22nd May 1986
An Linne Dhubh
RIB and inflatable liferafts
Current / Last Route
4th July 1986
Large loch forming part of the Highland Fault north of Oban
Richard Dunston (Hessle) Ltd
6-cyl 2x Voith-Schneider Propellers
Hoist & Lifts:
1986 - 1997: Largs - Cumbrae Slip
1998: Tarbert - Portavadie
1999: Tobermory - Kilchoan
2000: Largs - Cumbrae Slip
2001 - 2016: Tobermory - Kilchoan
2016 - present: Spare vessel
Colintraive - Rhubodach / Lochaline - Fishnish / Tayinlaon - Gigha / Oban - Lismore / Fionnphort - Iona /
Mallaig - Armadale / Sconser - Raasay / Ardmhor - Eriskay
Loch Linnhe’s history goes back to the early 1980s when the order for four new drive-through ferries was placed with Dunston’s of Hessle on the Humber. For years previously a number of routes had seen traffic levels build up steadily and were now at the point where the small ferries that were used could no longer cope with demand. Prime examples of this were the Largs – Cumbrae Slip, Lochranza – Claonaig, Colintraive – Rhubodach and Fishnish – Lochaline routes.
The new ferries were modified versions of the Isle of Cumbrae, at that time operating the Cumbrae route on her own. Their overall size was roughly the same as the 1977-built vessel, however their car decks were only wide enough to take two lanes of vehicles as opposed to three. The space that would have been allocated for the third vehicle lane, on the port side of the ships was actually given over to a second passenger lounge in addition to that on the starboard side. This modification reduced car capacity to 12 but increased passenger capacity to around 200.
As with the Isle of Cumbrae, the new ferries received Voith Schneider propulsion units fore and aft which meant they could manoeuvre around the tightest turns and berth with ease at their given slipways. The newbuilds were also more aesthetically pleasing when they emerged in 1986 and 1987. They had no funnels as such so their wheelhouses were painted red and given a black top. The lion emblem was added to either side of the wheelhouse and the mainmast rose at an angle above it.
The first of the four new ferries had been named Loch Striven. Loch Linnhe was the second vessel completed and followed her sister up the east coast from the Humber to Inverness and through the Caledonian Canal before emerging at Corpach and sailing off down the loch with which she shared her name. After passing Lismore the Loch Linnhe then headed up the Sound of Mull and to Fishnish and Lochaline for berthing trails. Following successful completion of these, the new ferry then entered service on 4th July 1986, replacing the Canna on the secondary route to Mull. Her introduction into service brought with it double the capacity on the route as well as removal of reversing on and off the car deck.
Loch Linnhe remained on the Lochaline crossing for about four weeks before transferring to the Clyde in place of Isle of Cumbrae which then took her place at Lochaline. Upon arrival at Largs she joined her slightly older sister Loch Striven on the Cumbrae Slip service and allowed a two-ship, quarter hourly service from either terminal at peak times. Up to 48 cars could be carried in either direction in an hour when both sisters were in service – a 33% increase on a year earlier with just the Isle of Cumbrae.
The Cumbrae crossing became the home of the two sisters for 11 years. Both would be in service during the summers and one would venture off to other routes on relief duties in the winters while the other one remained at Largs. As such Loch Linnhe saw service at Iona, Lochaline, Lismore, Gigha and Bute while on relief duties. In the mid 1990s, like her sister, the Loch Linnhe saw a winter on the new combined Portavadie and Lochranza service
1997 saw the Cumbrae Lochs being split up as the Loch Striven was sent north to take over the Sconser – Raasay route. Loch Linnhe was given a new partner in the shape of Loch Riddon. The following year however saw Loch Linnhe also leave for pastures new and she spent the 1998 season on the Tarbert – Portavadie crossing. Until this time Rhum and then Bruernish had operated the summer service but it was clear that the demand was there for a larger ferry. Loch Linnhe brought year round drive through capability to the route and as a result traffic grew. Gone was the potential problem of there not being space on the ferry after a lengthy drive down Kintyre.
Despite her success on the Loch Fyne crossing, the Loch Linnhe was transferred again in early 1999 when she was replaced by the very vessel she ousted from Largs over a decade previously. The Isle of Cumbrae arrived to take control of the Portavadie run in time for the summer season and the displaced ship moved over to the Western Isles for her next assignment. The 1999 season saw Loch Linnhe bringing drive-through capability on the seasonal Tobermory - Kilchoan service. To accommodate her greater size the slipways at Tobermory on Mull, and Kilchoan on Ardnamurchan had to be widened. Her crossing time was between 30 and 35 minutes and for the duration of the summer timetable she gave up to seven return crossings a day. In August she was called away to provide temporary emergency cover on the Mallaig - Armadale run in tandem with Raasay. Loch Linnhe was relieved in the winter months by the Raasay (preferred by the local crew due to being the better sea boat in rough conditions) and this in turn allowed her to become part of the relief pool. In this capacity she saw year-round service all over the network.
The new millennium saw Loch Linnhe returning to Largs for the summer season while Loch Riddon did the honours up at Tobermory. The following winter she returned to her relief role and as well as her regular stints she also called at Eigg on the 22nd of December 2000 to tow her tiny fleet mate Ulva to Tobermory for breaking up. Relief duties since 2000 included the Tayinloan - Gigha, Sconser - Raasay, Barra - Eriskay, Tarbert - Lochranza, Largs - Cumbrae Slip, Fionnphort - Iona and Lochaline - Fishnish routes.
Loch Linnhe remained the summer vessel operating out of Tobermory from 2001 to autumn 2016 when she was replaced by the larger Loch Tarbert, herself displaced by the new hybrid Catriona. Loch Linnhe was relegated to spare vessel and would be based in the Holy Loch. This was by no means a retirement however and a testament to this was that she was the first of the quartet to be re-engined in the winter of 2017/18. While out on trials in the run up to Christmas she was observed spelling out various festive messages around Cumbrae to those with the ability to track her course. (Her crew had her out again on Boxing Day to wish the world an early Happy New Year!)
Now well into her 4th decade of active service, Loch Linnhe has seen service on almost all routes on the west coast normally served by the small fleet - in all those years only the Small Isles routes from Mallaig have escaped her varied duties.