Crossing Time: 35 minutes
Regular Ship: Argyle / Bute
Wemyss Bay - Rothesay
Mainland - Bute
1954 - 1969: Cowal / Bute
1970 - 1971: Glen Sannox
1972 - 1977: Bute / Cowal
1978 - 1985: Saturn
1986 - 2003: Jupiter / Juno / Saturn / Pioneer*
2004: Jupiter / Juno / Saturn
2005: Jupiter / Juno / Saturn / Bute
2006: Juno / Bute
2007: Juno / Saturn / Argyle / Bute
2008 - Present: Argyle / Bute
*On relief at first then as 2nd full time vessel
2003 - Present: Coruisk (Winter Relief)
Hebridean Isles / Claymore / Iona / Lord of the Isles (Relief duties or additional sailings).
Wemyss Bay: Pier with passenger gangway located right outside the railway station. Vehicle waiting area and linkspan are adjacent to this. On-shore ticketing introduced so all passengers and vehicles require tickets before boarding the ferry.
Rothesay: Terminal set on the pier with the old linkspan set into the face - as at Dunoon. End-loading linkspan now in use. 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.
The service between the railhead at Wemyss Bay and Rothesay on Bute was the second to be revolutionised in the 1950s in the initial wave of route upgrades brought about with the introduction of the ‘ABC’ ferries; Arran, Bute and Cowal. These were the regular ferries to serve until 1970 and they would regularly switch places among the Upper Clyde routes to Dunoon, Bute and Cumbrae. New tonnage on the Clyde saw things change.
Following her replacement on the Ardrossan – Brodick crossing in May 1970, the Glen Sannox was moved up the Firth and placed on the Wemyss Bay – Rothesay route, using her side loading hoist at both terminals, as had her smaller alphabetic counterparts. The drive-through revolution that saw her ousted at Ardrossan didn’t spread upriver until much later in the 1970s and Bute (the island) continued to be served by the side-loaders. Glen Sannox, it has to be said, wasn’t a great success on the Rothesay run, due to Rothesay pier’s height above the water (or lack of it) at higher tides. 1972 to 1977 saw the route mainly serviced by Bute and Cowal as they neared the ends of their time with CalMac.
1977 saw linkspans installed at both Wemyss Bay and Rothesay. The one on the mainland was a like any other that had popped up that decade – intended for end-loading. The one at Rothesay on the other hand was set into the pier and required the continuation of side-loading, exactly the same as was the case a few miles away at Dunoon. From 1978 the newly converted crossing was in the hands of the Saturn, the third of a class of ships soon to become known as the Streakers. Like her sisters Juno and Jupiter, Saturn used her fixed side ramps at Rothesay (the need for a hoist now negated) and her stern ramp across at Wemyss Bay.
Saturn arrived on the scene advertising her territory for all to see with the words ‘Rothesay Ferry’ adorning her hull. From 1986 however Saturn was no longer as closely tied to the Bute crossing. The three Streakers would be switched between the Upper Clyde routes on a regular basis. As is often the case, the route continued to produce more traffic and a second ship would be brought in during the day to provide additional sailings. This was the so-called 1A ship; whichever ferry had provided the extra commuter runs at Dunoon in the morning then cross to Wemyss Bay and start shuttling back and forth to Rothesay before returning to Gouock in time to do more extra sailings to Dunoon for the evening commuters.1989 saw additional tonnage become available. The Pioneer had been replaced at Armadale and was brought to the Clyde. Her hoist was stripped out and fixed side ramps were fitted. Islanders on Bute had plenty of chance to become familiar with Pioneer and throughout the 1990s and right up to her disposal in 2003 she was a regular sight in Rothesay Bay. During the mid-1990s traffic had built up to such a level that Pioneer was brought in as the permanent second ship at Rothesay.
Following Pioneer’s sale in 2003 though, there had not been the luxury of a spare vessel to rely on in case of breakdowns. Although winter now saw the new Coruisk on Clyde relief duties, summer timetables now relied on all three Streakers operating without failures.
It was announced in 2004 that the next generation of Upper Clyde ferries was destined for the Wemyss Bay – Rothesay crossing. The contract for the new vessel was the subject of some local controversy when it was announced that the winning bid had come from a foreign yard. The new ship gradually took shape on the stocks at the Remontowa yard in Gdanks, Poland and her introduction was scheduled for late spring 2005. The name of the new ferry was announced a few months after construction commenced – she would become the seventh Bute to ply the Clyde. The launch took place in March 2005 and the Bute slid sideways into her element.
To look at, Bute had more than a passing resemblance to the old 1978 Claymore as the bulk of her passenger accommodation was towards the bow.
Bute was delivered via the English Channel in late June 2005 and following berthing trials at her new home ports, she undertook a VIP cruise round Cumbrae before taking up daily service. Around the same time, CalMac announced that a sister ship to Bute had been ordered from Remontowa, reigniting local frustrations that the yard ‘up the road’ had been overlooked.
Nevertheless, Bute settled into service and was partnered by Juno as her regular running mate. There were the usual initial teething troubles encountered and it did not go unnoticed that she was particularly slow to berth compared to Juno. This was all down to the choice of azimuth pods over the tried and tested Voith Schneider units. Bute was still able to hold the established timetable thanks to her greater service speed.
The second newbuild was named Argyle and she took to the water in September 2006. Part of the long-term plans for the route involved a new ferry berth and end-loading linkspan for Rothesay. In order to facilitate the construction work, Bute and Coruisk were laid up for what was supposed to be 6 weeks and in reality turned out to be over 2 months while Juno and Saturn took the reigns once more. The delay to the works actually meant Juno had to get a 2 month extension on her passenger certificate in order to continue in service.
Argyle was finally brought over from Poland in late April 2007 – several months late. Her VIP cruise took place on Friday 4th May and on that date she took about 100 invited guests (two from SoC included) down the east coast of Bute, between the Cumbraes and back via the Largs Channel, before entering service with the 1815 sailing from Wemyss Bay that same evening. Both ships still had to use their side ramps though as the contract work to install the new Rothesay linkspan was running many weeks behind schedule. True drive-through operation finally started in mid December 2007 and side loading at Rothesay was consigned to the history books.
Bute and Argyle continue to maintain the Bute crossing (the busiest in the CalMac’s sphere of operation) throughout the year, deviating only when weather conditions prevent berthing at Wemyss Bay and they divert to Gourock. Coruisk usually arrives on the scene in November in time for overhaul relief duties and this lasts roughly six weeks.