Gordon Law concludes his winter round-up with the observation that, where CalMac ferries are concerned, the off-season invariably throws up more out-of-the-ordinary ship movements than summertime.
After the excitement of Hebridean Isles’ spell on the Arran run, my winter continued in mid January with the first of the year’s unusual visitors to Largs. Overhaul schedules showed that Loch Shira was to be replaced on the Cumbrae Slip service by Loch Tarbert, backed up by Loch Riddon. However, no doubt influenced by the vociferous inhabitants of Millport, CalMac sent Lochinvar to Largs to act as relief ferry on the route.
The next unusual visitor was Loch Fyne, the Fishnish-Lochaline ferry since the late 1990s, which arrived at Largs on February 11. I photographed her there the following day prior to her departure for overhaul and ramp adjustments at Garvel, in preparation for her new role as the Mallaig-Armadale ferry.
I was tipped off on February 15 that Loch Portain had completed her overhaul and was heading to Cumbrae Slip for ramp trials. I recorded the rare call in appalling weather conditions and also caught her later at Largs (right) when the monsoon had subsided.
A pristine Isle of Cumbrae appeared at Largs on February 24, fresh from her overhaul at Ardmaleish. The anticipated deployment of Loch Tarbert at Tarbert-Portavadie was changed, and she was sent instead to Tobermory for the summer season, with the 40-year old Isle of Cumbrae re-assigned to the Loch Fyne route. Loch Linnhe has now been laid up at Sandbank.
A shopping trip to Greenock later that day led to a visit to the James Watt Dock, where Hebridean Princess (laid up) was joined by Clansman and Loch Fyne, which were completing overhauls at Garvel.
On February 25 Loch Bhrusda arrived at Largs en route to Ardmaleish for overhaul. The ‘noisy ferry’ has had a busy 12 months — standby to LOTI and Lochinvar at Mallaig last summer, then conveying cars to the Small Isles during the overhaul period of Lochnevis, and finally relieving Loch Alainn and Loch Portain in the Outer Isles.
Hebridean Princess’s first call of the new season at Largs on March 3 was duly recorded in the company of Loch Shira. It should be noted that for the first time in recent years the Loch Shira has behaved impeccably after her overhaul — it is not difficult to tell the difference between a ray of sunshine and a Millport ferry user with a grievance!
Isle of Arran had to make an emergency visit to the James Watt Dock for repairs on March 4. I caught up with her the following day, just as the obligatory lifeboat drill was taking place.
A chance meeting with CMAL’s John Salton, a recent speaker in CRSC’s winter programme, alerted me to Eigg and Loch Linnhe sailing in convoy for lay-up from Oban to Sandbank via Craighouse.
The ferries arrived at Largs on March 18, and the picture (below) by retired professional snapper Grahame Ross records the unusual pairing.
I had never pictured Coruisk at the Dunoon link span, and so on March 24 I set out to rectify the situation. In the photograph at the top of the page, you could almost believe she was leaving the old steamer pier, whereas in fact she was canting into the linkspan at the ‘new’ breakwater just out of sight on the right.
Three days later I concluded my winter odyssey with a visit to Oban on a day ‘made in heaven’ — great weather, good company, plenty of subjects to picture and a sail on one of my CalMac favourites, Lord of the Isles. I even had another encounter with ‘Jim frae Glesga’, the bus driver with an inimitable sense of public service. Readers may be glad to know it was less stressful than last time.
I managed to photograph no fewer than five ships — Lord of the Isles, Clansman, Isle of Mull, Isle of Lewis and Loch Striven — during my day out to Colonsay, and a selection is shown below.
I am now starting to plan my summer excursions, but I doubt if I will be any busier than the past few months — a winter full of variety and surprise.
Thanks to Ian Young, Port Manager at Largs, and his CalMac colleagues Carol-Ann Baxter, Jordan McGhie and Debbie Church.