Crossing Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Regular Ship: Catriona
Tarbert - Lochranza
Mainland - Arran
Tarbert: A small vehicle queuing area before the concrete slipway, sticking out into East Loch Tarbert. There is also a car park next to the slipway, with sufficient space for a dozen or so cars. For foot passengers there is a small shelter just up from the slipway. Nearby there is the village of Tarbert with various shops and supplies.
Lochranza: Recently rebuilt pier provides ferry berth when not in use. Slipway and marshalling area located next to the pier, as is the bus stop for public transport routes around Arran.
The winter only service between Kintyre and Arran was started in the mid-1990s following the introduction of the new seasonal service between Tarbert and Portavadie. Initially the service to Lochranza was intended as a means of carrying dangerous good to Arran without the need to run Caledonian Isles on expensive extra sailings to Brodick. (Her enclosed car deck meant such loads as petrol and gas cylinders were not permitted on passenger-carrying sailings.) The provision of a vessel based at Tarbert was the ideal scenario and with a passage time of 90 minutes it wasn’t pushing the boundaries by any stretch of the imagination.
It seemed only logical that the Portavadie link could be utilised and with its popularity during the summer months it was only a matter of time before a year-round service came about. The first winter service was run as a trial, testing the water (pardon the pun)and it fell to Loch Striven to carry this out after her season at Largs was finished. This trial season was deemed successful and unwittingly allowed a glimpse of the service that was to follow. As part of the trial run, Loch Striven would provide two or three morning sailings to Portavadie before setting out for Lochranza at lunchtime. The round trip took three hours and she was back at Tarbert in time to do a final couple of crossings to Portavadie in the late afternoon.
The 1994/95 winter was a success and paved the way for permanent year-round saiings. Though at the time there was something of a reversal of logic going on. The winter vessel was larger and could carry more than the summer vessel, the well-travelled Rhum. The latter was starting to struggle with the demand in the summer and it was only a matter of time before a Loch Class ferry would take over full-time.
More recently the daily link to Lochranza was opened up for regular passengers to use as well, albeit being subject to a maximum of 12 carried. The crossing is one very much of two halves – the first part of the crossing is in somewhat sheltered waters, hugging the Kintyre coast down to Skipness, before setting out across the exposed Kilbrannan Sound and into Lochranza. Being so exposed to the prevailing winds after Skipness, this route is often one of the first to get cancelled in poor weather as the ferry remains in the shelter of Tarbert’s inner harbour.
A variety of ferries have been used over the years however a typical winter would see the regular Claonaig – Lochranza ship (Loch Tarbert and then Catriona) operating the first half of the winter and then the Loch Riddon taking over until the start of the summer timetable. More recently the Catriona has covered the whole winter, aside from her overhaul and covering at Largs.
Catriona heading south along Loch Fyne, heading for Lochranza
Catriona approaching Lochranza from East Loch Tarbert
Catriona arriving at Lochranza
Catriona unloading a hazardous cargo at Lochranza.
Unloading traffic from Arran at Tarbert