12th June 1991
RIB and inflatable liferafts
Current / Last Route
12th September 1991
A large Loch which is an arm of the River Clyde
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
1997 - 2016: Lochaline - Fishnish
2017 - present: Mallaig - Armadale (summer only)
Late summer 1991 saw the introduction of the second of the new generation Skye ferries into service. Unlike her consort, her name was not really associated with her intended route - from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin on the 'misty isle'. Loch Fyne was a twin to the Loch Dunvegan which had been in service for three months already. The last of the old ferries, the Kyleakin was displaced from her duties by the new arrival on 12th September of that year, and so it was that the two new sisters became the regular ferries on the now 24-hour route.
Loch Fyne could carry 36 cars in 4 lanes on her car deck. As with the majority of other Loch Class ferries, passenger accommodation was found right down the starboard side of the hull. Due to the large numbers of passengers that would use this route, the amount of accommodation was significantly increased, so as to cater for up to 250 persons on each sailing. Her lounges were on two levels, with an open deck one level higher still. If there was a downside to their design then it lay in the high sided design of the passenger decks - they could be prone to being caught by the wind.
When she first entered service, Loch Fyne and indeed her sister Loch Dunvegan had very wide ramps at both ends of the hull. The central toe plates were lengthened after a short while so as to reduce the risk of long vehicles grounding, rather like the Kyleakin had sported previously. The bow and stern ramps could be carried in two positions, either folded as with the rest of the Loch Class and Island Class ferries, or folded out flat like the former Skye ferries had incorporated. During her time at the Kyle of Lochalsh, Loch Fyne had her ramps folded out flat so as to save time at either terminal. Only when she sailed for her annual overhauls would they be boxed and folded. After a few seasons in service, Loch Fyne's ramps were replaced with narrower ones which weighed less and therefore put less strain on her hydraulics.
The Loch Fyne would typically sail for overhauls after being relieved by the smaller Isle of Cumbrae during the winter months. When she came back to the route in the winter of 1994/95, it was to be her last season on the short route. Even before she was launched, it was well known that she would only be around for four years, thanks to the toll bridge that had been given the green light by the government. Through 1995 the concrete structure gradually took shape further down the Loch to the west and the inevitable day finally arrived in October. The 16th of that month saw Loch Fyne and her twin sister dressed with flags as they prepared to carry out the last ever car ferry runs across the narrow stretch of water. Crowds gathered from all over to take one of the several 'last' crossings before the ferries came off service and the bridge was declared open - to the disappointment of many! The following day saw the Loch Fyne sailing south via Oban, Kintyre and the Clyde for James Watt Dock at Greenock where she would be put on the list for sale. It appeared that this four year old ferry was to become the youngest vessel to be sold out of the fleet!
Two years passed and the Loch Fyne sat idle in the dock, patiently waiting for someone to buy her and her sister. It is believed that several potential buyers came forward during that time but nothing came to fruition. Calmac in the meantime sought permission for the redundant vessels to be de-mothballed and prepared for service once more. This move came not a moment too soon, for the brand new Loch Alainn suffered a major breakdown at Lochaline in mid August and a relief vessel was urgently required to keep the route open.
Initially Loch Fyne was left on her own in the dock while Loch Dunvegan went north and took over the Fishnish route. This was not to last however, following a further breakdown on the Loch Dunvegan towards the end of September, the Loch Fyne finally ventured from her lay-up berth and proceeded to Cumbrae Slip for inspection and then set off at her full 9 knots round the Mull of Kintyre and up into the Sound of Mull. Her arrival was a relief to regular users of the route, who had been catered for by the much smaller Loch Striven. And so it was that Loch Fyne became the permanent ferry on the Lochaline - Fishnish route.
The decision to keep the Loch Fyne at Lochaline was no bad thing. Her capacity of 36 cars was a 50% increase on that of the Loch Alainn and subsequently drivers turning up for a sailing could be guaranteed a place on the ferry on all but the very busiest of days such as on the Mull Rally Weekend. Commercial traffic was also able to see significant growth over the following two decades and this was best demonstrated in February 2007 when two ferries had to be assigned as overhaul cover with the Loch Linnhe acting as back-up to Isle of Cumbrae on an as-required basis.
In addition to her regular duties at Lochaline and Fishnish, Loch Fyne also saw service running from Mallaig to Armadale, in lieu of the Coruisk on more than one occasion in 2004 and was also observed on numerous occasions running berthing trials at Largs and Cumbrae Slip to assess suitability for a vessel of her size on that route. The trials were obviously a success, given the size of the Loch Shira.
Loch Fyne spent two decades in charge on the so-called back-door route to Mull, quietly plying back and forth with minimal fuss and proved herself to be a reliable and valuable asset - hard to believe that her sale was seriously considered all those years prior. Loch Fyne paid another visit to Mallaig at the start of the winter 2016/17, not to relieve a sickly Coruisk this time but to carry out berthing trials - a hint of what was being planned. Sure enough in January 2017 CalMac announced that the Loch Fyne would not be returning to Lochaline after her overhaul. Instead she underwent modifications to her ramps to allow her to load from the linkspans at Mallaig and Armadale. Her new regime would see her commencing he summer service on 1st April, as permitted by her passenger certificate in those more exposed waters, replacing the smaller Lochinvar which had faced unwarranted fierce criticism the previous summer by locals angered by the redeployment of the Coruisk. Loch Fyne and Lord of the Isles formed the working pair from 2017 onwards, supplemented on occasion by the Loch Bhrusda.
During her annual overhaul on the Clyde in early 2020 Loch Fyne was to have her appearance radically altered. She lost her fore and aft masts, replaced by a single white construction bolted on to the top of her wheelhouse and extending out over the car deck and her red and green navigation lights required new mountings constructed. She had been due to return to Mallaig in late March 2020 however the national lockdown saw the Skye service suspended indefinitely; it not being regarded as an essential service to an island served by a bridge. Loch Fyne instead made for Sandbank in the Holy Loch where she was laid up and other than a couple of trips down to Colintraive to keep her machinery ticking over (in the company of Isle of Cumbrae and Loch Riddon) she has remained there idle.
Virus-enforced shutdowns aside, it is anticipated that Loch Fyne will remain assigned to the Mallaig - Armadale route until such time as the Coruisk is able to return.