18th December 1972
Current / Last Route
6th April 1973
Scottish Transport Group
The Morvern peninsula in which Lochaline is situated
James Lamont & Co. Ltd., Port Glasgow
Bergius Kelvin Co. Ltd., Glasgow.
2 x 4 SCSA each 6 cyls. 5” x 5 3/8”; rev. red. gear.
Hoist & Lifts:
Small passenger lounge
1973: Lochaline - Fishnish / Largs - Cumbrae Slip / Oban - Lismore
1974 - 1975: Oban - Lismore / Relief vessel
1976: Relief vessel
1977: Kyles Scalpay - Scalpay / Relief vessel
1978: Relief vessel
1979 - 1992: Fionnphort - Iona
1992 - 1995: Relief vessel
Claonaig - Lochranza / Colintraive - Rhubodach / Tobermory - Mingary / Oban - Craignure /
Kyle of Lochalsh - Toscaig / Kyleakin - Loch Kishorn (charter) / Otternish - Berneray (charter) /
Ludaig - Eriskay (charter) / Ballycastle - Rathlin (charter) / Burtonport - Arranmore (charter)
Morvern was the second Small Island Class bow-loading ferry and, like Kilbrannan, was just a little too small; the rest of the fleet were built five feet longer, granting capacity for two additional cars and, as is usual when a hull is lengthened, a little increase in speed. But she had a long and useful career, not only inaugurating car ferry services from Lochaline to Fishnish but also to Lismore and Iona; and, in addition, converting the Scalpay ferry service from turntable to end-loading operation.
Morvern’s completion by Lamont's of Port Glasgow – she was laid down in the spring of 1972 – was delayed by a strike that summer. She was finally moved out of the shed to the Clyde's edge early in November and on 18th December 1972 was launched without ceremony. She could be readily distinguished from Kilbrannan as her lifeboat was slung right at the stern, over an additional staging, rather than on the bridge deck. This allowed the latter to be used by passengers though new safely regulations imposed in the mid-1990s – after Morvern’s departure from the CalMac fleet - now bar passenger access to the area.
The new ferry also bore two additional lockers, one on either side immediately forward of the saloon. Morvern, like the other Small Island ferries launched in 1973, bore David MacBrayne livery – green metal decking, white masts, and red and black funnel (of a lighter shade of red than CalMac use today.) But, for a full description of the character and capacities of Morvern and the rest of the Small Island fleer, see the history of Kilbrannan.
She ran trials on 18th February 1973 in rather awful conditions – showers of snow and winds gusting up to Force 6 – but “performed very well on the Skelmorlie measured mile and at the Largs and Cumbrae slips,” observed the West Highland Steamer Club newsletter of April 1973. “A speed of 8.75 knots was recorded at 1400 rpm, full power being 1500 rpm. She then returned to Port Glasgow for finishing touches including the fitting of VHF radio and deck coating... She ran further speed trials on 30th March.”
Less than a week later, on Friday 6th April, Morvern made her first passenger sailings from Largs to Cumbrae Slip, replacing Kilbrannan as relief vessel, and performed quite well on the station despite some early mishaps – first a hydraulic fault and then her propeller fouled by a rope. On 27th April she loaded aboard a large mooring buoy and two 2-ton “Mushroom” anchors and sailed for Ardrishaig and the Crinan Canal, en route to open the service for which she had been named – from Lochaline, on the Morvern peninsula, to Fishnish on Mull.
Matters got off to an appalling start; she was left for the night on the Crinan Canal's Lock 8 at Cairnbaan, while her crew retired to lodgings. They returned next morning to find Morvern sinking, with her engine room flooded to a depth of eighteen inches. She was pumped out in less than three hours and hauled out of the lock – manually, by ropes – to allow a fishing-boat to pass; the hapless ferry then stranded briefly on a mudbank and had to be towed off by the self-same fishing vessel.
Fortunately, being only fresh water, damage was slight and after two days all was dried out and her electrical equipment overhauled. She reached Lochaline without further incident on Monday 30th April, opening the new ferry service on Tuesday morning and only a day late. (A chartered launch, the Island Queen, had provided a passenger service the day before.)
Morvern gave sixteen return sailings each weekday – time on passage was about fifteen minutes – and ten on Sundays, otherwise resting at her buoy which had been positioned in Miodar Bay, about half a mile up Lochaline from the new landing slip. (The village pier, latterly a regular port of call for Columba on the Morvern leg of her run, was now bypassed by the Company.)
