31st August 1978
2 lifeboats and inflatable liferafts
Current / Last Route
3rd January 1979
Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd
MacBrayne's Outer Isles ship for 50 years considered one of the finest vessels and a later Inner Isles vessel of same name.
Robb Caledon Ship Builders Ltd (Leith)
Mirrlees Blackstone Diesels Ltd, (Stockport)
Hoist & Lifts:
36 ton vehicle hoist fitted with side ramps
1978 - 1989: Oban - Castlebay - Lochboisdale / Oban - Coll - Tiree (winter only)
1989 - 1993: Kennacraig - Islay / Kennacraig - Islay - Colonsay - Oban (summer only)
1994 - 1996: Ardrossan - Douglas (Isle of Man)
1993 - 1997: General relief duties
Gourock - Dunoon / Wemyss Bay - Rothesay / Ardrossan - Brodick / Oban - Craignure / Mallaig - Armadale /
Uig - Tarbert - Lochmaddy
The new Outer Isles vessel was built to replace a older era of fleet members and free up the Iona for further network enhancements. As was clearly visible, she was a larger enhanced version of her half sister, the 1974 built Pioneer. Designed and destined for the long haul routes from Oban, she was well suited to her company and passenger needs. With four decks of accommodation including saloons, bars and cabins for 32 passengers, the new Claymore was certainly a vast improvement on her predecessors. A 36 ton hoist and room for 50 or so cars, she was a new era in lifeline services for the marine motorway CalMac was introducing. After leaving her builders in Leith she underwent trails as required and passed them with flying colours.
After arriving at her base in Oban at the end of December 1978, she replaced the Iona on the 3rd of January 1979 to take up the Oban - 'Barra / Boisdale' route. This roster also included calls at Tobermory on the way out with the aid of a ferry and Coll / Tiree on alternate days.
Although not drive through as such, in terms that she did not possess a bow visor, she helped initiated a car revolution to the islands, using her hoist at Barra and her stern ramp at Oban and Lochboisdale she quickly built up a reliable reputation that was to see a explosion of services from the mainland to the Isles. She was required to give extra sailings on Sundays to cope with the demands of army and commercial traffic to South Uist and was one of the last ships in the fleet to make the call at Lochaline on the Morvern coastline, a duty that had been the norm for the outer isles vessels for generations. Roads and public transport using them was becoming a more viable option and the Morvern call lasted for only her first season. Following this, with the Columba serving Coll and Tiree the Claymore could concentrate on the long haul routes.
In addition to her regular schedule Claymore would also on occasion be found taking sailings to Craignure and Colonsay, particularly at peak periods when demand dictated. Other deviations to the norm came about in 1981, when she was called upon to assist the Hebrides on the Uig triangle and then in 1983 when she took a livestock sailing for Iona on the Islay run. Calls at Tobermory were a routine part of her winter duties, with inward and outward calls and she was the ship that opened the new pier to allow ships of her size to call there - and she was nearly the last to visit it, leaving that dubious honour to the Lord of the Isles who took her role in 1989.
For such a hazardous route she was only ever involved in few accidents which gives significant credit to her masters and crew. One such event saw her grounding on the island of Gasay in Lochboisdale on 5th February 1982, the incident being caused by a local fishing boat cutting across in front of her. 27 passengers and 24 crew got off safely in the ships lifeboats, divers investigated the damage to the hull and managed to secure her alongside the pier and offload her cargo of cars and lorries. The unfortunate Claymore was towed back to the Clyde for urgent repairs to significant gashes to the underside of her hull. The ingress of water was sever enough to require emergency pumps running constantly throughout the tow. So severe was the danger of sinking that a white line was painted around her bow and the towing vessel issued with instructions to cut the lines if the white marking submerged. Claymore survived the journey and IONA covered her for the three months she was out of service.
In 1986 she sustained significant bow damage in a collision and had to go to the Clyde for repairs. The Glen Sannox was dispatched to the Western Isles to fill a gap in vessel availability. This presented a significant problem for CalMac as the Glen Sannox was due to perform the annual Govan Shipbuilders charter. The solution was novel and unique, if rather costly. Claymore's damaged upper bow was cut away and a flat plate was welded across the gap. It was painted black and had a large yellow CalMac lion painted on it in an unsuccessful attempt to make it look a bit less odd. In this condition Claymore operated her first ever passenger sailings on the Clyde - the Govan charter. As her certificate was much less than that of the Sannox, the Jupiter had also to be rostered to the charter.
