Current / Last Route
25th May 1963
Bute Ferry Co
Dickie of Tarbert Ltd.
Parsons Engineering Co., Southampton.
2 Oil 4 SCSA 6 cyl. 100 x 115 mm.
Hoist & Lifts:
1963 - 1970: Colintraive - Rhubodach
On 23rd December 1969 the STG bought the Bute Ferry Co. Ltd – its trade, its basic slipways, and its vessels, including this extraordinary little ship – for the CSP. A fuller description of the Bute Ferry Co. Ltd, its history and its operations from Colintraive to Rhubodach across the Kyles of Bute can be found under the history of Portree and in fact this craft, Eilean Buidhe – the “Golden Island” - never sailed after the advent of CSP control.
Eilean Buidhe was the first vessel specifically built for the Colintraive-Rhubodach service and in appearance, though much smaller, closely resembled the chain ferries which operated on the River Clyde and of which the last, Renfrew, was withdrawn only in 1984 – double-ended, loading vehicles by very basic ramps, with her machinery at one side and two exhaust pipes in place of funnels. She was not, however, chain-guided; and she was built not of steel but of plywood, being the first vessel ever so constructed to win a Ministry of Transport certificate. As so built, she was driven by twin screws at each end - “she entered service on 25th May 1963,” records G E Langmuir, “and was officially named Eilean Buidhe, though facetiously nicknamed the Maid of Plywood!”
She does not seem to have been a great success and was withdrawn from service shortly afterwards to be returned to her builders at Tarbert in 1964 for considerable modification – most spectacularly, she was converted to (water) jet propulsion, which had last been attempted on two Clyde Navigation Trust ferries of 1865. These units, notes Mr Langmuir, “drew water in and forced it out again; and, being placed diagonally opposite each other at bow and stern, the craft could be steered on a swivel system.”
There was nothing wrong with such propulsion in principle – and many years later the Company did successfully adopt the concept for the new Sound of Harris ferry Loch Bhrusda, with her Schottel Pump Jet units – but Eilean Buidhe was never a reliable ship. In the winter of 1968-69 she compounded her general failure by sinking – as did her sister Dhuirinish – but was duly raised.
Eilean Buidhe saw no service after the CSP's buy-out of the Bute Ferry Co. Ltd. and was instead beached at Colintraive (beside the decaying hulks of earlier Rhubodach ferries) and offered for sale. “Messrs Spearman of Kames purchased her late in 1970 and the hulk was refloated and towed to Kames Quay early the following year,” records Iain C. MacArthur. “She was subsequently resold and taken to Kerrera via the Crinan Canal in August 1971 for duty as a yacht pontoon.”