24th March 2003
RIB and inflatable liferafts
Current / Last Route
5th June 2003
Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd
Mrs Marion Mills, wife of CalMac Chriaman, Harold Mills
A small loch on North Uist
McTay Marine, Bromborough
<p class="font_8">4x Schottel water jet propulsion units</p>
Hoist & Lifts:
2003 - Present: Berneray - Leverburgh
Such was the immediate success of the 18-car Loch Bhrusda after her introduction to service on the Sound of Harris crossing, that only seven years later a new and altogether much larger ferry was ordered as a replacement.
The hour-long sailing from Berneray to Leverburgh on Harris began as a more frequent alternative to the Hebridean Isles' sailings from Tarbert on Harris to Lochmaddy on North Uist, often via Uig on Skye. The Loch Bhrusda had plied the Sound of Harris for just a few months when it became clear that vehicle reservations were a must and the timetable information was changed accordingly. Just a few seasons later and it was crystal clear that with the number of vehicles that could be accommodated on her car deck being just 18, and a partial height restriction on the car deck, either far more sailings were required to keep up with demand, a second vessel would be required to operate the route in partnership with Loch Bhrusda, or an entirely new and larger ferry would be needed.
As with most other routes in the Calmac network, the latter option was adopted and a further order was placed with McTay Marine on the Mersey - builders of Loch Bhrusda some years previously. The new ferry would be another large variant on the highly successful Loch Class and the precedent set by the Loch Bhrusda for using water jets was continued. This newbuild would have four Schottel units for improved handling on the tortuous crossing.
The new ferry took to the water on 24th March 2003 and her naming ceremony took place at McTay Marine's yard on 24th April, with the wife of CalMac's chairman doing the honours and introducing Loch Portain. Sea trials took place on the Mersey from 21st to 30th May with the city of Liverpool as a backdrop. Loch Portain made her way north from the Mersey and her first port of call north of the border was Fishnish for ramp trials. She then made for Oban and an overnight berth at the railway Pier before returning to Fishnish the following morning and then carrying on out to the Sound of Harris; reaching Berneray on the evening of Sunday 1st June.
Loch Portain undertook further trials at her new base on Berneray and at Leverburgh, passing Loch Bhrusda in mid crossing. The size difference between the two ships was immediately obvious! A few days later, on Thursday 5th June the new ship took over running on the Sound of Harris crossing while the Loch Bhrusda lay on standby at the berth near Otternish - the former terminal for the Berneray ferry, before the causeway was built. Loch Bhrusda left and headed south a few days later ready to take over the Ardmhor - Eriskay route on Saturday, 10th June.
The new Loch Portain was of a completely different appearance to previous Lochs. Her car deck provided space for up to 32 cars and she was able to carry vehicles of up to 5.1m in height. Above her car deck lay her passenger accommodation which was fitted out to provide several seating areas around a central block which housed the ticket office and toilets. An information display was also incorporated and very limited catering was provided by means of vending machines for sweets/snacks and hot drinks. The bridge sat proudly above the passenger lounge and provided her master with a grandstand view - something which is essential on such a tortuous route as that from Berneray to Leverburgh. Initially the top of Loch Portain's bridge was painted bright orange (as had Loch Bhrusda's when she first entered service) although this was painted white in subsequent a subsequent annual overhaul.
With the greater size of the new ferry, capacity almost doubled. The layout of the car deck allowed for far greater numbers of commercial vehicles - the full width of the car deck was clear to a height of 5.1m - a huge improvement on the Loch Bhrusda with her overhanging passenger deck which restricted high vehicles to just one lane. Her greater width led to her being more stable in rough waters and her design was intended to allow her to continue sailing even in Force 8 gales. The original conditions laid down by the MCA relating to fog still applied however and this meant that if the next two route markers were obscured then she had to come to a stand. Fog and tidal conditions were the main reasons for sailings being delayed or cancelled.
Loch Portain has yet to serve on any route other than the Sound of Harris. She leaves the Outer Isles in February for her annual drydocking, most usually at Greenock or Troon, once the Loch Bhrusda returns to her old haunts.