Claonaig - Lochranza (Summer Only)
Mainland - Arran
Currently in Operation
1973 - 1986: Rhum
1987: Rhum / Loch Ranza
1988 - 1991: Loch Ranza
1992: Loch Ranza / Loch Tarbert
1993 - 2016: Loch Tarbert
2017 - present: Catriona
Various members of the Island Class and Loch Class ferries on relief duties.
Claonaig: Rather large vehicle queuing area with space for up to around 20 cars, small passenger shelter. Single concrete slipway provides the access to the ferry, although this is an exposed location and can be affected by winds.
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.
It was in 1972 that the first car ferry crossing was made from Lochranza on Arran to the remote settlement of Claonaig on the Kintyre Peninsula. The new ferry assigned to this route was the little bow-loading Kilbrannan; first of eight such ships that between them made up the 'Island Class'. She could only carry four cars on each sailing, and with a crossing time of half an hour, when queues developed for this new route, they were hard to shift. Following a modification to the design of the ferries, the larger Rhum replaced the Kilbrannan on the 'back-door' route when she entered service in 1973.
The secondary Arran crossing was operated on a seasonal basis only, as there was little demand - if any - for the ferry during the winter months. The route was primarily a tourist route which allowed easier access to the Kintyre Peninsula and as a result of this, the Rhum would come off service at the end of the summer timetables and assume relief duties over the winters.
As has generally been the case with new ferry routes, traffic levels built up more and more. It was inevitable that a new ferry with higher capacity would be required - it was just a question of when. The answer came in 1987 when the fourth and final vessel of the new 'Loch Class' was introduced. The Loch Ranza replaced the Rhum at the start of the 1987 season and brought with her double her predecessor's capacity.
Despite the Kilbrannan Sound crossing being only seasonal, it was proving very popular with tourists and day-trippers alike. And despite having room for 12 cars on each crossing, the Loch Ranza found herself struggling to cope after only four seasons. Such was the requirement for 12 car spaces to be available on each crossing, when the Loch Ranza was out of service for any reason, two 'Island Class' ferries were brought in as emergency cover (usually the Rhum; redundant from that very route, and the Canna which had been replaced on the Fishnish - Lochaline crossing in 1986).
As ever, the only practical solution to the traffic levels was to introduce yet another new ferry and July 1992 saw just that. The Loch Tarbert was of roughly the same dimensions as the Loch Ranza but her port side passenger lounge was removed in favour of a third lane on her car deck, giving her a capacity of 18 cars.
The new Loch Tarbert was a major and immediate benefit to the route. Drivers could now turn up for the ferry and be almost guaranteed a space, unlike in previous years. The crossing was still operated on a seasonal basis, but in the late 1990s following the introduction of a new service across Loch Fyne, a daily winter sailing was started and used the Loch Fyne ferry sailing from Tarbert which offered much more shelter than isolated Claonaig. Initially this service was intended for hazardous loads such as gas and petrol tankers, however more recently the winter crossing was opened up as a bookable ferry crossing, subject to availability.
The Lochranza crossing now receives a ferry service almost every day of the year, in one form or another and given its nature as a tourist route it is inconceivable that the crossing will ever go back to a purely seasonal nature.
Loch Tarbert maintained the Lochranza service for nearly 25 years before further new tonnage appeared on the scene to replace her. Summer 2016 was Loch Tarbert’s last at Arran. Her replacement was the third hybrid ferry, named Catriona and the new ferry took over the secondary Arran run in the late summer. Catriona remains the regular Lochranza ferry and can also be found serving Lochranza from Tarbert during the winter.
Text thanks to John MacLeod and updated by Ships of CalMac
Dhuirnish approaching Rhubodach
Dhuirnish and Eilean Buidhe
Bruernish and Dhuirinish, Inchmarnock, 1985
Dhuirnish laid up at Port Bannatyne