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Portree (II)

Gaelic Name:



Current Status:



Sold out of the fleet

Steel MV






10th June 1965


4th July 1965

Entered Service:


4th November 1987


Ordered By:



Launched by: 

Named after:

Caledonian Steam Packet Co.



Previous ship of the same name and a town on Skye.








Gross Tonnage:




James Lamont & Co. Ltd., Port Glasgow

Yard No:


Engine Builders:

(i) Gleniffer Engines Ltd., Glasgow; (ii) Gardner Engines Ltd, Manchester.


(i) 2 Oil 4SCSA 4 cyl. 6” x 7”; (ii) “ Oil 4SCSA 6 cyl. 4 ¾” x 6” (re-engined 1970).



Hoist & Lifts:


1 x Vehicle Turntable, later removed

She was displaced by the new Lochalsh and Kyleakin in 1971 when she and her sisters were converted to bow loading.












Route Timeline

1965 - 1970: Kyle of Lochalsh - Kyleakin
1970 - 1986: Colintraive - Rhubodach
Largs - Cumbrae Slip

Current, Last or Usual Route



With traffic queuing for up to four hours at Kyleakin by 1965, even with four turntable ferries toiling from dawn to dusk at high season, the CSP recognised that new tonnage was essential. The Company lacked, however, the capital – and perhaps the vision – to build large drive-through ferries and in any event the construction of new slipways, of the steeper gradient necessary for end loading, was a matter for Inverness County Council and accordingly one of fraught politics.

The Caley management compromised by designing a new sort of side-loading ferry – without a turntable – and the second Portree was the result.

The new vessel was launched on Thursday 10th June 1965 at Lamont's yard in Port Glasgow. She cost around £30,000 and could carry nine cars, boarding by specially designed side-ramps, with angled ends to suit the incline of the Kyle and Kyleakin slipways – though still, like those on the turntable ferries at Kyleakin, manually operated. She looked an extremely odd craft – all the odder because her wheelhouse was forward, at the bow, unlike previous Kyleakin ferries; and Portree had no covered accommodation for her unfortunate passengers, though she was certified for fifty. She had a deck turntable, similar to those found on Clyde car ferries, to assist the manoeuvring of her vehicles.

She ran successful trials late in June and was commissioned on the Skye crossing on 4th July 1965. From the outset Portree was painted in the new CSP colour-scheme – the monastral blue adopted for all British Railway shipping – but for some reason the Caley ferries at Kyle had never had a white waterline, nor was one added to their livery in 1965.

The first Portree, the twin-screwed 4-car turntable ferry which had brought new sophistication to the Kyleakin fleet in Easter 1952, ceased Skye service in December 1964 and had been renamed Portree II the following May. She came down to Greenock's Albert Harbour in July and was placed on the sale list – a sad if diminutive companion to two other ships now laid up in that dock,. Jeanie Deans (1931)and Duchess of Montrose (1930.) Portree II was eventually bought by Gerald A Lee of Bangor, and was duly towed to Belfast in September 1965 for a Northern Irish career. It did not materialise. She was sold on, in August 1967, to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and, after what Iain C MaCArthur describes darkly as an “eventful voyage”, reached Lowestoft in East Anglia. In June 1968, quite rebuilt and converted to bowloading, Portree II entered private service on the River Alde, between Orford and Orford Ness, She was subsequently, in 1969, re-engined with Perkins diesels to give her more power. She vanishes from the Lloyds Register in 1975.

Her successor was not a great success; like the turntable craft, Portree and her two younger sisters still had to tie up before unloading their vehicles, and while there was no pivoting car-deck for her hands to contend with, any time saved was taken up by the very complicated parking of vehicles in such limited space. The STG finally took the plunge in 1969, renegotiating re-building of the Skye ferry slipways and ordering two large drive-through ferries of 28-car capacity from a Welsh yard.

On 23rd December 1969, at STG direction, the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. Ltd bought outright the Bute Ferry Co. Ltd. for £35,000. This private concern – its directors included the Marquis of Bute – had on 13th July 1950 inaugurated the very first car ferry service on the Clyde, across the narrows of the Kyles of Bute from Colintraive to Rhubodach, north of Rothesay. Boats and jetties had been planned for this service as early as 1939, but the advent of war put paid to it for the duration and only construction of the Rhubodach road – some miles of new single-track highway, only ten feet wide - from Port Bannatyne had been completed, and that only after strong local opposition had been overcome.