She was not long to enjoy service on her eponymous route as it was decided the new Bruernish, with her extra capacity, was better suited to what was fast proving a popular service. On 19th May the redundant Morvern left Lochaline for the Clyde, resuming Largs duties on the 21st. She relieved Bruernish late in July – the new ferry had been withdrawn for modifications – and then herself underwent like surgery in mid-August, her car deck being reinforced at the bow to give extra support to the ramp mountings. Morvern was finally berthed at Crinan, on the canal just above the basin, to be convenient for emergency use either on the Firth of Clyde or at Lochaline. She did in fact relieve at the latter station on Saturday 6th October until immobilised by a ramp fault.
From 15th October she was transferred to Oban to assume the Lismore service, having run some trials the previous week and successfully opened the first car ferry service to the island, loading off the new Oban linkspan and disgorging her vehicles on a Lismore beach, just north of Achancroish pier. (When tides permitted she could also land cars on the rocks immediately south of the pier.) If there were no vehicles or livestock offering she tied up at the pierhead like any old boat.
She had to provide an Oban-Craignure service in emergency on 6th November, for passengers only; there was still no linkspan at the Mull pier, and late in January 1974 Morvern relieved on the Toberrmory-Mingary run, also for passengers only. Loch Toscaig returned to Lismore in March and Morvern headed south for overhaul.
The work included repainting in the new CalMac livery. Her funnel was painted a deeper shade of red and acquired yellow disk and little red lion; her bulwarks and ventilators, too, were painted in the pale blue Caledonian MacBrayne had adopted. MORVERN also acquired Decca 050 radar.
On 15th April she again assumed the Lismore service on which she had already proved a considerable success, interrupted only by another emergency Oban-Craignure run on 14th May – Gen Sannox , the regular Mull ferry in 1974, was plagued with engine trouble for much of that season – and then herself broke down on the 27th with a dodgy crankshaft., and had to be relieved by Bruernish, lying at Oban for repairs and then as spare vessel till 24th July, She resumed the Lismore station but also included a regular petrol-tanker run to Craignure, on Wednesdays, in her roster, for it was not permitted in an enclosed vehicle deck or on any ship carrying passengers. Morvern also neatly incorporated a mini-cruises in her Lismore schedule on favourable afternoons, making her return to Oban between Lismore and the Kilcherran islands.
Early in November 1974 she moved to the Lochaline-Fishnish station as Rhum had just broken down and, on the latter's recovery, returned to her Lochaline mooring as spare vessel. After her April 1975 overhaul (in which Morvern’s mast was painted yellow, including the catwalk and supports) she left Gourock on 5th May for Tobermory and relieved Lochnell on the Mingary schedule. Late in June, Morvern once again became Oban-Lismore ferry, taking time out for a Lochaline-Oban livestock sailing on 24th August and relieving briefly on Fishnish. She had more crankshaft trouble in October 1975, but recovered in time to replace Rhum as Lochaline-Fishnish vessel before being displaced by the Coll on 27th January 1976, and in fact did not again see regular service on the Lismore crossing.
Morvern left Lochaline lay-up late in February and was then equipped at Gourock for her own part in CalMac's Ardyne contract, carrying workmen first from Ardyne and then from Tarbert or Ardmarnoch Bay on Loch Fyne to a new oil-rig under construction. It was messy work and by the time her charter duties were completed she needed a particularly extensive overhaul at Troon. She was then laid up at Greenock's East India Harbour and in fact spent the whole of 1976 on the Clyde, with only rare bursts of duty – assisting at Lochranza, helping out at Largs, and on 30th September bearing construction equipment to Lamlash on Arran. By October, however, she had been identified by the Company as the ferry for presiding over the conversion of the Scalpay-Kyles Scalpay crossing from side-loading.
The Company was keen to withdraw its last turntable ferry, the second Scalpay, as relief required the chartering of a boat from outwith the Company and it was increasingly difficulty to keep this elderly craft and her obsolete engines in service. The trouble was that no bow-loading ferry could operate in all tidal conditions off the existing, side-loading slipways, and while a temporary ramp had been laid beside the existing Scalpay jetty there was simply no room to do this at the Kyles Scalpay side. In consultation with Comhairle nan Eilean it had therefore been agreed to place Morvern on a shorter-term Scalpay-Tarbert roster until rebuilding of the regular terminals was complete.
