9th February 2005
FRC and inflatable liferafts
Current / Last Route
11th July 2005
Mrs Marjorie Bulloch
Second Largest of the Firth of Clyde Islands and six previous vessels of her name.
Remontowa Group, Gdansk, Poland
1x MAK 8M20 and 1x MAK 6M20 driving Schottel azimuth propulsion units
Hoist & Lifts:
Disabled lift from car deck to passenger deck
2005 - Present: Wemyss Bay - Rothesay
The history of the latest vessel to carry the name Bute goes back to the early days of the new millennium. At that time the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay service was in the care of the Streakers on a rotational basis, supplemented by the Pioneer initially providing additional sailings and later as dedicated second vessel on the route.
CalMac announced a new generation of Upper Clyde ferries to replace Jupiter, Juno and Saturn. The first to arrive was the sheltered-water vessel Coruisk, designed to spend the summer months at Skye and the winter on the Clyde. The drawings for the new Bute ship were unveiled at a series of public meetings held in Rothesay and on the mainland and there was general acceptance of the proposed design, certainly in that she looked like a ship and not something akin to a Lego brick model!
There was an overriding desire to put the Streakers to rest after clocking up around 30 years of continuous service on the Upper Clyde and from the outset of this latest piece of fleet development, it was made clear that the new Rothesay ferry was to be the first of two sisters to be brought in.
There was a great deal of anger at European interference when it came to sorting out the contract for who was actually going to build the ship. Fergusons of Port Glasgow, who have done a superb job on so many previous newbuilds, were denied the contract for the new ferry and this instead went to a foreign yard – the first time a new ferry had been ordered from outside the UK. There was local disgust with the MSP responsible and widespread criticism of CalMac for not supporting the local yard. The reason cited for the decision was interference in the tendering process from Brussels, but this did not prevent certain parties from condemning the decision and making claims of illegal subsidies in favour of the winning yard.
With all the controversy going on in the UK, the Remontowa yard at Gdansk in Poland set about construction of the new ferry. Her design drawings showed that she could accommodate up to 60 cars in five lanes on her car deck. She was to have a semi-open car deck with a clearance height of 5.1m like the Coruisk and also the same configuration of ramps, with the only difference being that her side ramp was to be found on the starboard side towards the stern.
Passenger accommodation was located on one level, accessed via a stairway from the car deck on either side of the vessel. Towards the bow there was a reasonably spacious lounge area with large picture windows enabling very good views out forward, port and starboard. Central on the passenger deck was a spacious entrance concourse with gangway entrances adjacent. A small shop/food servery was immediately forward of the concourse, serving teas/coffees, limited hot and cold snacks, soft drinks, sweets and various bits of tourist tat. Also next to the concourse area were the toilets and passageways leading aft to a lounge area. Door led outside onto a small open deck between the funnels, from where there were stairs leading up to the main open deck. The open deck extended forwards and wrapped right around the crew accommodation block and offered forward viewing. The bridge was located above, perched on a level of its own.
Throughout the process of designing and building the new ferry, the company was keen to be seen to be listening to those who would actually be using the ship and therefore avoid another situation like that with the less-than-popular Coruisk. The new generation of Clyde ferries were to be built to drive-through specification in anticipation of new end-loading facilities finally being installed at Rothesay where they would actually be used, unlike a few miles to the north-east at Dunoon, where the new pier and linkspan had sat idle since its installation in 2004.
Early in 2005 it was announced that the new ship was to be named Bute, carrying on a long tradition of Clyde vessels using the name. The previous vessel to carry the name had of course been the last of the ‘ABC’ ferries of 1954. Bute was launched sideways from the slipway at Gdansk in February of 2005, with the launch being filmed and made available on CalMac’s website for those who were not permitted tickets to attend the event or were unable to travel to Poland. The launch was very different to one that would occur here in the UK. For a start, the ferry was nowhere near complete and was launched as a dark red hull with the word ‘Bute’ painted in white capital letters at the bow. Her windows had been cut out but that was about it. Her bridge level, funnels and mast were completely missing and the yard had not even painted what was there in CalMac colours. In previous launches in the UK, such as Isle of Mull, Clansman and even the Loch Class, the majority of the vessel was painted externally before taking to the water and at least resembled a ship!
Fitting out took all of the spring and into the summer. It was not until late in June that she finally set sail from Poland. Her original delivery voyage was to take her across the North Sea, up the east coast of the UK and round into the Minch, before coming down through the Sound of Mull to Oban and finally into the Clyde. The weather scrubbed that idea and in the end Bute came through the English Channel and Irish Sea in the last few days of June before arriving to a beautiful sunset and berthing at Gourock’s ‘wires’ berth. From the side, Bute looked not dissimilar to the Claymore, with a high, slab-sided superstructure forwards, only she was much more angular and box-like. Other things that looked a little odd were that the company name on the hull was located far too far back and looked a little on the small side. The other thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was the staircase leading from the car deck to the open passenger deck which looked like it had been added as an afterthought – it looked to be suspended in mid air! Bow-on and Bute did look very top-heavy, although this could be put down to her high car-deck clearance exaggerating the height effect.