At first the Company used ex-landing craft, loading off the beaches; metal netting was laid to help vehicles running over the pebbled shore. Later small concrete slipways were laid – the tide-range in the Kyles is relatively negligible – and as confidence grew several more sophisticated vessels were built or acquired, three of which now duly fell under CSP ownership. The Bute Ferry Co. Ltd's achievement is all the more impressive as they never received any subsidy for the service, which was barely profitable; the political climate of the late 1960s was, however, remarkably hostile to private enterprise, and it was an easy matter to lean on its directors – by, for instance, blocking their bid for a grant to re-equip the service – so they were at length forced to sell up to the State concern.

As the surviving Kyles of Bute ferries were fearfully and wonderfully made – histories of EILEAN DHU, EILEAN BUIDHE and DHURINISH can also be found on this site; one trusts their operation was better than their Gaelic – there was an urgent need for new tonnage and the obvious STG expedient was to collar one of the Kyleakin flotilla for conversion to Rhubodach-Colintraive service.

So the Scottish Transport Group duly gobbled up the Bute Ferry Co. Ltd and integrated the “back door” to Bute into the Caley's network of Clyde car ferries. A local manager was retained at Colintraive, but Gourock took over control of the Company and its fleet. (The Bute Ferry Co. Ltd remained, in fact, a separate entity for some years; it was eventually renamed MacBrayne Haulage and became the road-freight arm of Scottish Transport Group operations, along with the Scottish Bus Group and, of course, Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd. MacBrayne Haulage was privatised – sold off - in the mid-1980s and briefly survived as Kildonan MacBrayne, before being devoured by some great road-transport concern much as the poor Bute Ferry Co. Ltd. had been consumed by the State sixteen years before.)

Portree was duly identified for this new role on the Clyde and quit her Skye duties in February 1970. She returned to her birthplace at Port Glasgow and through three months was comprehensively rebuilt at the Lamont's yard for a staggering £32,000 – more than she had cost to build in the first place, though one must allow for inflation.

Side-loading wasn't an option on the Kyles, so Portree was fitted with a mighty, hydraulically operated bow ramp, hinged at three points and hanging from two long, hungry-looking booms. She lost her side-ramps and, more puzzlingly, her deck-turntable. She could now carry ten cars – twelve at a pinch – or one commercial vehicle and eight cars. Though vehicles over nine tons in axle-weight were prohibited from using the road to Colintraive, her vehicle deck was nevertheless strengthened to carry 20-ton loads. The wheelhouse vanished and a raised navigation bridge was erected at her stern. Though her passenger certificate was increased to sixty, but Portree still had no passenger shelter. Fortunately her new crossing was – and remains – the shortest passage in the Company network.

Repainted in Caley colours – black hull, Indian red under body, white superstructure, buff aftermast and bow-rams – Portree took up her Kyles of Bute duties in May 1970 and was joined in June 1971 by her 1967 sister Broadford, similarly converted. Two Samson posts were subsequently fitted forward on both vessels to improve operation of the bow-ramp, and the service was further improved in October 1971 when lighting was laid on at both slipways and the ferries could operate outwith the hours of daylight.

Portree and Broadford remained at Colintraive-Rhubodach for many years; both ran only at peak periods, and in latter years Portree saw more service than Broadford. They occasionally relieved at Largs-Cumbrae slip, usually in emergency. In turn, Largs – on occasion, Coruisk, or a Small Island bowloader – relieved Portree and Broadford for overhaul, from the early 80s usually no further than Bute itself, at the Ardmaleish boatyard in Port Bannatyne. When both ex-Skye ferry boats were out of action at the same time, early in 1983, the service was assumed by the Rhum.

With the advent of the Loch-Class 12-car double-enders in 1986, the three surviving Kyleakin veterans in the CalMac fleet were quite redundant. When the new Loch Riddon became Kyles of Bute ferry on 7th November 1986, the old vessels were laid up. Portree was finally sold, with Broadford, to Mr Hooper of Sandback on 4th November 1987. Her current fate and whereabouts are unknown.

Text thanks to John MacLeod


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