After several bouts on the Largs-Cumbrae Slip service, then, Morvern spent the 1976 festive season back in the East India Harbour and left the Clyde on 6th January, loading stores at Gourock before making her longest voyage yet, by Crinan and Oban, Mallaig and Portree. She was stormbound at the Skye port for two days and but finally crossed the Minch on 12th January, reaching Scalpay in five hours. She took up her new duties the following day.
She made six return sailings to Tarbert daily and 30 minutes was allowed for the passage, using the temporary slips at Scalpay and another on the Old Fishing Pier at Tarbert – low-budget slipways built largely of rubble and asphalt. (Remains of this slip at Scalpay can still be seen; the Tarbert one finally vanished early in 2004, devoured by a land-reclamation scheme.) On 29th March Morvern took time out to visit Dun Corr Morr, an islet at the mouth of East Loch Tarbert, bearing a crew to service its navigation light. From 4th April her roster was amended to allow proper connection with the HEBRIDES' summer timetable, and on 11th April she made her first call at the remodelled Kyles terminal; it still awaited the completion of protective piling, but she was able to use it thereafter as tide (and workmen's requirements) allowed.
From 16th May the Tarbert calls were discontinued and Morvern could thereafter operate a regular Scalpay-Kyles Scalpay service as established since 1965, though – like her predecessors – she continued to visit Tarbert once every two or three weeks for bunkering. The Scalpay people appreciated her speed and comfort, and by the early Eighties the figures indicate how much commercial traffic had increased since the advent of bow-loading – but it should be noted that the terrifying road to Kyles Scalpay was hugely improved in the late 1970s, and that many Scalpay motorists did not appreciate having to reverse on or off their new-style ferries – drive-through being an undeniable convenience of the turntable design.
But Morvern was not long to enjoy Scalpay; the Kilbrannan arrived on 1st June 1977, exchanged crews and took over the roster the following day. Morvern was once again relegated to spare vessel and, after overhaul on the Clyde, was back to the jobbing life – Tobermory-Mingary in July; then Lochaline-Fishnish; then up to Kyleakin (on 15th September) to take over Coll’s charter-runs to Toscaig and the Howard Doris oil-platform yard at Kishorn. Later the rig in question was floated into the Inner Sound of Raasay, off the Crowlins, and Morvern had to sail out there.
She was relieved by Bruernish on 6th October 1977 and then enjoyed a Hydro Board charter from Mallaig to Inverie, an isolated hamlet on Loch Nevis. Morvern then relieved at Lochaline, and then at Lismore, and saw another emergency run from Oban to Craignure on 24th March 1978 – Good Friday. In her annual overhaul the outermost flap section of her ramp was replaced with a 4-foot flat – Kilbrannan had already enjoyed this surgery – and two ferry-doors were cut in her bulwarks, either side of her car-deck, on which removable seats were installed – for Morvern was once again to play pioneer, replacing the “red boats” at Iona and not merely providing a vehicular service to Fionnphort but tendering to Columba on her twice-weekly cruise from Oban.
However, she emerged from overhaul to relieve Lochnell at Mingary, and on her return via the Crinan Canal in July suffered first engine-failure and then an ensuing collision with the bank, badly damaging her rudder. After repairs she lay at Greenock until 29th September when she shifted to Largs as spare vessel there. For some reason the new terminals at Fionnphort and Iona took an age to complete and, besides – largely from tourists and romantics – the idea of a vehicle service in the first place was fiercely opposed. (It finally hinged on a critical public meeting at Iona, where the local councillor famously implored assembled dignitaries to “deliver us from the age of the coracle”!) The slips were ready by late April 1979 – but then dredgers had to do their bit. Thorough all this tedious delay as Morvern killed time at Largs, tendered to tankers in Loch Striven, relieved once again at Lismore and Fishnish and did her traditional emergency Mull sailing, from Craignure to Oban on Monday 16th April, carrying four cars.
Morvern finally opened the new service on 29th May 1979, after laying moorings in the Bull Hole, near Fionnphort, from 8th May. She would operate the new service with a sensible restriction – Morvern carried residents' cars, of course, and utility or commercial vehicles; but tourists' cars were not permitted. She had finally found her berth and served Iona for over thirteen years; the only variation in her life tended to occur around her annual overhaul – generally at Shandon on the Gareloch, and in later years at the Ardmaleish yard on Bute – when she was occasionally deployed on short relief duties at the usual suspects.
