Maid of Cumbrae
Current / Last Route
Caledonian Steam Packet Co.
Mrs David Blee, wife of a member of the Railway Executive
Small island on the Clyde
Ardrossan Dockyard Ltd., Ardrossan, Ayrshire
British Polar Engines Ltd., Glasgow
2 Oil 2SCSA 6 cyl. 9 7/8” x 16 ½ “
Hoist & Lifts:
2 x Vehicle Turntables
1953 - 1971: Gourock - Dunoon (Passenger) & Various Clyde Duties (Charters)
1971 - 1974: Gourock - Dunoon (Vehicle)
1974 - 1978: Gourock - Dunoon (Spare) & Various Clyde Charters
For a detailed description of this ship and her near-identical sisters see the profile for the first, MAID OF ASHTON.
MAID OF CUMBRAE was the only 'Maid' built by the Ardrossan Dockyard Company and their first contribution to the Clyde passenger fleet – though they had built the 1933 ARRAN, a small cargo-vessel, for the LMS/CSP in 1933, and subsequently built such ferries as the MAID OF GLENCOUL (1975) for Highland Regional Council's service at Kylesku in West Sutherland.
The MAID OF CUMBRAE was also the only member of the 1953 quartet to bear her name in white on the black portion of her hull, rather than in black on the white upper strake; her galley chimney was also differently positioned from those of her sisters.
Launched at Ardrossan on 13th May 1953 by Mrs David Blee – he was a member of the Railway Executive p- MAID OF CUMBRAE was not ready for trials until 10th July, right in the middle of the summer season, and compounded her tardiness by emerging as the slowest of the sisters, recording a mean top speed of 15.2 knots. This, however, was perfectly adequate for her duties and, as the last of the 'Maids' in Company service – and that in a most unexpected new capacity - she would have the last laugh.
Her first passenger sailing was noteworthy: from Bridge Wharf in Glasgow, an afternoon excurion on Fair Saturday - 18th July 1953 – to Dunoon. MAID OF CUMBRAE continued to offer a limited number of such trips from the city, supplementing the cruises of QUEEN MARY II, and also managed short afternoon trips from Dunoon. There were also the faintly sad “Morning Coffee” cruises; the fare included, for lucky passengers, a free cup of coffee and a chocolate biscuit.
On Saturdays she generally assisted on the hard-pressed Gourock-Dunoon service; but, as we have seen, through the Fifties and Sixties the duties of the various 'Maids' became increasingly intermeshed and interchangeable.
In any event, their market was fast disappearing. Piers all over the Clyde were closing and the public appetite for short cruises rapidly dwindled. What the rising generation of trippers and holidaymakers and even commuters wanted was car-carrying capacity. Thus the 1953 quartet became, slowly but remorselessly and without even the nostalgic glamour of steam, increasingly useless.
The MAID OF CUMBRAE was withdrawn at the end of the 1971 season and dolefully consigned to Glasgow's Princes Dock. She was on the brink of sale to new owners when she was saved by a remarkable turn of Providence.
STG/MacBrayne endeavours to pull out of the Islay service – and thus free the 1953 car ferry ARRAN (II) for use on the Clyde – were unexpectedly defeated. ARRAN should have shortly joined the 1957 GLEN SANNOX (III) to serve as her pup on the Gourock-Dunoon roster. Now ARRAN was trapped on another tedious, thankless summer serving the ingrates of Islay, Jura, Gigha and Colonsay – and the CSP faced crisis on the Clyde.
There was a sudden and urgent need for car ferry tonnage – and desperate expedients. Early in March 1972, MAID OF CUMBRAE was hastily reprieved and rushed to Barclay Curle's Elderslie shipyard for rapid conversion to a 15-car vehicle ferry.
This almost melodramatic surgery – the only passenger vessel in the Company's history to have been so modified, and certainly the last – cost a cool £60,000. The MAID OF CUMBRAE's entire superstructure aft of her funnel was cut away to main deck level.
