24th July 1970
15th September 1991
Current / Last Route
14th August 1970
Caledonian Steam Packet Co.
Village on the eastern tip of Skye that she was built to serve
Newport Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd.
Gardner Engines Ltd., Manchester.
2 Oil 4SCSA 8 cyl. 5 1/2” x 7 3/4”. 2 Voith-Schneider propellers.
Hoist & Lifts:
Small passenger lounge
1970 - 1991: Kyle of Lochalsh - Kyleakin
The 1970 Kyleakin was a ship of signal importance in many respects. She was the first vessel the Company ordered off the Clyde and, indeed, outwith Scotland – built at Newport in Wales. She was the first drive-through ferry to be ordered under the new Scottish Transport Group regime, the first to be equipped with Voith-Schneider propulsion (for a fuller description of this technology, see Keppel) and the first vessel of “double-ended” design – then an entire novelty in the fleet but now, and especially since the mid-1980s, a standard type for shorter ferry crossings. She and her sister, a new Lochalsh, duly ensured that the Kyleakin station was the first West Highland crossing in the MacBrayne/CSP network to be converted to end-loading operation.
Mounting congestion, delays and angry customers through the summers of the late 1960s made Kyleakin one of the most urgent problems when the STG took control from 1st January 1969. That summer yet another little side-loading ferry, Coruisk, was placed on the route and as a short-term measure the STG resorted to other remedies: for assorted fiscal and bureaucratic reasons, administrative control of the Kyleakin service was transferred to another STG subsidiary, Highland Omnibuses Ltd. of Inverness (though the CSP continued to operate the Skye flotilla and technical needs remained under its Marine Superintendent), and late in June 1969 the post of Ferry Manager was created, based at Kyleakin.
The CSP had already drafted major modernisation proposals in conjunction with the Highlands & Islands Development Board and at the end of 1968 it was announced that Gourock was seeking greatly to expand its service, ordering two very large purpose-built end-loading ferries while the County Councils built entirely new slipways. This was finally confirmed as an STG commitment in a speech by Patrick Thomas in August 1969: amongst a host of innovations (the purchase of a hovercraft; the temporary transfer to the Clyde of one of MacBrayne's big car ferries while GLEN SANNOX was converted to end-loading; the added transfer to the Firth of MacBrayne's new drive-through ferry building at Troon, the future IONA) he confirmed that two 28-car ferries had been ordered for the Kyleakin crossing.
The contract for a new Kyleakin was placed with the Newport yard in June 1969 and that for her sister in August. Each was to cost £110,000 and delivery was promised in twelve months. Meanwhile Ross & Cromarty County Council and Inverness County Council proceeded with the new terminals, the existing slipways being unsuitable for end-loading operation. A new Kyleakin slip was completed timeously, by the spring of 1970, but construction of the Kyle one was attended by much delay and it was high summer 1970 before it was complete. These new terminals cost £150,000 and in early 1971 another £9,000 had to be spent demolishing one of the old Kyle slipways which was obstructing the approach to a new one.
A consequence of all this work was that by the start of the 1970 summer season there was one side-loading berth still operational at either Kyle or Kyleakin and, despite the institution of a 24-hour service in May 1970, “delays to traffic were appalling...,” writes Iain C MacArthur, “Indeed, the Skye project was the only major section of the STG's timetable of Caley modernisation undertaken in 1970 to go awry, and that through no fault of their own, except perhaps excessive optimism and inexperience.” The real crisis was that the new boats were deplorably late. “Design changes, a steel shortage, the late delivery of components and of course the inevitable labour troubles were all to blame for the late delivery of the new Kyleakin and Lochalsh. The former, floated out of the building dock without ceremony on Friday 24th July, left Newport in Monmouthshire a week later under the tow of the Clyde tug Campaigner bound for Greenock. The STG had decided that in view of the closure of Newport dock for urgent repairs the ferry should be brought to Greenock for completion and trials. Meantime crews were trained to handle the new craft on a similar ferry operating on Strangford Lough on Ireland. Wrestler got the job of towing the new vessel north to Kyle and Kyleakin belatedly entered service on Friday 14th August.”
