2nd August 1973
14th April 1998
Current / Last Route
15th November 1973
Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd
Inner Hebridean island west of Mull
James Lamont & Co. Ltd., Port Glasgow
Bergius Kelvin Co. Ltd., Glasgow.
2 x 4SCSA, each 6 cyls. 5” x 5 5/8”. Reverse reduction gear.
Hoist & Lifts:
Small passenger lounge
1973 - 1976; Lochaline - Fishnish
1976 - 1986: Relief vessel
1986 - 1996: Tobermory - Mingary (Kilchoan)
1996 - 1998: Oban - Lismore
Oban - Craignure / Mallaig - Small Isles / Kyleakin - Kishorn (charter) / Kyle of Lochalsh - Toscaig /
Sconser - Raasay / Tayinloan - Gigha / Claonaig - Lochranza / Largs - Cumbrae Slip / Fionnphort - Iona / Colintraive - Rhubodach / Port Askaig - Jura (charter)
Coll was the fifth of the Small Island Class bowloading ferries to appear and the third of the longer, 74-foot design, allowing her comfortably to carry seven cars rather than five. For a full description of the Small Island design, see the history of the first, Kilbrannan.
Laid down at the same time as Bruernish and Rhum, in November 1972, the Coll was finally launched at Port Glasgow on 2nd August 1973. She had already been sporting her name, on the stern, for two months and she wore the new CalMac colours from the outset. The previous Coll, a small ferryboat launch built for David MacBrayne Ltd in 1951, had served as flitboat at Arinagour, Coll until superseded by construction of a proper pier. On its completion, the little boat was sold in 1967.
The second Coll duly ran trials on the Skelmorlie Measured Mile and at Largs on 18th September, returning to Port Glasgow thereafter. As she completed fitting out she was identified for a singularly ambitious job, to relieve Loch Arkaig on the very exposed Mallaig-Small Isles service. The choice of this small new car ferry for the job reflects the Company's desperate position that autumn, with Loch Seaforth recently lost by shipwreck and the Clansman sidelined for the winter by her protracted rebuild.
Nevertheless the DTI properly insisted on certain modifications. Coll was accordingly fitted with Decca 050 radar equipment; full VHF wireless facilities (including an aerial between the mast and a post on top of the wheelhouse – this in addition to the ship-to-shore radio-telephone installed on all the Small Island sisters); a fire pump situated forward on the port side of her vehicle deck; and the cutting of a ferry door, also on the port side of that deck.
Thus equipped, the new Coll was granted a Class IIA certificate for 36 passengers and four crew for the Small Isles crossing; it also allowed her to sail between Mallaig and Portree and from Oban to Craignure. After slipping at the end of October for a final check, Coll sailed to Gourock on 7rth November 1973 and loaded a mobile crane, placed near her ramp for cargo-handling. (Only one of the Small Isles, Canna, actually boasted a pier.) She had to remain at Gourock till 9th November because of adverse weather conditions, but finally set off that day for the Crinan Canal – before being helpless stormbound at Oban from 10th to 14th November.
She had got just as far as Tobermory when she was trapped by the weather again, but was duly recalled to Oban on 15th November for her maiden passenger voyage, an emergency sailing to Craignure, which she duly served all Friday 16th. The Columba had been damaged in a gale and withdrawn for repairs, and until the arrival of the Bute on the 17th Coll coped as best she could – though she was unable to carry vehicles, there still being no linkspan at Craignure.
On Saturday 17th the Coll plodded on to Mallaig and took over from Loch Arkaig on Monday 19th. She gave the Small Isles jaunt three times a week, and maintained a daily service from Mallaig to Armadale. The Portree-Raasay section of the Loch Arkaig's roster, however, was performed by the car ferry's elder sister RHUM and there was thus no link between Mallaig and Kyle or from Kyle to Raasay.
It was all a distinctly heroic tour of duty for the little car ferry and it was unfortunate that her four weeks at Mallaig coincided with an atrocious spell of weather, as a result of which she missed several Small Isles sailings, with much attendant and unkind publicity; but there was no way the Coll could put her nose out of Mallaig in any wind greater than a Force Six. Mercifully the Loch Arkaig returned on 17th December and Coll could then sail to Tobermory, where she offloaded her crane before moving a little south and taking over as Fishnish - Lochaline ferry from the Bruernish. On 18th January 1974, the COLL gave another emergency run from Oban to Craignure and the following day, and again in March, helped out on the Oban-Lismore crossing. She damaged her rudder while berthing at that island – which still had no proper slipway – and was forced to adjourn to the Clyde for repairs, being the first of her class to sail round the Mull of Kintyre rather than use the Crinan Canal.