Like so many of her class, Morvern was finally a victim of her own success; her eminent suitability as a tender ceased, as did CalMac’s Iona cruises, with the passing of the Columba in 1988, and as commercial traffic to Iona increased – and commercial vehicles generally grew bigger – her very limited capacity became rather an issue. Even with passengers, she could struggle, especially if the Easter weekend – a high point in the Iona calendar – fell within the winter timetable and her much more limited winter certificate. By the end of her career to the Sacred Isle a back-up vessel had to be laid on for such occasions – Canna, or latterly Kilbrannan over Easter and Rhum for the high season period.
The Company had finally to order a large purpose-built ferry for the Iona service and when the new Loch Buie entered service on 8th June 1992 the Morvern was once again redundant. After lying at Bendoran for some weeks as spare vessel she had a bout in similar reserve at Tobermory, finally relieving Coll on that station in October. The seasonal finished on 17th October and in November she sailed south for overhaul, at Renfrew. In February 1993 she sailed north again for a swansong in the Outer Hebrides – her first passenger service in over four months, and on charter, relieving Comhairle nan Eilean's Eilean Bhearnaraigh which had just suffered a breakdown.
Morvern sailed on the short passage from Otternish (North Uist) to Berneray for a week until the regular boat returned, but lay in reserve as there was likely to be further Comhairle use for her. She was indeed reactivated on 24th April and sailed south to Lochboisdale, assuming the Ludaig-Eriskay service on the 26th to allow Eilean Na H-Oige time off for overhaul. This was a subject-to-tides service and her sister Rhum had already relieved here in December 1988.
Morvern continued as Eriskay ferry till Saturday 22nd May 1993 and then sailed all the way south to Shandon, where she languished in lay-up till 22nd October – and that was only to head for Renfrew and her own overhaul. She then lay inert at Shandon again until 30th March 1994 – when she headed north once more to relieve at Eriskay, taking up the passage to Ludaig from 4th April. She returned sadly south for Shandon on 30th April, for yet more idleness – and did not see service again until early October; when Morvern was summoned to relieve at her old haunts on Iona, her first work for her own Company in over two years. With the return of the Loch Buie on 6th November she sailed round to lie at Tobermory, and then ran a winter car ferry service to Kilchoan from 10th November 1994 until replaced by the Coll in mid-December – and then another mournful voyage to Shandon followed for the increasingly irrelevant Morvern.
It was a ridiculous lifestyle for a valuable car ferry and this lay-up lasted (sparing one false alarm when she was summoned as far as Gourock in March 1995) until 15th June, when she was dispatched across the Irish Sea to relieve at Rathlin Island, in the wake once again of her sister Rhum. Morvern’s burst of service was the result of a local – and no doubt extremely Irish wedding – and the festivities seem to have lasted three solid days. She was back at Shandon by the evening of Wednesday 21st June 1995 and did not emerge again until Friday 21st July – for another charter to Ireland, but this time with a view to an all but concluded purchase, by Mr Cornelius Bonner of Portrush, who had acquired Kilbrannan two years before in the name of his company, Aranmore Island Ferry Services.
Morvern’s charter was but for six weeks – amounting to a test-drive for Mr Bonner – and she served on the Burtonport-Arranmore service in consort with her elder sister, now named Arainn Mhor. Traffic was extremely busy, but Morvern was a great success and Mr Bonner duly clinched the deal.
She duly served reliably at Arranmore, retaining her original name, until her owner also acquired Coll and Rhum from CalMac in 1998. Morvern thereafter became surplus to the needs of Arranmore Island Ferry Services and in 2001 was sold on to another Irish operator, Bere Island Ferries of County Cork, who used her for a ten-minute car ferry service from Castletownbere to Bere Island along with the equally small Misneach.
Today Morvern is back at Arranmore once again and running carrying a very smart blue hull, having been purchased in 2009 by Seamus Boyle of Arranmore Fast Ferries (not to be confused with the Arranmore Ferry!). She replaced Bruernish, leased the year before, and underwent an extensive overhaul. In 2013 Morvern became the largest of her class when she was extended by 4 metres and her capacity went up to 9 cars. She was (and remains to this day) the main ferry used for the service and was reunited in 2020 with former Iona consort Canna.
Text thanks to John MacLeod and updated by Ships of CalMac