With the arrival of the purpose built Lord of the Isles in 1989, Claymore's loyal service to the Outer Isles came to an end. Being such a versatile and useful ship CalMac were keen to find atlernative work for her so she ventured south to Islay and become dedicated ferry taking over Iona once more. In addition to Islay, Claymore's deployment also saw the inauguration of a new once-weekly return service from Kennacraig to Oban, via Port Askaig and Colonsay on a Wednesday, getting back to Kennacraig late at night. Relief work continued and Claymore returned to the Outer Isles run for overhaul relief as well as the Arran and Uig runs.
Claymore was made redundant at Islay in the summer of 1993, following the arrival of the Isle of Arran and she took up the role of fleet relief vessel. In this capacity she was available to be called upon to cover throughout the network at very short notice. Such an occasion occurred when Caledonian Isles suffered a leak in her bow visor's watertight seal mid-way over from Brodick to Ardrossan one evening and was immediately taken out of service - the Claymore was made ready and took over the route until repairs had been completed.
It could be said that Claymore's spell as relief ferry actually gave her the greatest variety of her career. 1994 saw Claymore start up a new venture, following on from a charter undertaken by the Pioneer in connection with the annual TT races. The new venture took effect on the high summer period and called for Claymore to set sail from Ardrossan on Saturday mornings at 0830. Her destination was Douglas, eight hours away on the Isle of Man; thus making Claymore the first CalMac vessel in scheduled service out of Scottish waters. She remained overnight at Douglas and returned to Ardrossan for 1930 on Sunday evenings. Her cabins were offered up for bed and breakfast. It wasn't a massively subscribed service and Claymore seldom got anywhere near her 300 passenger limit.
Towards the end of 1994 she was pressed into service on the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay route, operating on a hoist-loading basis while the linkspan at Rothesay underwent maintenance while the following year saw her make the company's first ever call at a Welsh port - Llandudno, as part of a charter to an American oil company. 1996 however saw the most exceptional season for Claymore, chalking up calls at some 24 piers through the course of the year. These included more firsts too - Heysham became the first English port to receive a CalMac arrival and Dun Laoghaire also saw an appearance from the Claymore while acting as a tender to a visiting US aircraft carrier.
1996 turned out to be Claymore's last full season in the fleet. The then Scottish Minister, a certain Michael Forsyth MP took the truly shameful decision to force CalMac to sell off the Claymore for a knock-down price in 1997. Not only that, the individual in question also forced CalMac to put her through an expensive major overhaul at the taxpayer's expense so that her new private sector owners wouldn't have to stump up themselves. Claymore's last service for CalMac came on 22nd April 1997 when she undertook the 1800 sailing from Kennacraig to Port Ellen. From there she made for the Clyde where all Caledonian MacBrayne branding was removed ready for her forced sale from the fleet and she was handed over to new owners for the short-lived service from Cambeltown to Ballycastle in Northern Ireland on 1st May 1997.
LIFE AFTER CALMAC...
Following her sale to Sea Containers, the agreement was that she be made available to CalMac for winter relief's. She was berthed at Campbeltown during the closed season of the Ballycastle service and was chartered to CalMac as and when necessary. In winter 1998-9 she was employed on the Islay service, the Tiree/Outer Isles service and from 13-19 May 1999 on the Mallaig-Armadale service. She was in A&ASP Co (Argyle and Antrim Steam Packet Company) livery at that time.
When the Ballycastle route ended after only a short period, she was found new work by Pentland Ferries and joined former fleet mate Iona at Caithness to serve Orkney. During her time there some of our own team took the opportunity to sail on Claymore and it has to be said that she was a sorry state compared to her west coast days - peeling and flaking paintwork and patches of rust didn't exactly inspire confidence in the maintenance regime of her owners. Following the introduction of the catamaran Pentalina, Claymore was sold of once again and she would see a complete change in the hands of CT Offshore, who converted her into a cable-laying vessel and she saw service all over the world, albeit almost completely unrecognisable as a 1978 car ferry. She now carries the name Ocean Link and was most recently noted to be in service in the Ardriatic.
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