Crossing Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Regular Ship: Pioneer
Rothesay - Brodick
Bute - Mainland - Arran
1994 - 1998: Pioneer
1998: Jupiter (relief cover)
Rothesay: Terminal set on the pier with the linkspan set into the face - as at Dunoon. Vehicles queue back along the pier access road, next to the Victorian gardens. The inner faces of the pier also provide extra ferry berths for spare vessels - especially used by 'Loch Class' ferries during the winter months.
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 lengthy one-way system.
Brodick: Terminal building located next to passenger boarding area and at the end of the vehicle lanes. Linkspan and passenger gangways are accessed via causeways due to water depth nearer the shore. Public transport facilities are also located close by, with Arran tour buses drawing up next to the queuing area.
Before 1994, the only way of getting between the islands of Bute and Arran was via the mainland - a journey which would often take over half the day to complete.
In 1994 however, a new seasonal route was opened up in the CalMac network on a trial basis. Using the secondary Wemyss Bay - Rothesay ferry, Pioneer, there would be a twice weekly return sailing from Rothesay to Brodick on Arran.
By this time of course, the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay route had grown significantly since its early roll-on roll-off days and now warranted its own two vessels employed full time. Removing Pioneer for a substantial chunk of the day would only serve to create queues for the remaining Streaker to clear on each sailing, so it was decided that the second vessel at Gourock (one of the other streakers employed on the 1A roster for peak-time sailings to Dunoon and idle through the day) would be brought down to cover the 2A roster at Rothesay.
The Pioneer would depart Rothesay for Brodick mid-morning and cross the Upper Firth to Largs first of all. As well as being a scheduled car ferry service, this new crossing was also marketed as part of the Clyde cruising season in addition to the 1A streaker's cruises to places such as Tighnabruaich and Tarbert between the peak Dunoon sailings. Of course no vehicles could be taken on at Largs as there is no linkspan there, but the extra call did allow new passengers to join the ship for the sailing to Brodick.
From Largs, Pioneer would then sail down the Firth and around to the south of the Cumbraes before heading directly for Brodick. This part of the crossing opened up excellent views of Goatfell and Glen Sannox in the north of the island as the vessel skirted down the east shores.
Upon arrival at Brodick the ferry would berth stern-in at the linkspan and offload any vehicles via the rather large stern ramp. Foot passengers would disembark via means of a gangway provided on the pier. Once all her passengers unloaded, the ferry would sometimes vacate the linkspan to allow the Caledonian Isles arrive from Ardrossan and depart with the return sailing. Pioneer would then return to the linkspan , reload and set off back to Rothesay via Largs.
Loadings for this seasonal service were never really that impressive and the service only lasted a handful of seasons before it was removed from the summer timetables. In 1998 Pioneer was called away for Western Isles service and it was left to Jupiter to operate the Brodick service (which she could do thanks to being upgraded to Class III standards back in the early 1980s) until the regular ferry's return.
There are at present no plans to reopen the route and once more the only link between the two island remains via the mainland.