20th February 1992
Loch an Tairbeirt
Current / Last Route
25th July 1992
A Loch on the Kintyre peninsula
J.W.Miller & Sons Ltd. St Monans
6-cyl 2x Voith-Schneider Propellers
Hoist & Lifts:
1992 - 2015: Claonaig - Lochranza (summer) / Tarbert - Lochranza (winter)
2015 - present: Tobermory - Kilchoan
Tarbert - Portavadie / Largs - Cumbrae Slip / Fionnphort - Iona / Lochaline - Fishnish / Sconser - Raasay / Ardmhor - Eriskay / Berneray - Leverburgh
The introduction of a drive-through ferry on the Claonaig - Lochranza crossing in 1987 was as a result of enormous demand by car-borne tourists. The Loch Ranza coped well for five years on the back-door to Arran but in the early 1990s it was crystal clear that she did not have the necessary capacity to keep the queues at bay.
A package of two new ferries was ordered during 1991 for introduction the following summer. The first of these was launched from Miller's Yard in St Monans and took up service on the heavily used Iona service. The Loch Tarbert was next down the slip and she was to carry out trials on the Forth before following in Loch Buie's wake through the Caledonian Canal and down to her new base at Lochranza on the Isle of Arran.
Loch Tarbert's first day in service was on 25th July 1992 and she took her load of cars over to Claonaig whilst dressed overall to mark the occasion. The Loch Ranza stood aside and prepared to move off for her new role as Gigha ferry, replacing Bruernish.
The Loch Tarbert was essentially a variant on Isle of Cumbrae's design. She could carry 18 cars on her car deck, 150 passengers could be accommodated in her starboard lounge but also on her two outer decks. The port length of her hull boasted an extra outside deck above the first vehicle lane - a feature that was much appreciated by her passengers in summer!
The Lochranza crossing has always been a seasonal service, so at the end of September, and more latterly nearly the end of October she would come off the Arran run and assume other duties. For the first few winters the Loch Tarbert would be seen covering at Fishnish, Colintraive and Cumbrae in addition to providing additional dangerous loads sailings from Largs to Lochranza as an alternative to the more expensive Isle of Arran and then Caledonian Isles having to perform extra sailings. From 1995 however the Largs - Lochranza winter sailings were no longer required due to the daily service from Tarbert to Arran using the winter Portavadie ship (usually one of the 'Baby Lochs').
Over the seasons the Loch Tarbert has seen a general growth in traffic on the Kilbrannan Sound crossing, but perhaps her busiest period came during a seaman's strike in the new millennium which saw the Caledonian Isles rendered immobile. Traffic for Arran was diverted round via the ferry across Loch Fyne and then Claonaig. With the inevitable extra traffic the Loch Tarbert was partnered by the Isle of Cumbrae, of equal size and the two provided a shuttle service in an attempt to keep the queues to a minimum.
In more recent years the Loch Tarbert finished each summer on the Claonaig service before moving round to Tarbert on Loch Fyne in order to start the winter service to Portavadie and incorporating a once daily lunchtime sailing to Arran. This duty usually kept her occupied until late November or early December when she would then disappear for her own overhaul at Ardmaleish. In previous years the Loch Tarbert also saw relief work on the Lochaline - Fishnish, Berneray - Leverburgh, Largs - Cumbrae Slip and Colintraive - Rhubodach crossings during the overhaul season, while in 2007 she broke new ground by serving Barra and Eriskay for several weeks while the Loch Bhrusda was away. With changes in the fleet, Loch Tarbert's winter role was greatly diminished in the years following the 2007 switches which saw LOCH ALAINN become part of the relief pool. Loch Tarbert found her movements more limited and the opportunities for wandering into the Western Isles few and far between.
At the start of the winter timetable in October 2015 the pilot RET scheme was rolled out across the remaining routes in the CalMac network. Arran had been included in the scheme from autumn 2014 and both the Brodick and Lochranza routes had seen the numbers of passengers and cars increase significantly as a result. With new tonnage on the way from Port Glasgow in 2015 in the form of a third hybrid ferry, the Loch Tarbert was earmarked for replacement and redeployment, as by this time her capacity was ever-more stretched; the size of the average car now being somewhat greater than when she first entered service. The new Catriona arrived on the Kilbrannan Sound the following September and after 24 years the Loch Tarbert stood aside.
The rollout of RET included the routes to Mull and it was anticipated that the Tobermory - Kilchoan route would be seeing a similar jump in numbers to that experienced at Lochranza. Loch Tarbert was therefore dispatched to the Western Isles where she duly relieved the Loch Linnhe as resident Kilchoan ferry. It was a much shorter working day with only seven return sailings offered during the summer timetable and there was even the luxury of a proper lunch break for her crew! Winter duties were even more relaxed with a maximum of four sailings and only on certain days of the week.
Relief duties continued during the winter months and Loch Linnhe and/or Raasay would return to allow the larger ferry away. From November 2017 she became the main winter relief ferry on the Fionnphort - Iona crossing at the other end of Mull while Loch Buie was on the Clyde for some tlc and this continued in each of the following Novembers. The Sconser - Raasay route also saw the services of the Loch Tarbert in March 2020, covering the larger Hallaig before the start of the summer timetable was cancelled due to the UK lockdown and travel ban - a continuation of the easy winter life was enforced and at the time of writing (May 2020) this shows no sign of abating.