8th December 2006
RIB and inflatable liferafts
Current / Last Route
2nd June 2007
A small arm off Loch Fyne, at the foot of Glen Shira
Ferguson Shipbuilders Ltd, Port Glasgow
Main Engines: 2x 559bkW at 1800rpm, Auxilary Generators: Cummins / Stamford, 113 Kw.
Propulsion Units: Voith 16 R5 rated at 540 Kw at 625 rpm
Hoist & Lifts:
2007 - present: Largs - Cumbrae Slip
Ever since its inauguration back in 1972, the car ferry service from Largs on the Ayrshire coast to Cumbrae Slip, to the north of the island, has grown at a steady rate. Drive through operation had been introduced in April 1977 when the now-veteran Isle of Cumbrae arrived on the scene. Since that time traffic levels continued to grow and it was necessary to bring two vessels to the route on a full time basis.
From 1998 the route was maintained by the Loch Alainn and the smaller Loch Riddon (except for one season when the smaller ship switched placed with Loch Linnhe for the period of the summer timetable). Normal routine had been for the larger ferry to operate the main roster, with the smaller ship coming into service to assist at peak periods during the spring and autumn, and providing a second service throughout the day during the high summer periods.
With vehicle and passenger numbers continuing to grow, CalMac announced in 2005 that a new ferry was to be built, and at the same time work would begin on remodelling the pier at Largs. The contract to build the new £5.8m ferry was awarded in November 2005 to Ferguson's of Port Glasgow and the design and construction commenced soon after.
With the new ship having a vehicle capacity greater than that of Loch Alainn, it came as no surprise to hear that her arrival would free up the smaller ship for a move to the Western Isles. The plans for the new ferry revealed what is essentially a cross between the 1991-built Lochs Fyne and Dunvegan and the 2003-built Loch Portain. As well as having the usual passenger lounge along the starboard side of the hull, like on the 1991 ferries, the newbuild also incorporated a lounge area over the car deck in a similar fashion to the Sound of Harris ship. The bridge was to be located above this additional lounge in order to give the skipper excellent all-round views. A feature which made a welcome return on this ship was the incorporation of the tried and tested Voith Schneider propulsion units. The vessel plans indicated that these would be diagonally opposite one another, as on the majority of rest of the Loch Class fleet. This feature again provided excellent manoeuvring ability.
Construction took place during the spring and summer of 2006 and on 28th September a press release went out, announcing the name of the newbuild to be Loch Shira, thus extending the Loch Class. For those not familiar with the body of water in question, Loch Shira is a small arm of Loch Fyne located immediately to the north of Inverary. At the head of the loch lies an old arch bridge, once used by the A83 which now follows a wide curved path a few yards further north.
A November date was originally scheduled for Loch Shira to be launched although this was subsequently put back to December. The company revealed in a press statement that the launch would take place on Friday 8th December, with Saturn in attendance. Fitting out then followed at a leisurely pace, with the Loch Shira sitting at the Newark Quay, adjacent to the slipway at Ferguson's and trials were undertaken in April 2007. A speed of just over 10 knots was recorded on the Skelmorlie measured mile and berthing trials at Largs and Cumbrae then followed.
The new ferry was eagerly anticipated and an open day was laid on at Millport shortly before she finally entered service. 2nd June 2007 was the big day and Loch Shira was pressed into service, partnering the Loch Riddon. Her car deck is spacious enough to carry up to 36 cars although in practice she would only 24, in 3 lanes of 8, with the middle lane of cars spanning what would be lanes 2 and 3 on the Loch Alainn. There was the capacity to take an additional handful of cars by employing a checkerboard layout in the central lane if required.
Loch Shira settled in very quickly on her new run, although she did fall victim to technical teething troubles on a number of occasions during her first summer and even required engineers from Germany to come over to carry out repairs to her Voith units within 2 months of her entering service, requiring the spare Loch Bhrusda to step in and carry out relief sailings, but in general she has proven herself to be a most reliable workhorse, never deviating from the route she was built for. Annual overhaul usually takes place in January and a variety of relief vessels have provided cover during those periods, with the current preference being for the hybrids Catriona or Lochinvar stepping in.