Coll became closely associated with the Lochaline-Fishnish passage, with the occasional diversion to other duties, but in November 1976 was displaced as principal ferry by the Canna (newly redundant from Raasay) and thereafter spent a decade as spare vessel. In December 1976, with a Portakabin welded to her car deck as additional covered accommodation for passengers, she took over the Kishorn charter duties from Bruernish, sailing with workmen between Kyleakin on Skye and the Howard-Doris oil platform under construction at Loch Kishorn; in addition she briefly revived a defunct MacBrayne service, from Kyle to Toscaig (for Applecross.)
Liberated from these chores in 1977, Coll spent years as reserve and relief ferry, on the usual suspects – crossings to Cumbrae, Jura (on charter), Lismore, Mull, Iona and notably at Gigha, which island she was serving when the new terminals at Ardminish and Tayinloan were inaugurated, on 10th November 1980, and she was duly “smothered in bunting!”In high summer she was usually stationed at Oban for use in emergency and as a back-up ferry for the Canna at Lochaline. Otherwise she followed the stop-start routine of lay-up, relief, emergency duties and livestock sailings described in considerable detail in the profiles of her elder sisters. She never, however, served the Isle of Scalpay or indeed saw any of the Outer Hebrides.
In 1986, however, it fell to Coll to redevelop one most troubled route – the crossing from Tobermory to Mingary, which the Company had tried to close only a few years before. Year-round service had ceased in 1980 but the open launches deployed for the crossing in summer, such as Applecross, were hugely unpopular and undoubtedly deterred many trippers. Under considerable political pressure, as usual, CalMac deployed the sturdy Coll. On 27th April 1986 she enjoyed an interesting charter up Loch Etive – carrying a large mechanical digger, to Ardmaddy – and then lay at Oban for some days as extra passenger seating was fitted to her vehicle deck.
“These were of the individual rigid plastic variety, coloured brown, and totalled fifty-six,” recorded the West Highland Steamer Club bulletin that autumn. “She was also fitted with a new removable companionway from the car deck to the upper deck on the starboard side, covering the existing companionway and at a more gentle angle than it, to assist passenger access. A wider gangway door was also cut in two halves amidships on the port side of the car deck to replace the previous narrow one further forward. A green canopy was stretched across the car deck immediately aft of the ramp to afford passengers additional cover, and five large bright red lifejacket boxes were positioned forward on the car deck. She was also fully repainted, all this work being done by men from Timbacraft, to equip her for a new job – as a passenger vessel. This was on the upgraded Tobermory-Mingary service, where a car ferry service was impossible due to the lack of slipways on either side... She obtained a certificate for 154 passengers and was of course able to give a vastly superior service to that given by the Applecross in recent years.”
Coll gave three timetabled return sailings daily – five in July and August – and in addition there was a special early morning return run available throughout on specific request to the CalMac office at Tobermory. Time on passage was about thirty-five minutes and the Coll proved a great success on this new venture. The service, however, remained a seasonal one and she followed the usual round of winter relief's when not occupied at Tobermory.
Inevitably the call was increasingly raised for a Tobermory-Mingary vehicular service and Coll finally opened just such a splendid facility on Monday 29th April 1991; Government approval for the construction of suitable terminals had been confirmed the previous October. She was scheduled to give eight return sailings daily, though the early morning crossing was again by request. Another curiosity was that it was now advertised as a Tobermory-Kilchoan crossing.
In her first week she bore 57 cars; in her second, 87. In the first week of July, Coll carried 183 – there was, besides, an astonishing increase in passenger numbers. The only black moment in the season was when she struck a reef off Mingary pier, the very rock which had sunk the first Lochshiel in March 1942. The Coll was quickly patched up at Tobermory, but she continued to ship water and had to sail to Oban for more substantial repairs.
Her season had run from 29th April to 27th September on the new car ferry crossing and, in all, she had borne 20,204 passengers, 3,463 cars and 2 buses - “a remarkable achievement on a brand new car ferry service,” enthused the West Highland Steamer Club, “and showed a 90% increase in passenger carryings compared to 1990.”
Coll sailed through 1992 with a plain red and black funnel, the yellow circles and lions having mysteriously disappeared in her January overhaul. She was thrice stranded by awkward tides on the Tobermory slip that summer and on 13th September gave an unusual run from Kilchoan to Eigg; there she exchanged a tar spreader, a road-roller, van and trailer for 220 lambs! She made an identical voyage on 1st April 1993 and on this occasion a bull in a horse box was left on Eigg and seven wild ponies were removed. That summer, Tobermory-Kilchoan traffic was such that from 27th July to 27th August the Bruernish served as back-up, providing four extra return sailings daily from Tuesdays to Saturdays. A two-ship service was again laid on with Bruernish from late June to late August 1994; Coll further, kindly distinguished herself by giving a special sailing on Saturday 4th June at 7.40 pm for a boy and his bicycle – the lad's bus had missed her last scheduled run that day. In September 1994 the Coll had to go to the rescue of the Eigg flitboat Ulva, which broke down off Ardnamurchan on her way south for overhaul.
