Crossing Time: 20 Minutes
Regular Ship: Loch Ranza
Tayinloan - Gigha
Mainland - Gigha
Pre 1979: Islay ferry - on passage to Port Ellen.
1979 - 1991: Bruernish
1992 - Present: Loch Ranza
Various members of the Island Class and Loch Class ferries on relief duties.
Gigha: Simple concrete slipway located close to the island's main village. The ferry berths at the south pier overnight.
Tayinloan: Slipway and pier accessed via low level bridge from car park and queuing area. Traffic is directed forward by red/green lights operated from the ferry slip.
Prior to 1979 the tiny island of Gigha was served by the Islay ferry which called in while crossing to and from Port Ellen. From 1974 the Pioneer was in charge of the route and cargo bound for Gigha was offloaded by means of her cranes located just aft of the funnels. She was only to remain on this duty until 1979 though, when she was replaced by the vessel built 4 years before her and intended for the same route. When the Iona took over from the smaller and shallower-draughted Pioneer in 1979 this call at Gigha was no longer possible. A temporary solution had to be found in order to get provisions and goods to the islanders. At that time, Gigha was one of the few islands not to have a dedicated car ferry service, and CalMac were in the position to be able to offer this service.
A temporary solution saw the Island Class vessel Bruernish commence sailings to a newly constructed slipway on the island. Her mainland base was initially the main Islay ferry terminal at Kennacraig, an hour's sail away in West Loch Tarbert. This did not last long however, and a new permanent terminal was built at Tayinloan on the western side of Kintyre. This meant the passage time was reduced to just 20 minutes and an hourly service could be operated, with up to 6 cars being conveyed on each sailing.
After several years leading a somewhat nomadic lifestyle involving relief stints on a variety of routes, covering for her sisters, the Bruernish finally became assigned to a permanent role and she settled into her new routine very well.
For over a decade the Bruernish and her sisters on relief coped valiantly during their time serving Gigha. The only problem associated with her was the fact that vehicles were required to reverse aboard. On many other routes in the network this requirement was mostly eradicated by the end of the 1980s. Islanders were naturally lobbying for their own drive-through ferry, however it was to be 1992 before the company granted the island its wish.
In 1991 it was announced that two new Loch Class ferries were under construction. One was bound for Iona, which at that time was still crying out for a larger vessel than the Morvern, while the second one was destined to take over the Claonaig - Lochranza service. It was this action that allowed the Loch Ranza to be transferred a short distance west (well, as the crow flies anyway...)
The double-ended vessel arrived in September 1992, while Bruernish was away having her overhaul, so it was the Rhum that actually handed over to the Loch Ranza. No longer were islanders required to demonstrate their skills in reversing down the slipway and up onto the car deck of the ferry. Under normal operating circumstances the Loch Ranza would use her stern ramp at Tayinloan and allow vehicles to drive off via the bow ramp at Gigha.
Gigha has been served reliably by the Loch Ranza since September 1992 when she arrived from her previous duties in the Kilbrannan Sound. She has a relatively relaxed lifestyle, running an hourly timetable between Kintyre and the island, however the weather can cause considerable disruption to her daily routine. For example during the winter of 2006/07 storms dredged up lots of sand, seaweed and other debris in the Sound of Gigha and promptly deposited it on Tayinloan slipway. Consequently, and rather predictably, the Loch Ranza with her Voith units was unable to get in and unload traffic for a good portion of December 2006 and January 2007. On such occasions an emergency timetable was cobbled together and once again the Gigha service returned to the state it started in; with the vessel heading off up West Loch Tarbert to Kennacraig. Even then however, vehicles were not necessarily able to be landed as the linkspan was not always at a suitable angle, thanks to the tide.
Under MCA passenger certificate conditions, while running to and from Kennacraig the Loch Ranza was restricted to carrying just 12 passengers on each sailing. The situation required a second vessel and the Loch Linnhe was called in to provide additional sailings so that there were simultaneous departures from each terminal. The situation was remedied in the January and there seemed to be very few further problems.
Things settled down on the Gigha run once more the winter months. There was a further spell of disruption which required the deployment of Raasay on the route as she had a shallow enough draught to get in to Tayinloan for a short spell but by and large the Loch Ranza has remained in charge. The route itself is one that has traditionally been fairly lightly loaded as it is not really on the tourist track however in more recent times it has not been unknown for traffic to be left during the busy tourist season. There was talk at one point of Gigha being earmarked for one of the hybrid ferries however it came to nothing and Loch Ranza remains very much in place.