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In this series devoted to tickets he has gathered over the years, and the memories they evoke, Eric Schofield has so far steered clear of charter sailings. Now he draws inspiration from tickets produced for two CRSC special sailings in May 1971. They feature piers familiar to vessels that served the communities in and around the Holy Loch.
The first of these Club excursions, on Saturday 1 May 1971, was originally intended to be by Queen Mary II, but as a result of her being withdrawn for an extensive overhaul and internal modernisation programme, her place was taken by King George V.
The MacBrayne turbine operated the cruise from Ayr via Keppel, Largs, Gourock and Dunoon, then on via the Holy Loch with time ashore at Blairmore and Kilcreggan, before returning via Dunoon direct to Ayr and then back up firth via Keppel, Largs and Dunoon to Gourock.
Four weeks later, when the CSP’s involvement with the Holy Loch service was brought to a close on Friday 28 May, it seemed as if Countess of Breadalbane’s career had ended.
However, our ever effervescent Cruise Convener of the time, Ian McCrorie, had earlier reached agreement with the CSP management for one last hurrah — a ‘Farewell Excursion’ round as many as possible of this popular little boat’s past and recent haunts.
So on Saturday 29 May we had one of the outstanding Club charters of all time — 11 pier calls scheduled plus 4 others visited, all within seven hours, with brief photo stops at most of the piers and time ashore at three.
The ‘Countess’ left Gourock at 1200, crossed to Helensburgh, and then continued via the familiar piers of Kilcreggan and Blairmore to the first of the unscheduled stops — Strone. Then along to Kilmun, followed by another unscheduled visit at Hunter’s Quay.
After virtually brushing past the remnants of Kirn Pier, we made another unscheduled stop at Dunoon, principally to allow for photos of the car ferry Iona arriving.
The ‘Countess’ next headed to Innellan and then on to the ‘Kylemore berth’ at Rothesay Pier.
We then proceeded across-firth, past the north end of Cumbrae and into the Largs Channel for the fourth unscheduled visit, Keppel Pier, where some of the party disembarked and walked into Millport. Others remained onboard to sail round Farland Point to the Old Pier.
Fish and chips duly consumed, we then headed homewards via Largs with brief photo call, to Dunoon, Gourock and Craigendoran.
Still carrying some diehard enthusiasts reluctant to disembark, Countess of Breadalbane motored back across the river direct to the East India Harbour in Greenock, her CSP career now seemingly over — though later she did have a few days’ work providing additional cover on Gourock-Dunoon and Largs-Millport in early June).
On a visit to the Greenock docks in August 1971 I photographed a group of CSP and MacBrayne vessels that were now withdrawn from service: Duchess of Hamilton, Maid of Ashton, Countess of Breadalbane, Loch Eynort and Lochbroom (already sold and renamed Focomar). Of that group only Countess of Breadalbane would grace the waters of the Clyde again, under Walter Roy Ritchie ownership, initially renamed Countess and later Countess of Kempock.
Some 10 years later, now owned by Offshore Workboats Ltd, she was based at Oban for a summer season of short cruises. In 1982 she was transferred to Loch Lomond under the ownership of Ind Coope Alloa Breweries, running cruises from Balloch and renamed Countess Fiona.
The Brewery Company sold the business in 1989 and in the following year the operation ceased. A decade later, after lying rusting, unloved and unwanted, Countess Fiona was broken up.
It was a sad, long-drawn-out end for this little vessel that had led an amazing life — built by Denny of Dumbarton in 1936 for service on the freshwater Loch Awe, transferred overland to Clyde waters in 1952, sent to the West Highlands for a brief stint in 1981, and then returned to inland loch sailing on Loch Lomond, finishing her life only five miles up the road from her Dumbarton birthplace.
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Published on 19 November 2020