Then, notes, Mr MacArthur darkly, her troubles began. “At low tide there was a danger that the slip at Kyleakin would foul the propellers but remedial work removed this threat early in 1971. The vessel broke down and until the fault had been eliminated the BOT withdrew her passenger certificate. This was the first occasion on which the Caley Company had placed an order for new tonnage off the Clyde and the failure of the Bristol Channel yard to meet the time schedule was a sore disappointment. The second ferry Lochalsh was not even ready for duty at Skye until the spring of 1971...”
It was the most dreadful start for a new vessel imaginable and it would be many more years – and the commissioning of a third Coruisk in 2003 – before another new ship had such an inauspicious beginning for the Company. Kyleakin was hit first by trouble with her large hydraulic ramps; and then her cooling system broke down. These faults were duly resolved but it was not until Lochalsh finally joined her, on 31st March 1971, that Kyleakin was at last seen to full advantage.
The new boats were big - “double-enders”, with large hydraulic ramps at both ends. In service these were retained in a half-raised position, in a manner followed by their 1991 successors. Kyleakin and Lchalsh were half as long again as the 1969 Coruisk and with twice her beam. Their vehicular decks were specially strengthened to carry vehicles up to 32 tons in weight. The passenger accommodation – a narrow lounge, with an upper deck open to passengers atop – ran along one side of each ship, in a style established by the 1967 Berwick-built Rosehaugh, a side-loading craft built for the Kessock Ferry in Inverness and which was later transferred to Corran on the opening of the Kessock Bridge in 1982.
Kyleakin, like her sister, was driven by powerful Gardner diesel engines coupled to two Voith-Schneider propulsion-units, one at each end and on diametrically opposed corners of her hull. These made her extremely manoeuvrable – she could spin like a penny – and had already proved their worth with Keppel on the Clyde. She could carry 200 passengers and 28 cars, or their equivalent in commercial traffic, and – once the new ferries had finally settled down – the beauty of their design became evident. Cumbersome side-loading became history and, with the aid of their advanced propulsion, the ferries could berth, hold hard against the slip, unload and load and retire across the strait without the use of mooring-ropes. Traffic was kept on the move and from spring 1971 and until well into the 1980s the queues of high summer were entirely eliminated.
Kyleakin could be readily distinguished from her sister as she bore but one plain gantry mast, projecting inside from her wheelhouse. Both vessels, too, had touches of MacBrayne livery: they were the first Skye ferries to boast white waterlines and their metal decking was painted green on the MacBrayne pattern.
Both ships were normally overhauled at Fleming's yard in Stornoway – Kyleakin usually before, and Lochalsh after, the new year – and otherwise saw little alteration. With the advent of CalMac merger in 1973 their masts were painted brown rather than bright yellow at Stornoway refit, but the effect was not very attractive and the old colour was restored by high season. In 1975 Kyleakin and Lochalsh had further strengthening to their decks to allow them to bear very heavy plant – on special sailings – to the new Howard-Doris oil platform construction yard at Kishorn. Occasionally one or other would retire to Portree for a week for painting; for such occasions – and for most of each winter – a Small Island Class bow-loader or, later, the converted Coruisk lay at Kyleakin in reserve. “Otters” were built at Kyleakin in 1980, south of the new causeway and slip, where the large ferries could lie when not in service, rather than inside Kyle Pier.
As Lochalsh had the more efficient ramps of the two, she tended to be in service a little more frequently than Kyleakin and summer traffic had visibly eased a little with the advent of the Stornoway-Ullapool car ferry service in 1973. In 1977 Kyleakin was for the first time sent to the Clyde for annual refit, lying at Port Glasgow while work to modify her ramps was considered.
