Crossing Time: 15 Minutes
Regular Ship: Lochinvar
Lochaline - Fishnish
Mainland - Mull
1973: Morvern / Bruernish / Coll
1974 - 1975: Coll
1976: Coll / Canna
1976 - 1985: Canna
1986: Canna / Loch Linnhe / Isle of Cumbrae
1987 - 1996: Isle of Cumbrae
1997: Isle of Cumbrae / Loch Alainn / Loch Dunvegan / Loch Fyne
1998 - 2017: Loch Fyne
2017 - Present: Lochinvar
Various members of the Island Class and Loch Class ferries on relief duties.
Lochaline: Slipway and berthing structure facing up the loch, adjacent to the narrow entrance to Loch Aline. There is also a small cafe located near to the slipway on the stone pier. Vehicles queue back along the access road to a small marshalling area.
Fishnish: Simple concrete slipway set out into the Sound of Mull. Nearby there is a small waiting room and toilets for passengers to use whilst waiting for the ferry. Vehicles queue back along the road. There is also a very limited car parking area adjacent to the slipway which is used by local service buses for turning.
The short crossing from Lochaline, on the Morvern peninsula, to Fishnish on the Isle of Mull was one of the many 'back-door' routes to be started in the 1970s as part of a drive to reduce sea crossing times. Before 1973, Lochaline was served by the Columba on the route from Oban via Craignure. This journey utilised the old Lochaline pier in the Sound of Mull, however 1973 saw a new crossing started by the appropriately named Morvern. She used a new slipway constructed in Loch Aline which was far more sheltered than the exposed old pier in the Sound of Mull - and just as well, for the slipway faced up the loch, meaning a tight 180º turn to get to the berth. The Mull terminal was installed at Fishnish, directly opposite Lochaline and only 15 minutes sail away. The little Morvern was soon replaced on the route she was named after, by the slightly larger Bruernish, then the Coll and eventually, in 1976 the crossing was placed in the care of its first long term resident ship, the Canna.
Ten years passed with the Canna in control of the Lochaline run and as the 1980s progressed, she found herself less and less able to cater for all the traffic on offer. She often required assistance from one of her sister ships to clear the backlog of cars from either terminal, and she was identified as the limiting factor in terms of commercial traffic development, requiring all vehicles to reverse either on or off. As a result of this, the route was identified as one of those to be upgraded in 1986 following the delivery of four new double-ended car ferries. Initially the new Loch Linnhe began her career on the Lochaline crossing but a month after her arrival, in July 1986 the new dedicated vessel arrived on the scene; the Isle of Cumbrae. With space for 18 cars on the new ferry, the queues simply vanished. Commercial traffic was also seen to rise and this continued for the next ten years.
The 1990s again saw an increase in the numbers of cars opting for the scenic drive across Morvern and the shorter hop over to Mull. The Isle of Cumbrae often sailed full during the summer months of 1995 and 1996 and so the route was again chosen to receive a further new. The Loch Alainn was a product of the Buckie Shipyard on the east coast and offered car deck space for 24 cars and could happily carry two coaches side by side. Essentially she was a larger version of the Loch Bhrusda, built a year earlier – the only differences being a wider hull and Voith units on the Loch Alainn.
The new ship duly arrived in the height of the summer season of 1997 but actually served Mull for just a month. In mid-August the new ferry broke down in a big way and had to be sent to the Clyde for repairs. She spent several months languishing in dock and as events turned out, she was not to return to the Sound of Mull. Emergency cover had to be found at Lochaline and the company turned to the Island Class ferries Eigg and Coll in the short term; Eigg being brought down from Tobermory and Coll from Oban. Raasay was also called in at one point too. A long term solution was found in the form of the Loch Dunvegan which had, since October 1995, sat awaiting sale on the Clyde. Fortunately no sale had been agreed and the former Skye ferry was reactivated. Loch Dunvegan reached Lochaline and immediately took over duties on 19th August, bringing an unintended huge increase in capacity.
Anyone would be forgiven for thinking the Sound of Mull carried a curse that summer, for less than 5 weeks after her reactivation the Loch Dunvegan too suffered a breakdown serious enough to require her removal from service. Loch Fyne was duly also reactivated and arrived at Lochaline on 27th September, taking over from relief ferry Loch Striven. In the space of one summer no less than eight vessels had served the short crossing on the Sound of Mull!
Fortunately Loch Fyne broke the 1997 curse of the Sound of Mull and settled back into regular employment, becoming the main vessel all year round. It was to be 20 years before any significant changes came about. 2017 saw Loch Fyne being sent back to Skye as one of the Mallaig based fleet. Her place at Lochaline was taken by the smaller hybrid ferry Lochinvar. Ordinarily this would have raised eyebrows however following the introduction of RET and successive hikes in the price of the Corran Ferry, the Lochaline to Fishnish crossing was no longer continuing increases in passenger and vehicle numbers – for around the same money people could now access Mull via the more scenic route to Tobermory or the more mainstream route from Oban to Craignure.
Lochinvar’s introduction was made possible by the installation of the necessary battery charging infrastructure at Lochaline. She became the regular ferry throughout the year and was relieved during February her Raasay-based sister, Hallaig. As part of ongoing infrastructure development across the west coast, the old terminal building at Fishnish was replaced with a new and larger facility, like that at Lochranza, while the slipway and overnight berth at Lochaline were rebuilt during a six week period from late October in 2019. The car ferry service was suspended to permit this work and Lochinvar switched to a special timetable running for passengers only and she used the old steamer pier out in the Sound of Mull during this time.
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