Crossing Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Regular Ship: Catriona
Tarbert (Loch Fyne) - Lochranza (Winter Only)
Mainland - Arran
1995 - 2016: Loch Tarbert / Loch Riddon
2016 - Present: Catriona
Various members of the Loch Class ferries on winter duties.
Tarbert: A small vehicle queuing area before the concrete slipway, sticking out into East Loch Tarbert. There is also a car park next to the slipway, with sufficient space for a dozen or so cars. For foot passengers there is a small shelter just up from the slipway. Nearby there is the village of Tarbert with various shops and supplies.
Lochranza: Recently rebuilt pier provides ferry berth when not in use. Slipway and marshalling area located next to the pier, as is the bus stop for public transport routes around Arran.
The winter only service between Kintyre and Arran was started in the mid-1990s following the introduction of the new seasonal service between Tarbert and Portavadie. Initially the service to Lochranza was intended as a means of carrying dangerous good to Arran without the need to run Caledonian Isles on expensive extra sailings to Brodick. (Her enclosed car deck meant such loads as petrol and gas cylinders were not permitted on passenger-carrying sailings.) The provision of a vessel based at Tarbert was the ideal scenario and with a passage time of 90 minutes it wasn’t pushing the boundaries by any stretch of the imagination.
It seemed only logical that the Portavadie link could be utilised and with its popularity during the summer months it was only a matter of time before a year-round service came about. The first winter service was run as a trial, testing the water (pardon the pun)and it fell to Loch Striven to carry this out after her season at Largs was finished. This trial season was deemed successful and unwittingly allowed a glimpse of the service that was to follow. As part of the trial run, Loch Striven would provide two or three morning sailings to Portavadie before setting out for Lochranza at lunchtime. The round trip took three hours and she was back at Tarbert in time to do a final couple of crossings to Portavadie in the late afternoon.
The 1994/95 winter was a success and paved the way for permanent year-round saiings. Though at the time there was something of a reversal of logic going on. The winter vessel was larger and could carry more than the summer vessel, the well-travelled Rhum. The latter was starting to struggle with the demand in the summer and it was only a matter of time before a Loch Class ferry would take over full-time.
Initially the crossing from Tarbert to Lochranza was only run on certain days of the week and for hazardous loads only. Before long it was opened up as a bookable public sailing, albeit with a limit of 12 passengers. Everything had to be booked via the Kennacraig office. Due to the exposed nature of the latter part of the journey to Lochranza, when heavy weather set in this was often one of the first routes subject to disruption as the small ferry remained in the safety of Tarbert's harbour - the same is still true to this day.
The first week of the winter timetable has always coincided with the school holidays in late October and as such the Lochranza service always continued running to Claonaig for one week only, with the ferry moving to Tarbert thereafter. From about 2000 onwards Loch Tarbert would start open the service for the winter, with Loch Riddon taking over from mid December and remaining in charge until Isle of Cumbrae came back in March. More recently however the Catriona has been based at Tarbert for most of the winter, with Loch Riddon covering for her overhaul and relief stint at Cumbrae only.