March 2013 Meeting – Western on the Clyde – A Ruby Anniversary

After his talk John Newth (centre) was congratulated
by Eric Harcus (left) and David Neill (right)

It would be hard to imagine anyone better qualified to talk about Western Ferries’ 40-year history on the Clyde than John Newth, now the company’s longest-serving engineer. John also happens to be a prominent member of the CRSC, having been Review Editor for the past six years and President in the 2006-2007 session. On 13 March 2013 he brought a wonderfully light touch to his subject, “Western on the Clyde — a Ruby Anniversary”, demonstrating how a breed of ferries that were initially dismissed as of limited interest have a rich and vibrant story. That the Club’s own view of Western Ferries has moved with the times was demonstrated by the fact that around 100 members came to hear John speak — and absorb his fascinating sequence of illustrations, which gave a true insider’s view of the company’s development.
SOUND OF ISLAY

 Ardrossan Harbour, January 1972

SOUND OF ISLAY

McInroy’s Point, March 1973


A tale of ships rather than politics and finance, John’s talk began at the very beginning, with the launch of the Sound of Islay at Ferguson’s of Port Glasgow in 1968, and ended with the news that Western Ferries now carry more than half a million cars across the Clyde each year. Two new vessels, the Sound of Seil and Sound of Soay, will join the fleet in the summer of 2013.

SOUND OF SCARBA
leaves Hunter’s Quay, August 1973
SOUND OF SANDA
arrives at Hunter’s Quay, 1974
SOUND OF SHUNA
at Hunter’s Quay, August 1973
We heard many little-known details about how the idea for the McInroy’s Point- Hunter’s Quay crossing took root, about the construction of terminals and the foreign origins of the early ferries, and the way they were adapted for service on the Clyde. 

OLANDSSUND IV
being converted in James Watt Dock, Greenock, April 1973
GEMEENTEPONT 23
undergoing conversion at Garvel, May 1995
         
 
SOUND OF SHUNA discharges lorries from Portavadie at McInroy’s Point
while SOUND OF ISLAY lies off, 1975
 
SOUND OF JURA 

loads cement tankers for Ardyne, 
March 1975

 HIGHLAND SEABIRD
at Oban, summer 1977
 HIGHLAND SEABIRD
at Strome Ferry, winter 1978
 

        
 SOUND OF SEIL
first day in service, 1986
 

 SOUND OF SANDA
at McInroy’s Point, 1988
  SOUND OF SLEAT
arrives at McInroy’s Point, 1990
 SOUND OF SCARBA
on the crossing, 1990
 
 
     
  SOUND OF SEIL
being towed from the Clyde,
 July 1996
  SOUNDs OF SANDA and SCALPAY
in James Watt Dock, June 1996
 SOUND OF SCARBA
ready for launching, March 2001
 
 SOUND OF SLEAT tows SOUND OF SHUNA to the buoy in the Holy Loch, Oct. 2003  

It was astonishing to see how diverse their work had been in those early years, with charters to Ardyne, Ardrossan, Portavadie, Rothesay and Loch Long, as well as a cruise from Glasgow’s Garden Festival. The ultra-versatile Sound of Islay sailed as far afield as Shetland and Ireland — and, ultimately, to Newfoundland.

Five boats in service, Cowal Games, August 1995

By 1995 the company was able to field five ships on Cowal Games weekend, and John — ever the enthusiast as much as the seasoned professional — had a perfect illustration to prove it.  When new berths were constructed on either side, the service continued without disruption. 

New berth under construction at McInroy’s Point, March 2007New linkspan being lifted into place at Hunter’s Quay, May 2007
John’s pride in the company’s can-do attitude shone through, as did his ability to explain in layman terms the technicalities of daily operations, annual overhaul and hull construction (upside down!). One nugget that took many of his listeners by surprise: “a feature of all the company’s present fleet is that there is no need to drydock them every year, as the propulsion units can be removed while afloat.”

 

 

  

  SOUNDs OF SHUNA and SCARBA 
meet at Renfrew, February 1996

 SOUND OF SCALPAY 
at Renfrew, February 1998 
  SOUND OF SANDA 
in Garvel Drydock, March 2004
 
 SOUND OF SCARBA 
in Garvel Drydock, February 2010 
 
   

 
 
 

 
  Three ferries lie at Kilmun, 
June 2007
 The whole fleet at Hunter’s Quay, 
June 2010
 
 Updating the company logo, 
February 2012
 SOUND OF SCARBA 
starts the day at Hunter’s Quay, 
March 2013
 
 

In his vote of thanks, Andy Anderson said we had not only heard much of interest about successive ships named Sound of Sanda, Sound of Seil and Sound of Sleat, but we had also heard the sound of John Newth — and how illuminating it had been.