Naturally there was rising clamour for a year-round Tobermory-Kilchoan service and one was provided in the winter of 1994-1995, the Coll switching to a winter timetable from Monday 17th October, giving three return sailings daily. She offered no service in January or February, but for March 1995 a special winter cheap day return fare was introduced, and as a result she carried much more traffic that month than in November or December. Bruernish was not available for support that summer, and that winter of 1995-96 – owing to the rather disappointing figures the previous season – Coll operated only a very limited Tobermory-Kilchoan roster, sailing only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with three timetabled sailings each day and two additional request-only crossings. On her days off, Coll lent back-up to Isle of Cumbrae when Lochaline-Fishnish traffic was heavy and she also made assorted runs here and there with livestock or bottled gas, with the usual exotic jaunts to Eigg.
No Tobermory-Kilchoan crossing was offered in January and February 1996 – but by then Coll was off the service, having yielded to Rhum from Saturday 4th November. She sailed to the Clyde, via the Mull, and gave a special run from Largs to Brodick to offload a crane. After her annual overhaul – and a first, abortive voyage north, until she had to retrace her steps with a dodgy gearbox – Coll finally returned through the Crinan Canal on Tuesday 16th January and spent most of 1996 as the permanent Lismore ferry in place of Eigg. The latter was now the only Small Island ferry still boasting the necessary Class IIA certificate which allowed her to sail to the Small Isles with passengers, and was better placed at Tobermory were she required there in emergency. Winter service between Tobermory and Kilchoan ceased for some seasons, but an off-season timetable was since revived - for Raasay – in the winter of 2003/2004.
Coll served at Lismore until relieved by Rhum on 30th October 1996; in addition to her normal roster, she had also to make special freight runs to Kerrera, which had no regular car ferry service. Coll was back on Oban-Lismore duties by Friday 6th December , and gave occasional freight runs from Oban to Craignure twice that month and twice in January 1997.
Coll's last full year of CalMac service was largely free of incident. She gave further runs to Craignure with fuel tankers on occasion and suffered some mechanical trouble in April 1997. On 6th July she relieved Eigg at Kilchoan, as the latter had to run to her eponymous Small Isle for livestock. A fortnight later, Coll took an “agricultural cargo” from Oban to the tiny island of Gunna, lying between Coll and Tiree; plans to bring back cattle were frustrated when it proved impossible to herd the cows in time! She assisted in emergency at Lochaline on Monday 18th August 1997, and again on Sunday 21st September after the lately revived Loch Dunvegan broke down. And she was again pulled off the Oban- Lismore timetable on Friday 26th September as a succession of mishaps and plans going awry forced her 24-hour return to the Tobermory-Kilchoan crossing. After that the equally revived Loch Fyne broke down at Fishnish and Coll was again ordered to the rescue on Thursday 2nd October.
For two more months she served Lismore (and on occasion Kerrera and Craignure) until the Rhum, newly redundant from Scalpay, took over on Wednesday 17th December. Then Coll was once again sought in emergency, making for the Small Isles to replace Eigg on Friday 19th; the Eigg had just suffered a major breakdown while serving an auxiliary route from Mallaig to Eigg and Muck in the absence of the Ulva. So Coll, in a curious providence, gave her almost her last commercial sailings for CalMac on the scene of almost her first 24 years before.
She served Muck and Eigg from Mallaig until Thursday 15th January 1998 – her last duty being to escort Ulva safely home to Eigg, having arrived at Mallaig by lorry – and on Saturday 17th Coll sailed in convoy from Oban with Rhum and Loch Buie, reaching Campbeltown around 0745 hrs on Sabbath 18th. There Rhum and Coll lay to await their fate. With the resurrection of the former Skye ferries it was the end of the line for these 1973 bowloaders, and both were now on the sale list.
Coll had, however, one last mercy-dash to perform – running to Oban on Sunday 25th January and serving Lismore on Monday 27th and Tuesday 28th, the Bruernish having broken down. She then repaired to Campbeltown on Monday 2nd February, after a few days of Oban idleness. She and Rhum were duly sold to Mr Cornelius Bonner on 14th April, and they sailed together for Ireland on Friday 17th. Coll now partners Rhum on service to the Isle of Arranmore from Burtonport in County Donegal, still with her original name and registered to Arranmore Island Ferry Services. She was also emplyed on the company's other route in the peak season, sailing from Buncrana to Rathmullan, across Lough Swilly for several summers until replaced by a purpose-built ferry on that route. She is now one of four sisters serving Arranmore, albeit operated by two competing companies.
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