This was not, however, carried out until late July 1978, when two narrow raised strips were fitted to the ramps, projecting beyond the end, to ease the loading of very long vehicles. These additions were painted bright yellow and were most disconcerting for ordinary motorists. Certainly they helped vast HGVs to trundle aboard without the lorry's rear “grounding” on the slip; but the added weight proved rather too much for Kyleakin's accident-prone hydraulics and that September she was withdrawn entirely for modifications. A crew strike that summer, at the height of the season, from Thursday 28th July to Friday 3rd August, caused immense disruption, with great anger and inconvenience on Skye and atrocious publicity for Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd; especially when it emerged just how badly crewmen on the Kyleakin ferries were paid. The ageing Bute at Armadale and the wee, privately run Glenmallie at Kylerhea were quite overwhelmed during the cessation of the Kyleakin service. There was more unpleasant industrial action at Easter 1987, with crews refusing to take the secondary ferry out “early”.
1979 was a quiet season – with poor summer weather and petrol scares – and, again, Lochalsh was the main summer vessel. But Kyleakin did serve as principle ship from August and on Saturday 19th May she had a starring role – filmed by a BBC TV crew and bearing Rod Hull and 'Emu'!
In the winter of 1983-1984 Kyleakin and her sister both had radar installed and for the first time a CalMac emblem was painted on each side of the wheelhouse, in the style of Isle of Cumbrae. Following the example of the new Loch-Class ferries, in the winter of 1986-1987 the wheelhouse of both Skye ferries was at overhaul painted entirely to resemble a CalMac funnel. With the demise of Corusik one of the Loch-Class ferries – or Isle of Cumbrae served as winter relief.
Summer traffic was, again, steadily on the increase and, with this added workload, the age of both vessels was beginning to tell. Apart from mechanical breakdown, their design and the conditions of the route led to two quite regular misadventures – a rope fouling a Voith-Schneider unit, or being stranded for several hours on a slipway by a falling tide, causing great disruption. In the summer of 1987, for the first time in many years, long queues began to form at busy periods – even with both vessels in commission. An undoubted factor was the success of the new Hebridean Isles at the Tarbert station, creaming traffic away from the Ullapool route especially, just as the commissioning of her 1964 predecessor in turn had added greatly to the burden of earlier Kyleakin ferries – passenger traffic at Kyleakin had risen by 20% at Easter 1987, and cars by 10%.
In a bid to ease the loading of the Skye ferries, passenger fares were abolished completely from March 1988, but CalMac still refused to operate a 24-hour service at Kyleakin, a folly that contributed heavily to growing demand on Skye for a bridge. Such speculation in turn made the Company reluctant to order new ferries, even though both hard-pressed units were plainly near the end of their useful lives. So CalMac waltzed blissfully into the loss of their most lucrative route of all.
Kyleakin seemed increasingly prone to mishap. Late in April 1983 a young crewman – he had only been in CalMac employ for a week – died in a horrific accident in her engine room; and in September 1986 a driver lost control of her car at Kyleakin, careering down the slip and ramming a stanchion by Kyleakin's ramp. Her lady passenger died and she herself was injured. It was late in 1988, however, that the Lochalsh in turn had her terrifying breakdown, blown as far as Balmacara with some sixty people on board. The public were astonished to learn that neither Kyleakin ferry boasted ship-to-shore radio or even lifejackets. The following November, with summer delay approaching the humiliating heights of the late 1960s, Highland Regional Council voted fatefully in approval for a privately financed Skye bridge, and in 1990 CalMac had at last to confront the crisis at Kyle.
New ferries were ordered in February that year from Ferguson Shipbuilders at Port Glasgow, and from 28th April 1991 CalMac at last instituted a year-round 24-hour service at Kyleakin, previously run only in the summer of 1970. Kyleakin was finally displaced by the new Loch Fyne on 12th September 1991.
On Sabbath 15th September, following in the wake of her sister Lochalsh, she left Kyle for the south and her new owners in Ireland, Cross River Ferries Ltd. of Cobh, County Cork. Renamed Carrigaloe, she finally took up service on the Carrigaloe-Glenbrook service in March 1993, in consort with her sister and offering frequent service on a passage only four minutes long.
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