Catamaran with a GRP hull with an aluminium superstructure.
Current / Last Route
21st October 2002
Solent & Wightline Cruises
South Boats of East Cowes, Isle of Wight, England
2 x DI 14 Diesels
Hoist & Lifts:
Open top deck
2002 - Present: Gourock - Dunoon
Back in the last years of the 20th century the Gourock - Dunoon crossing was restricted to an hourly car ferry service from early morning to night. Additional sailings were permitted at peak commuter hours. A Streaker would operate the main timetable and the extra peak runs were often provided by Pioneer. Between these times the 'peak' vessel, referred to as the 1A ship, would disappear away down to Wemyss Bay to boost sailings on the Rothesay route. In order free up the 1A vessel to become the dedicated second Rothesay ferry on a full time basis, CalMac looked for additional tonnage from elsewhere as a short term solution.
The search led to the Solent of all places, where Blue Funnel Line were operating the somewhat dumpy looking catamaran called Ali Cat, built in 2000 for Solent and Wightline Cruises. She was chartered to CalMac on 13th October 2002 and undertook trials at Gourock and Dunoon respectively, before entering service on the so-called 1A sailings from 21st October. These sailings departed Gourock at xx50 and Dunoon at xx20, opposite to the sailings run by the Juno, Jupiter or Saturn. In between the peak sailings the little catamaran would return to the James Watt Dock where she was based. Loading for the passenger service was done from the linkspans at each pier, using the sliding side doors onboard. Being on charter, Ali Cat retained her white livery and blue funnels rather than adopting the familiar CalMac colour scheme.
In inclement weather there were sometimes problems loading at Dunoon if there was a strong swell. 2004 saw the construction of a new breakwater to the south of the Victorian pier and this alleviated the problem in the prevailing winds. Dunoon was still exposed to easterly gales however and on occasions the smaller ferry would come off service and leave it to her Streaker running mate.
The ongoing of the car ferry service rumbled on into the second decade of the new millennium with CalMac's car ferry timetable restricted to once an hour. The service was dying and the amount of traffic using the route was ever dwindling. It came as no surprise when the end of the car ferry service was announced - the government were only going to subsidise a passenger service (but they were hopeful that future operators would voluntarily continue to run a car ferry service at their own risk!). 29th June 2011 saw Saturn carry out the last car-carrying sailings and ironically these were the busiest sailings for years, outwith Cowal Games Weekend.
The following day saw the route pass to the new operators; Argyll Ferries, also owned by the Scottish Government but technically separate company to CalMac. Ali Cat was purchased outright from Solent and Wightine by Argyll Ferries and her port of registry was changed to Glasgow, inline with the rest of the fleet. She initially operated in tandem with the chartered pleasure cruise vessel Clyde Clipper - a larger catamaran based in Greenock however her permanent running mate was another vessel brought in from outside - this time from Ireland and the new Argyll Flyer duly joined Ali Cat on the revamped Dunoon timetable. Timetabling restrictions were now lifted and a half hourly service was offered throughout the day, barring mid afternoon when demand didn't require more than an hourly service. Ferries now ran later in the evening and on Friday/Saturday nights one could catch a boat any time up to midnight or 0100.
In rough weather the ferries would often be subject to disruptions and this led to a wave of criticism from Cowal. The two ferries were unduly nicknamed the 'bathtub boats' by their critics and at time of disruption a replacement bus service had to be laid on (via Western Ferries) to get passengers from the pier at Dunoon to Gourock station. Indeed there were calls for the ferry service to be scrapped altogether and to make the bus link the scheduled service.
Argyll Ferries relinquished the Dunoon service in January 2019 and once again it became part of the CalMac network, bundled together in the Cylde and Hebridean Ferry Service contract. Nothing changed - the same ferries were run by the same crews and carrying the old blue and white Argyll Ferries colours. Ali Cat's hull went black during her 2019 overhaul and her tiny blue funnels were painted red with disproportionately small black tops.