Trials commenced almost straight away and Bute could be seen weaving in and out of the piers at Wemyss Bay and Rothesay in between Juno and Jupiter for a week or so. She was observed approaching the piers very cautiously. Unlike the ships she and her sister were designed to replace, the Bute was not blessed with Voith Schneider propellers which allowed precision manoeuvring. Instead, Schottel azimuth pods were adopted. These involved the screws being mounted horizontally on rotatable pods, protruding beneath the hull at the bow and stern. The result was that Bute was much harder to position in the right place to allow the ramps to be lowered and of course this meant far greater care had to be taken by the bridge crews.
Bute's first passenger sailing was a special VIP cruise from Rothesay to Cumbrae, which she sailed round before heading back over to Bute. For the first part of this cruise she was accompanied by a Royal Navy helicopter and an inshore lifeboat. Watched from ashore and from other vessels in the area, Bute showed her speed well on this public showing-off session and after the official naming ceremony in Rothesay Bay, she finally entered service on 11th July 2005.
Whilst being well appointed in the context of her internal fittings and levels of passenger comfort, Bute certainly attracted her share negative attention. People became increasingly impatient at her inherent slowness when berthing. There were many complaints of people disembarking just late enough to see their hourly train to Glasgow pull away without them. It is easy to see why tempers began to fray when you consider that earlier in the year, the company brought in an unpopular rule regarding shore-ticketing and demanding that all passengers be ready for boarding half an hour before departure – something often impossible where trains are concerned. Not only could passengers miss their ferry home because the train was late, but now they could also miss their train to work because the ferry was late too!
It was soon the case that the Streaker had to take the main roster in an attempt to minimise the number of missed connections, as Bute just couldn’t keep to time. When the winter timetable commenced, and the Coruisk came down to join in the fun, Bute was slowly improving but there was still a long way to go. She suffered several technical problems during her first season and had to be taken out of service at one point for remedial work to rectify engine problems. There had been suggestions from several sources that the engines fitted were not suited to the size of her propellers and that one engine had all but burnt out as a result, although the speculation died down when she returned to service.
Her first overhaul was paid for by the Gdansk shipyard as part of her guarantee. During this time her main mast was heightened so that it was about the same height as that atop her bridge. Apart from that, there was little work to be done and her overhaul lasted less than two weeks. She returned to service and spent the remainder of the winter partnering Coruisk until she had to return to Mallaig in time for the summer timetable.
Throughout the 2006 summer season, Bute was partnered by Juno continuously as opposed to the previous summer when the Juno and Jupiter switched weekly. There were several instances when she would be left to run the Wemyss Bay – Rothesay route on her own following the ageing Juno being struck down by various bouts of mechanical problems for the odd full or half day here and there.
At the time of Bute's entry into service, CalMac announced that the second new Rothesay ferry was also to be built in Poland; the Remontowa yard having won the contract. It was actually rumoured that this had been pre-arranged and that the yard had already gone so far as to order the steel for the second new ship…! Whether this is true, we’ll probably never know but there are those on the Clyde who believe it. The new ship was to be called Argyle and she was due for launch during summer 2006. Originally the company were advertising Argyle's introduction for summer or early autumn 2006 but as the months progressed, this was pushed back to early 2007 (still, better late than never!).
The start of 2007 saw Bute off duty for around 10 weeks due to construction work taking place at Rothesay. The location of the work in relation to the loading berth required the use of the smaller Juno and Saturn as they were more manoeuvrable with their Voith units. Bute spent her lay-up in KGV dock in Glasgow until she was called back down again.
Bute was eventually joined by Argyle in May 2007 and it was December that year when the two Gdansk sisters were finally able to provide the full drive-through operation that they were originally intended to offer. The construction work that took place in January and February 2007 were all part of the project to install a new linkspan at the southern end of Rothesay pier. The new facility was finally opened at the end of the year and the ferries were able to use their stern ramps and render their side ramps surplus to requirements, though the sisters continue to carry the side ramps to this day.
Timetable tweaks in the years that followed meant a less intensive schedule and instead of a sailing every 45 minutes through the day, the timetable on the Bute service was relaxed to roughly hourly intervals between sailings for the majority of the day. Disruption came whenever construction work was due and such events would often see diversions to Gourock. This was the case for from October 2015 to March 2016 while Wemyss Bay pier was undergoing major linkspan maintenance and having new fendering installed - both Bute and her sister saw all sailings running to Gourock, a crossing of approximately an hour in duration. Similarly when work was taking place at Rothesay, the pier lost its second overnight berth for several months and one ferry would divert the last sailing of the day to Gourock.
Overhaul time for Bute comes around in October when she heads upriver to Garvel drydock or downriver to Troon and her place at Rothesay is taken by the smaller Coruisk. So far in Bute's career with CalMac, she has never served on any route other than Wemyss Bay to Rothesay and thanks to her single hulled design, nor could she ever do so.