Two side-ramps and a stern ramp were fitted – the CSP/STG had been forced to agree to rather unsatisfactory side-loading linkspan arrangements at Dunoon, which are far from ideal. Very sensibly, a deck-turntable was fitted to assist the necessary shunting of vehicles, and the forward car deck below U-shaped plating under her lounge.
Her passenger facilities were re-arranged as best as they might be. Apart from other little jobs and modifications, a “capuchon” was fitted to MAID OF CUMBRAE's funnel to reduce the diesel smart nuisance on the newly exposed vehicle deck. It certainly lent her a jaunty air; so lightweight was the construction and so flimsy the railings on the car deck now appear that, by modern safety standards, one wonders how she was ever allowed out. Predictably, her passenger certificate – Class V – was cut considerably, to 310.
At any event she gave three years of loyal and unstinting service on the Gourock-Dunoon station – even if the advantage of her very limited car capacity was largely psychological – and, early in 1973, MAID OF CUMBRAE notched up another minor role in history; she was the first vessel in either fleet to don the new Caledonian MacBrayne livery, following the merger of CSP and MacBrayne operations from 1st January that year. By the end of April she was the only 'Maid' left.
The new JUPITER replaced GLEN SANNOX as main vessel on the Gourock-Dunoon station in March 1974; MAID OF CUMBRAE partnered her with like loyalty until the arrival of the JUNO in December 1974. Thereafter she became spare vessel, lying at Gouerock through winter as back-up for the Dunoon service and, in the main season, in Greenock's East India Harbour. She remained a very popular choice for private charter, however; noted outings included a cruise to Inveraray in April 1977.
MAID OF CUMBRAE's last sailing for the Company was on the Gourock-Dunoon station, on 20th May 1978. She was then laid up in the James Watt Dock, Greenock, until her sale on 16th August to Panama interests. She left the Clyde for Trieste on the Adriatic on 25th August and under her own power, with a spare propellor and propellor-shaft welded to her car deck against mishap.
She entered service from Trieste, operated by Navigazione Alto Adriatico, in 1979 and with the faintly tragic name of NOCE DI COCCO (it means “Coconut”); to add an additional note of farce, she was still otherwise resplendent in Caledonian MacBrayne livery. She spent less than a year on this run – to Muggia – before she was sold on to Neapolitan owners and allowed to regain her dignity in the Bay of Naples, in the company of her old sister MAID OF SKELMORLIE – now ALA – and herself bearing a rather more pleasing name than “Coconut”, CAPRI EXPRESS.
At first the former MAID OF CUMBRAE sailed between Capri and Positano. These day cruises included such delights as an inflatable swimming pool on the vehicle deck; its enclosed forward end had become a passenger lounge. She still incongruously wore CalMac lions on her funnel; they must have appealed to the Latin temperament of her new owners.
Alistair Deayton records dryly that the cruises were not a great success. Latterly she ran as a car ferry between Naples and Sorrento, now owned by Alimar Spa and directly partnered with ALA who had herself (and rather less elegantly) been converted for car ferry operations. For these duties the ex-MAID OF CUMBRAE was painted blue. She was laid up for a time in 1996, but was back in service at Naples in 1998, this time with a white hull.
From the autumn of 2000 the CAPRI EXPRESS has sailed from Pozzuoli to Procida, and was joined by the ex-MAID OF SKELMORLIE the following spring. The longevity of both vessels is quite remarkable – launches apart, only a handful of motor-driven ships in Company history have, in that or any subsequuent ownership, attained their Jubilee – and testifies to the quality of their construction.
The two ex-'Maids', tough old things that they are, still partnered one another in the Mediterranean, as they did on the Clyde in the flush of their youth, over half a century ago right up until the beginning of 2006.
The start of her 53rd year afloat looked grim as she was earmarked for withdrawing and scrapping altogether. It was reported that the CAPRI EXPRESS had been sighted beginning her tow to the breakers in Aliaga in March. However on the 12/03/06 while under tow of the tug SAINT JAMES from Naples to Aliaga, the vessel she was in tandem with, the SALVATORE LAURO sank 10nm SW of Gerolimenas Bay, Peloponnese. There were no injuries or pollution reported. She survived this rather sharp fate and duly arrived two days later and beached, never to sail again.