A first on the ‘Frisa’

‘Gliding into Oban Bay in her smart new livery, Loch Frisa looks the part. Her bow and stern are cantilevered over the water, giving the impression of floating above the surface’. But does she have sufficient capacity for the Mull run?

It took several weeks of induction trials before Loch Frisa, CalMac’s new Mull ferry, was finally considered ready to enter service. Stuart Craig offers some first impressions of a vessel that has been variously nicknamed ‘Frisbee’ and ‘the Flying Saucer’.

I had a sail on a ‘new’ CalMac ferry the other day!

Now that’s not something you hear very often these days. I was in the Oban area, with bike and tent, and just had to sample the latest addition to the Oban–Craignure route — Loch Frisa. This second-hand ferry (purchased last year from Norway) has been suitably altered for service to Mull, thus releasing Coruisk to return to her Skye haunts. I took the ‘Frisa’ on her 1415 sailing out of Oban. So what were my impressions of her?

Loch Frisa sets off up the Sound of Mull on her official induction cruise on 6 June, but it took another month before she was ready for service

From my favoured vantage point on Pulpit Hill, she looked the part – gliding into the bay in her smart new livery. Her bow and stern are somewhat cantilevered over the water, thus giving the impression that she is floating above the surface – yes, like a hovercraft. Remember those?

I raced downhill to board and was first onto the car deck. This is the honour one gets if using a bicycle. Unfortunately, it also means you are last off, having inhaled several lungs-full of exhaust fumes while waiting. The car deck reminded me of the Rothesay ferries Bute and Argyle. Two flights of stairs up, her lounge was more like that of Loch Portain or Loch Shira.

Looking around she seemed clean and neat; but then the first issue caught my eye. A vending machine was parked in the lounge – the only source of catering, as mentioned in the CalMac timetable. But it was out of order. My coffee would have to wait.

Up on deck the second issue became apparent. As the ship filled with passengers, her cramped open deck space was soon – well, full! This was a warm, sunny afternoon and most of her complement wanted to sit outside. But most of them couldn’t, because there are not enough seats. Just as well the floor was nice and clean, because that’s where many had to sit.

Off we sailed, and she seemed to take off with a keen sense of speed; and she was quiet. On the 55-minute crossing to Craignure we passed her 34-year old consort Isle of Mull and then Clansman (inbound from Coll and Tiree). A cheeky porpoise kept some of us entertained off Duart.

The contrast between the facilities of Isle of Mull and Loch Frisa could not be greater: I hope intending passengers appreciate that. The ‘Frisa’ is certainly a nice wee craft, but in my humble opinion unsuitable for the busy Oban-Craignure route. She took 34 cars over to Mull, which would suggest that she might be more suitable for the Largs-Cumbrae crossing. Or why not place her on the Wemyss Bay-Rothesay run and send one of the Bute sisters up to Oban? I’m sure certification could be sorted out. I shall study with interest how Loch Frisa copes with the summer, and winter, traffic to Mull.

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Compare this for size: Loch Frisa passes various craft at the North Pier, Oban, including her 36 -year old fleetmate Loch Striven (right), as she approaches the linkspan at the Railway Pier

Loch Frisa at Craignure on 18 June, ready for the 55-minute crossing to Oban

Vehicle deck before loading — not unlike that of Loch Portain or Loch Shira

Car deck after embarkation at Craignure

Loch Frisa can carry 34 cars, slightly fewer than Coruisk

Passenger lounge up two flights of stairs from the car deck

Close-up of Loch Frisa’s distinctive profile at Oban

‘Clean and neat’: internal accommodation on the new Mull ferry

Outdoor passenger space on Loch Frisa: ‘there are not enough seats’

Loch Frisa at Craignure during induction trials: ‘a nice wee craft’

There is no catering on Loch Frisa, and the coffee machine wasn’t working

On board signage, incorporating the new CalMac logo. Click on image to enlarge

Loch Frisa and Coruisk at Craignure on 25 June. The larger vessel has now moved back to the Mallaig-Armadale service

Thanks to Stuart Craig, Iain Erskine, Andrew Ramsay and Cameron Wilson for photographs.

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Published on 22 July 2022