Crossing Time: 30-45 minutes
Loch Fyne / Lord of the Isles / Loch Bhrusda (summer)
Mallaig - Armadale
Mainland - Skye
1964 - 1972: Clansman
1973 - 1974: Columba
1975 - 1978: Bute
1979: Bute / Pioneer
1980 - 1988: Pioneer
1989 - 1997: Iona
1998: Pioneer / Lord of the Isles
1999 - 2002: Lord of the Isles
2003: Pioneer / Coruisk
2004 - 2015: Coruisk (summer) / Lochnevis (winter)
2016: Lochinvar / Lord of the Isles / Loch Bhrusda / Lochnevis (winter)
2017 - Present: Loch Fyne / Lord of the Isles / Loch Bhrusda / Lochnevis (winter)
Claymore (Winter service or relief duties).
Mallaig: Linkspan fitted in 1994 at main ferry berth. Train station located close by. Vehicle marshalling area and office facilities located adjacent to the town centre.
Armadale: Linkspan - like Mallaig - fitted in 1994. Vehicle marshalling area and terminal office facilities situated at the pier. Hoistable passenger gangway installed on the pier for use with the latest vessel. There is also a car park and small local shops located at the terminal.
In 1964, the second of a batch of 3 ferries built for David MacBrayne was put into service on the Mallaig – Armadale crossing. The Clansman used her hoist at both ports as linkspans had not yet been introduced on the west coast of Scotland. The new vessel was relatively under-utilised on the route and she was also chosen to serve Lochboisdale on an overnight schedule on certain nights from 1967. Castlebay was eventually added to the schedule too and there were tweaks to her Skye timetable to accommodate. The Clansman was around for 9 years before being called away for somewhat drastic surgery and she was replaced on the Sound of Sleat by her younger sister Columba, herself replaced on the Sound of Mull route from Oban.
The ex-Clyde ferry Bute took over the Sound of Sleat crossing in 1975 after having her hoist extended so as to cope with the greater tidal range of Mallaig – certainly far greater than she was used to on the Clyde. The new ferry was on the seasonal crossing for four years. It is perhaps down to the route being only seasonal, and the state of the road from Fort William for a long time that ferries with a relatively small car capacity were able to manage all the traffic. Indeed, in 1979 when Bute was replaced, it was by a ferry with roughly the same car capacity. The Pioneer had previously served Islay which was a stern loading route, using primitive access ramps. For her new occupation she was fitted with a vehicle hoist and side ramps.
Pioneer was to spend from 1979 until 1989 on the seasonal Skye service. She also relieved the little Lochmor on the Small Isles run during the winter months, when the regular ferry was away at Stornoway for overhaul.
1989 saw another ferry placed on the Armadale crossing; the 1970-built Iona. Again, hoist loading was the order of the day, and this remained the case until 1994 when linkspans were finally installed at Mallaig and Armadale for Iona to use – at last upgrading the route and all but banishing hoist loading to the history books. Hebridean Isles made a one-off appearance at both ports to conduct berthing trials, however never actually took a service run on the route. As with every other drive through service, the timetable was increased to offer more sailings per day. 1997 turned out to be the Iona’s last season in Calmac service for technical and regulatory reasons. 1998 saw the route being placed in the care of the mighty Lord of the Isles. Formerly an Oban-based fleet member, the ship now had a much quieter life plying backwards and forwards between Skye and the mainland in addition to sailings to the Outer Isles. She was on this particular route until 2003 when she returned to Oban to enhance timetables there.
The Pioneer once again returned to Mallaig for the 2003 season as a temporary ferry until the new, purpose-built Coruisk was introduced in late August. The new ferry did not have a promising start to her career, with technical problems dogging her in trials on the Clyde and then in service at Skye, but the most spectacular incident being as she entered Mallaig harbour one summer evening when she lost power and steering and collided with a rock at the entrance to the harbour and lost one of her propulsion units (which was there for all to see – perched on the offending rock after the tide dropped!) The Loch Fyne was sent up from the Sound of Mull as emergency cover, (despite not being designed to use linkspans) until the Pioneer arrived once again and saw out the summer timetable.
Coruisk returned in spring 2004 after a winter of relief's on the Clyde and settled quietly into her role whilst managing not to attract further unfavourable attention, although a further spell on the Clyde was necessitated in September 2004 for fitting of a new drive unit. Loch Fyne was again sent up to cover for this ten day period. When Coruisk returned she was finally able to settle into her summer routine of 7 or 8 daily return crossings to Armadale. In the winter months the Coruisk was not to be found in the Sound of Sleat. Instead she was assigned relief duties on the Upper Clyde. During these periods the timetable for Skye was slashed to just two return sailings, one in the early morning and one in the evening. The vessel used for these was the Lochnevis, sailing before and after her Small Isles jaunts.
Coruisk and Lochnevis were the Mallaig partners for over a decade before controversial changes were made. The middle of March, shortly before the start of the summer timetable would normally see Coruisk returning from the Clyde, however in 2016 there was much disquiet in Sleat, for the Coruisk had been diverted to Mull to serve as second vessel on the busy Oban – Craignure route. In her place at Mallaig was a flotilla service provided by the smaller Lochinvar running as main vessel, supported by three return sailings by Lord of the Isles in between her arrival from and departure to Lochboisdale. Further additional support was provided by the Loch Bhrusda, which sailed when required, for example she would sail on Lord of the Isles’ timetables if weather had prevented the larger ship from crossing from South Uist.
The 2016 service drew heavy criticism from the Sleat community and local councillors on Skye. For the first time the timetables were subject to tidal disruptions – not from the lack of water at the ferry berths, rather the angle of the linkspan and Lochinvar’s ramps at certain states of the tide risked grounding larger vehicles attempting to board or disembark. Such vehicles were directed to book to sail on Lord of the Isles where possible. Lochinvar did actually serve the route well despite the angry wrath levelled at her and in fairness it was argued on social media at the time that certain complainants would be unhappy with any vessel other than Coruisk, in a similar way to the folk of Tiree are protective of the Clansman and those on North Uist will not accept anything but the Hebrides!
Nonetheless an alternative solution was devised for the 2017 season and Lochinvar was despatched to Lochaline to take up the service to Fishnish. Loch Fyne was thus released from her long term employment on the Sound of Mull and she was sent to the James Watt Dock to have her ramps modified for use on linkspans (she was re-engined the following year too). With this done she ventured north to Mallaig and took over as the main vessel on the Armadale run. Lord of the Isles continued to provide her three sailings and Loch Bhrusda was on hand to step in where required. This has been the service since then and the grumblings seem have died down from the Skye side. One day Coruisk is likely to return, though until the new Glen Sannox is finally completed in years to come, she will remain very much on Skye’s wish list.