Loch Dunvegan (II)
15th March 1991
RIB and inflatable liferafts
Current / Last Route
13th May 991
A Loch on the north west coast of Skye
Ferguson Shipbuilders Ltd, Port Glasgow
2 x TAMD 162 4SCSA oil engines, 448 bhp each, driving Voith Schneider propulsion units
Hoist & Lifts:
1991 - 1995: Kyle of Lochalsh - Kyleakin
1995 - 1997: Lay-up in James Watt Dock, Glasgow
1997 - 1999: Lochaline - Fishnish / Mallaig - Armadale / Wemyss Bay - Rothesay
1999 - Present: Colintraive - Rhubodach
Twenty years after their introduction, the former Skye ferries Lochalsh and Kyleakin were starting to show their age as traffic built to unprecedented levels. Calls were for a twenty-four operation and larger ferries. It was only a matter of time...
Loch Dunvegan was loosely based on the 1986 built Loch Striven and her sisters in terms of general layout. Her passenger accommodation was found down the starboard length of the hull. The car deck was wide enough to hold four lanes of nine cars, meaning that the new vessel could accommodate 36 cars. Her size directly led to her being referred to as the first of the 'Super Lochs'. She and her sister Loch Fyne were the largest of the double-ended 'Loch Class' ships to have entered the fleet
The Loch Dunvegan entered service in May 1991. Initial teething problems were soon ironed out - such as the risk of long vehicles grounding on her ramps by lengthening the central fingers thus altering the approach angle of the bus / lorry. After a few seasons on the crossing her ramps were actually replaced by narrower ones which put less strain on her hydraulics. It could be argued that one of the weaknesses in her design was the high sided passenger accommodation she had. In strong winds it was often harder to control her whilst manoeuvring onto one of the slipways - her Voith Schneider units being used to the full to keep her in position.
The Kyle of Lochalsh - Kyleakin crossing became a round-the-clock affair with one of the so-called 'Super Lochs' running to a timetable through the night and then the pair operating the usual shuttle service throughout the day. Overhauls were to take place in the winter months once the relief ferry Isle of Cumbrae had arrived to provide cover. The Loch Dunvegan would then have her ramps folded before she sailed south for the Clyde and dry-docking.
When she returned for the 1995 season the Loch Dunvegan was preparing for her final season in service. The infamous Skye Bridge was gradually taking shape about half a mile west of the Kyle slipway - a structure which was to spell the end of regular employment. In this year however she was to venture out of her regular sphere of operation when she sailed round from Kyle to Raasay to undergo berthing trials for the Forestry Commission, fitting in around the Raasay's scheduled timetables.
The bridge was opened on October 16th 1995, shortly after which the Loch Dunvegan and Loch Fyne sailed south for the last time and were laid up and put up for sale. Originally the condition of their construction was that they be redeployed elsewhere in the network once the bridge was completed, although the government u-turned on this. The end result was that the redundant Skye vessel spent two years sat idle in the James Watt Dock at Greenock and put up for sale.
A change in the government brought about a change of heart over the future of the two sisters. The Secretary of State for Scotland ruled the Loch Dunvegan and Loch Fyne be made ready for service in 1997. This was no bad move, for in mid-August the brand new Loch Alainn suffered a major breakdown in the Sound of Mull only six weeks into her career and with all other Loch Class vessels otherwise employed, it was the Loch Dunvegan which was sent up to take over the route, taking over from the Eigg and Bruernish which had been keeping the route open as an temporary solution.
The Sound of Mull must have been cursed that summer, for the Loch Dunvegan then followed suit in late September when she too broke down and required repairs on the Clyde. She was was sent back to the Clyde while Loch Striven was pressed into service prior to Loch Fyne arriving to take over the Sound of Mull route on a permanent basis.
Following completion of the repairs, Loch Dunvegan was employed on relief duties, such as covering at Mallaig when Pioneer was required elsewhere, relieving her sister in February 1998 at Fishnish and providing a passenger-only service on the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay route when the mainland linkspan underwent maintenance (vehicles being shipped via Gourock on the Streakers).
It was early 1999 before the Loch Dunvegan was given a new permanent role of her own. New facilities had been constructed in the Kyles of Bute, with a specially widened slipway and a new pier so that the Loch Dunvegan could tie up overnight instead of resorting to the previous solution of using a buoy offshore. The vessel took over from the Isle of Cumbrae in early 1999 and became the new regular ferry on the secondary Colintraive - Rhubodach route, bringing with her the largest capacity ever seen on the route.
Not long after taking over her new role, the Loch Dunvegan saw activity on a route which was younger than she was. A landslide blocked the A83 between Tarbert and Lochgilphead, completely cutting Kintyre off. The vast capacity of the Loch Dunvegan meant she was the inevitable choice to go round and provide additional sailings on the Tarbert - Portavadie crossing in conjunction with the smaller Cumbrae ferry Loch Alainn. The latter was called on to provide 24-hour sailings but the larger ship was used for a few days until the Kintyre road was reopened and she could return to the Kyles of Bute.
Loch Dunvegan settled into a very relaxed lifestyle on the secondary Bute service, pottering back and forth on the 3 minute crossing throughout the day, from as early as 0530 right through to 2100. Initially only the early morning and evenings ran to a specific timetable, with sailings during the day being on a 'frequent intervals' basis. This later changed when a formal timetable was introduced for the entire day.
New ramps were fitted during her 2005 overhaul at Greenock, following numerous problems with her old ones during the previous season. The new ones were built in Poland and shipped over towards the end of 2004 before they were tried out at Largs (not without their problems, requiring a trip back to the dock for further modifications). There was at one time speculation that Loch Dunvegan would one day be transferred to the Largs - Cumbrae Slip crossing following berthing trials being carried out in the last few seasons, although due to the depth of the water around Largs pier at low tide, this would not be able to happen. By the time Largs pier was rebuilt the Loch Shira had been built specifically for the Cumbrae service and Loch Dunvegan remained in the Kyles.
It could be argued that the Loch Dunvegan is far larger than is necessary on her current route as she is seldom more than a quarter full. For two decades she has seen very few changes in her routine and often the only break from the norm comes in November when she sails for Troon or Greenock for annual overhaul after handing over to the Loch Alainn. The only service since 2000 that she has seen on another route came in February 2012 for a week and then again for 3 weeks the following February when the Lochaline - Fishnish route needed an overhaul relief vessel and Loch Dunvegan had the necessary temporary modifications to her ramps before heading off to cover for her sister.
Rumour has it at the time of writing (May 2020) that Loch Dunvegan is due to have her appearance ruined in the same style of the Loch Fyne in her net overhaul later this year. Her main masts are to be removed and replaced with one central mast sticking out from the top of the wheelhouse.