe remained at Largs and was now partnered by another of her sisters; the Loch Riddon – herself displaced from the Kyles of Bute by the Isle of Cumbrae.
1998 however, saw the other established Cumbrae ferry leave her home for pastures new. Taking her place at Cumbrae was the former Sound of Mull ferry Loch Alainn which had suffered major problems and had now been earmarked as the new regular Cumbrae ferry, providing the main service and being assisted at peak periods by the smaller Loch Riddon. The pair remained in charge of the ten minute crossing from Largs for the next 7 years. During the winter the Loch Alainn maintained the service on her own, while Loch Riddon ventured off around the network on relief duties.
In 2005 it was announced that the Largs - Cumbrae Slip route was to receive a new ferry once again. The order was placed with Ferguson's and construction began in early 2006. During the summer CalMac revealed plans for the new vessel. She was to be a new variant of the Loch Class and was essentially an amalgamation of the designs for the Loch Dunvegan and the Loch Portain with a planned capacity for 36 cars and 250 passengers. Named Loch Shira and launched on 8th December 2006, she was expected to enter service in April 2007. It was actually some weeks later before she took her place at Largs, partnering the Loch Riddon. Loch Alainn then stood aside and moved up to Gourock for maintenance.
All went relatively smoothly with the Loch Shira, although there was one spell of several days when one of her Voith units required the urgent attention of engineers from Germany. During that spell the vessel displaced by the Loch Alainn at Eriskay; the Loch Bhrusda stepped in to provide cover. This was not entirely without its drawbacks though, as the water-jet propelled vessel proved very difficult to manoeuvre and was very expensive to run. There were sighs of relief when the Loch Shira was able to return to service.
Things seemed to settle down with Loch Shira bedding in well. She soldiers on and has proved herself to be a reliable ship, often occupying the main roster and Loch Riddon on the secondary roster. During the winter months, one ship is more than enough and Loch Shira is usually relieved by one of the hybrids, usually Catriona.