17th December 1986
Rib and inflatable liferafts
Current / Last Route
16th April 1987
The village on Arran that she was built to serve
Richard Dunston (Hessle) Ltd
6-cyl 2x Voith-Schneider Propellers
Hoist & Lifts:
1987 - 1992: Claonaig - Lochranza
1992 - present: Tayinloan - Gigha
Largs - Cumbrae Slip / Colintaive - Rhubodach / Lochaline - Fishnish
Loch Ranza’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 three of the new ferries had been named Loch Striven, Loch Linnhe and Loch Riddon respectively. The fourth and final one, launched at Hessle on 17th December 1986, did not put in an appearance until the spring of 1987 when she replaced the Rhum on the 30 minute crossing from Lochranza on Arran to Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula. Her introduction on 16th April 1987 brought the completion of that particular phase of improvements on the routes operated by smaller members of the fleet. The Lochranza route was the fifth to be upgraded in twelve months, in terms of vehicle and passenger capacity.
The Loch Ranza has led a far more sheltered existence than her counterparts. She spent five seasons on the summer only crossing of the Kilbrannan Sound with a little bit of relief work in the winters on other routes such as Largs - Cumbrae, Colintraive - Rhubodach and Lochaline - Fishnish. Overhauls were usually carried out at Ardmaleish on Bute in the quiet season before she returned to service in March or April, depending when the summer timetable started.
As with many other routes in the network, the demand for this secondary crossing grew as the 1980s were left behind. After only 5 years in charge of the Lochranza crossing a new and larger ferry was introduced. The new arrival had a capacity for 18 cars – basically a more modern version of the Isle of Cumbrae. The Loch Tarbert entered service in July 1992, at which point the Loch Ranza moved away for a new role. She had been promised to the islanders of Gigha when her replacement was announced and on 26th July she duly took up service on the 20 minute sailing from Tayinloan on the mainland, to the south of West Loch Tarbert. The vessel she replaced was the Bruernish, the main Gigha vessel since Tayinloan slipway was completed back in 1979. Loch Ranza brought drive-through capacity to Gigha for the first time.
Her new role was a full-time employment so the days where Loch Ranza was available to provide relief service in the winter months were essentially over and her routine was very much more settled. Occasionally she would be called upon to take the Cumbrae run while resting at Largs prior to or immediately following her annual overhauls, but for the most part she ran only between Tayinloan and Gigha.
Into the new millennium and life continued this way for the Loch Ranza. One factor however did throw the occasional spanner in the works, particularly in the depths of the winter. The severity of winter storms was growing over time; an effect of climate change no doubt. One of the most severe came in early 2005 and in common with every other vessel in the fleet, Loch Ranza remained tied up safely at the south pier. The location of Tayinloan led it to be particularly vulnerable to fierce swells and on numerous occasions the slipway was rendered unusable due to large amount of sand and seaweed being washed up. On such occasions Loch Ranza had no alternative but to divert her sailings to the nearest port of refuge some 90 minutes sailing time away at Kennacraig. Vehicles were carried but disembarking at Kennacraig wasn't guaranteed due to the linkspan only being at a suitable angle at certain states of the tide. Her passenger certificate was reduced to 12 for sailings on the temporary route and assistance was required from the Loch Linnhe.
The seaweed situation resurfaced in February 2008 and the Loch Ranza was once again diverted to Kennacraig on three return sailings a day. Bad weather inevitably caused numerous cancellations. In January 2009 the Raasay was dispatched from Oban in order to provide assistance during another spell of debris being washed ashore and as events turned out she actually took over sailings for a few days. With no Voith units to risk damaging, Raasay was able to get in to the slipway and maintain the regular timetable for a few days until all was clear.
The Loch Ranza’s history is almost complete. She has remained on that one route for nearly 30 years - something of a rarity nowadays. Her only change of scene comes in January each year when one of her sisters, usually either Loch Linnhe or Loch Riddon turns up.
There was speculation in 2012 and 2013 that Gigha might be chosen to receive one of the new hybrid ferries and Loch Ranza would be cascaded to another route but in the end the new Lochinvar was assigned to the Tarbert - Portavadie route. That's not to say a larger boat wasn't needed at Gigha and indeed the Loch Ranza regularly leaves cars behind during the summer season.