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Caledonian Isles

Gaelic Name:

Eileanan Chaledonia


Current Status:



In current service with CalMac

Steel MV











Entered Service:




Ordered By:



Launched by: 

Named after:

Caledonian MacBrayne


HRH The Princess Royal

Not named after a specific area. Her name was created to satisfy the naming policy of the day.








Gross Tonnage:




Richards Shipbuilders, Lowestoft

Yard No:


Engine Builders:


Bow Thruster, Caterpillar Diesels approx 700HP



Hoist & Lifts:


2x Hoistable Car (Mezzanine) Decks (Port & Starboard). If either the port or starboard mezzanine decks are deployed, capacity is 88 lane metres plus 48 restricted (car only) spaces. If both mezzanine decks are deployed capacity is 25 lane metres plus 99 restricted (car only) spaces.

She is the only large vessel in the fleet to not have a buff main mast









MES, FRC and inflatable liferafts


Observation lounge
Reclining lounge
Information point
Luggage storage
Disabled lift

Route Timeline

1993 - Present: Brodick - Ardrossan

Current, Last or Usual Route



Although the island of Arran had only received a new ferry back in 1984 in the shape of the appropriately-named Isle of Arran, by the turn of the decade it was clear that she was becoming too small for her role. At the start of the 1990s it was announced that another new vessel was to be built for the fleet. The newcomer was destined for the Ardrossan – Brodick route.

The order went to an English shipyard; Richard’s of Lowestoft in Suffolk. Construction was eventually completed in May 1993 and the vessel was sent down the slipway and into the harbour on 25th of that month. At this stage her hull was painted black and her company name was carried proudly for all to see, however her upper superstructure remained unfinished.

The new Arran ferry was named Caledonian Isles; again in-keeping with the then company policy that all new major units of the fleet incorporate the word ‘Isle’ or ‘Isles’ somewhere in their name. In reality there is no such place as the Caledonian Isles and many Arran folk would have preferred the new ferry to reflect the route’s long affinity with the name Glen Sannox – the previous Glen having left the fleet some four years earlier. But policy was policy and the new ship underwent fitting out at the Suffolk yard through June and July 1993.

Once completed, the Caledonian Isles left the inner harbour of Lowestoft and negotiated the narrow gap through the raised road bridge before passing out into the North Sea and the start of her delivery voyage round to the waters of the Clyde. Her arrival at Gourock signified the arrival of what, at the time, was the largest vessel in the fleet. She simply dwarfed the streakers as she made her way up the Firth to Gourock. In fact she was to become the largest Clyde vessel in history.

To look at, it was immediately apparent which vessel she had been modelled on – the very popular Isle of Mull of five years previously. Caledonian Isles incorporated a fully enclosed car deck, at either end of which were the watertight ramps. The bow ramp was, like on the Isle of Mull, folded into two sections, the main section sealing the car deck and the forward section held in a horizontal position at the height of the roof of the car deck. As it was lowered, the loose fingers would be the first contact with the linkspan and then the whole thing would flatten out to form the bridge between the ship and the linkspan.

One major difference with the new vessel’s car deck was that she also incorporated a set of mezzanine decks, one down each side of the central casing. Each of these were divided into three sections and could be moved up and down to their deployed or stowed positions. When deployed, the end section of each deck would be lowered at an angle so as to act as the access ramp to the deck. Once loaded, the ramp section would then be lifted flat to allow the main deck below to fill. Another difference on the car deck was that the casing was positioned in the centre of the ship – Isle of Mull had hers offset to port, allowing two lanes of cars down the port side while the starboard could either carry three lanes of cars or two lanes of commercial vehicles. Caledonian Isles’ centrally positioned casing meant that would only be able to carry one lane of commercial vehicles down each side of the car deck, with room (only just) also for a lane of small cars squeezed in beside them. Of course if the mezzanine decks were deployed then this was irrelevant as there was insufficient height to accommodate lorries etc apart from at the bow or stern.

Upstairs in the passenger accommodation, the basic layout was similar to that onboard the Mull ship. Forward of the main entrance square was the cafeteria. From here there were stairways on each side of the ship leading upstairs to the observation lounge and also to the outside deck. There was also another stairway leading upstairs to the open deck from the entrance square on the port side. Aft of the entrance there were lounges down either side of the central casing and toilet blocks and further to wards the stern lay the shop and bar lounge.

The next deck up was almost exclusively for the crew, with the exception of the observation lounge right at the bow. (It has to be said that the name ‘observation lounge’ is something of a contradiction in terms due to the fact that once seated, it is impossible to see anything out of the windows which are small and several inches above the eyeline of the majority of passengers). Also on this level is an open deck which extends right around the vessel, including forward of the observation lounge and overlooking the bow – something of a rare feature nowadays but welcomed by passengers on the crossing over to Arran.

The upper deck was, apart from the bridge, totally open and incorporated plastic red seating towards the stern and around the large centrally situated funnel. Also on this level could be found the four enclosed lifeboats – 2 larger and 2 smaller boats mounted on davits.

Following a ‘showing of the flag’ at Gourock, the Caledonian Isles headed down to Ardrossan and Brodick where she conducted berthing trials at her home terminals. Due to her immense size, her terminals had to be modified with new passenger gangways mounted on large A-frames so as to be raised to the necessary levels at high tides.

With all in order the new ferry replaced the Isle of Arran on the route on 25th August 1993. Her predecessor remained there for a few days in case of teething troubles before leaving for the Western Isles and the Islay run. Her annual overhauls have been the only time she has spent away from the Arran run – she has yet to serve on any other route in the Calmac network – and during these two week periods (usually in early January each year) she has been relieved by a number of vessels over the years including Iona, Isle of Arran, Lord of the Isles, Claymore and more recently the Clansman of 1998 and Hebrides of 2000. As demand has steadily increased over the years, overhauls are now covered by Hebridean Isles and Isle of Arran in tandem. During the remaining 49 weeks of the year the Caledonian Isles plies the Clyde on her 55 minute crossing to Arran several times a day.

With demand for the crossing to Arran seemingly ever-increasing, and faced with the threat of competition from a private operator, CalMac saw an opportunity to enhance services to Arran from the summer of 2005 by upgrading the Saturn to a Class III passenger certificate and using the youngest of the Streakers as second vessel on the busy tourist route. Caledonian Isles continued on her regular schedule and Saturn reappeared for the next five summers before the introduction of the Finlaggan allowed the trusty Isle of Arran to return to her old haunts and take up the secondary Arran role, partnering the very ship she was replaced by.

Fast forward to December 2017 and it looked as though Caledonian Isles' days as the main Arran ferry were numbered. The new Glen Sannox took to the Clyde at Ferguson's yard amid much pomp and ceremony. She was hailed by the politicians as a world-saver for being dual-fuelled and was due to enter service in late summer 2018, relegating Caledonian Isles to second vessel, but 2 years on and at the time of writing (May 2020) the new ship is nowhere near completion. Caledonian Isles remains the main vessel after 27 years service.


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