30th June 2010
Marine Escape System, FRC and inflatable liferafts
Current / Last Route
1st June 2011
Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd
Ancient of the Lords of the Isles at Loch Finlaggan, Islay
Remontowa Group, Gdansk, Poland
2 x Wärtsilä 8L32 providing 4,000kw each at 750rpm
Hoist & Lifts:
1x Hoistable Car (Mezzanine) Deck for 18 cars
Childrens play area
Disabled lift to all decks
2011 - Present: Kennacraig - Port Askaig
Additional: Uig - Tarbert - Lochmaddy / Kenacraig - Islay - Colonsay - Oban
The announcement of a new ferry for Islay was made as far back as May 2007 at the naming ceremony onboard Argyle. For several years the permanent provision of a second ferry on the routes to Islay had allowed traffic to build up - in particular commercial vehicles in connection with the whisky industry.
It was three in a row for the Remontowa yard over in Gdansk. Fresh off the back of two successful builds for the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay route, Remontowa were awarded the £25m contract on 2nd November 2007, to design and build a 90m vessel to serve Islay. Construction began on the same site that had seen Bute take shape in 2004/5 and Argyle in 2006/7.
The design of the new ship called for a major increase in deadweight capacity, to meet demand for whisky wagon space. She would also have to juggle that demand with that of locals and tourists. The dimensions of the ship were limited to a maximum length of 90m if she were to fit at Port Ellen and Port Askaig - an increase of less than 5m over the Isle of Arran which she was to replace. The solution was to employ a mezzanine deck over the starboard half of the main car deck and it meant the newbuild would carry up to 85 cars. The layout of her car deck was such that she could carry two lanes of commercial traffic and four lanes of regular vehicles with the mezzanine deck in use - a huge improvement on the older ships.
As the newbuild took shape overseas, she was still without a name. There was much speculation as to what she would be christened. CalMac's own resident historian, the well-respected Ian McCrorie was asked for a recommendation to the CalMac board on the preferred name for the new ship and indeed he proposed Pioneer, a nod to the 1974 favourite - well-travelled and much loved Pioneer who saw service on most routes throughout the CalMac network in her time. Her new owners CMAL saw things differently however and launched a competition online to choose the ferry's name. Voting was aimed at the Islay community only, but in practise nothing prevented outsiders from casting votes. Contenders were: Gendale / Locheil / Finlaggan / Pioneer. Two of the names, - one being Pioneer - would have been ideal for Islay, Locheil was the other and would have revived the name of a well remembered mailboat from David MacBrayne days gone by. The name chosen was neither of these however - Finlaggan instead receiving the lion's share of the vote.
Construction of the hull neared completion and the launch date was set for 30th June 2010 and on the appointed day, at 1415 the Finlaggan slid sideways off the quay and sent a tidal wave around the dock in Gdansk. With another foreign launch, CMAL provided a live link so that it could be watched back home in the UK - see the video here. (A further video was added later on showing the construction, fitting out and arrival on Islay - see here)
Fitting out took place over the next few months and on through the harsh Polish winter. Sea trials in the southern Baltic and load trials of the bow and stern ramps in Gdansk were conducted and then Finlaggan was handed over on 11th May 2011 to her new owners, who immediately chartered her out to CalMac. Crew training and familiarisation was then in progress over the next few days and then it was off out on the long voyage from Poland to Scotland, under the command of Capt. Guy Robertson.
Oban was the first port of call for the new ferry and she reached the Gateway to the Isles at around 1730 on Sunday 22nd May, berthing at the North Pier. The original plan had been for the naming ceremony to take place on Wednesday 25th and then for her to enter service on Friday 27th. The plan went smoothly as far as Wednesday. Trials at Colonsay were scheduled in for the Thursday but a component failure in the port engine saw these curtailed and Finlaggan made her way to Oban to await repairs. It was an embarrassing start to say the least and the 1800 sailing from Port Askaig, which should have been her first sailing was actually carried out by the faithful Isle of Arran. It would be Wednesday 1st June before her inaugural sailing took place and this was the 1300 sailing out of Kennacraig.
Further technical problems were soon to befall the Finlaggan however, for on 14th June she suffered a failure in her bow ramp and clam doors. This was traced to contamination in the hydraulic system and would require remedial work in the cylinders and pumps. For the next week she was forced to sail as a stern-loader only and naturally this led to delays. She was forced to sail for the Mersey on 20th June for repairs, arriving the following day and was out of service for nearly three weeks. Upon her eventual return she settled into her new routine well, swallowing up the traffic with room to spare.
Internally the Finlaggan was a world apart from the Isle of Arran which she replaced. Decor-wise, people could have been forgiven they'd stepped aboard a cruise ship rather than a car ferry. Gone were the heavily patterned carpets, replaced by shiny laminate wooden flooring lots of shiny highly polished chrome and pale wood panelling throughout the passenger areas. One feature that was a big selling point was the open foredeck area, allowing passengers an excellent view of the surrounding scenery. (Sadly after only a few seasons the health and safety police decided this posed a safety risk and this excellent viewing area is now inaccessible to passengers). Open deck space is available in a very limited area aft of the passenger lounge however most is located up on the top deck between the twin funnels and along the starboard side offering great views. The port side however is atrocious for viewing thanks to the fast rescue craft and the locked white gate - so when ferries pass port-to-port (or red-to-red) then Finlaggan is not the ship to be on for anyone wanting photos of other fleet members!
The 2012 season saw Finlaggan having her first overhaul at Greenock before embarking on a tour of the west coast for berthing trials at Ardrossan, Brodick, Ullapool, Stornoway, Uig, Tarbert, Lochmaddy, Coll, Tiree, Craignure and Castlebay with a view to potential future overhaul relief work. Another new venture for 2012 was a change to the schedule on Wednesdays. Finlaggan switched places with Hebridean Isles and undertook the weekly through sailing to Port Askaig, Colonsay and Oban.
The winter of 2012/2013 saw Finlaggan taken off the Islay route for three months in order to cover on the Uig Triangle while Hebrides went off relieving around the network. It wasn't a popular move in th eyes of Islay folk who regarded Finlaggan as their ferry. That particular spell also coincided with some decidedly windy weather and disruptions on the Tarbert / Lochmaddy routes was fairly frequent. It's fair to say that Finlaggan didn't endear herself with islanders on Harris and North Uist as a result - though to be fair, any vessel that isn't Hebrides or Clansman draws criticism and there were numerous claims that the Finlaggan had remained tied up in port on conditions that Hebrides would have sailed in. Strangely enough though, when a particularly cold spell landed across the country, there were few complaints when Finlaggan opened her gangway doors in Tarbert for locals to come aboard for warmth when their local power supply failed.
That was the last relief spell Finlaggan was deployed on - since her return to the Islay run in 2013 she has remained solely running out of Kennacraig to Port Ellen and Port Askaig, with the occasional extension out to Colonsay when required. At the time of writing (April 2020) the next new Islay vessel is in the planning stages. According to CMAL it will be based on the Finlaggan but with more of an emphasis on freight carriage.