Five Ferries Hopper – 25th May 2013



5 Ferries Hopper – Coach and Cruise
Gourock, Wemyss Bay, Rothesay, Colintraive,
Rhubodach, Portavadie, Tarbert, Kennacraig,
Port Askaig, Kennacraig, Hunters Quay, Gourock

Thanks to David Robertson for the trip report and to David, Neil Guthrie, Deryk Docherty and John Newth for photographs 
I asked myself, why am I getting up at the ungodly hour of 0600 on a Saturday morning during a bank holiday weekend?  Is it to catch a flight to some exotic location or am I on the early shift?  No, it’s because I’m going on the Clyde River Steamer Club’s early summer excursion – the ‘Five Ferries Hopper’.
I was fortunate enough to get a lift to the meeting point at Gourock railway station and despite arriving there a good twenty minutes before the 0840 departure time, a large number of the day’s contingent was already waiting.  All had assembled by the time the coach arrived at 0830 and we filed aboard and headed off down the coast.  Our first stop was at McInroy’s Point to collect two Cowal based hoppers and soon our excellent driver Paul had driven us promptly to Wemyss Bay for our first ferry of the day.

Our cruising coordinator, Neil Guthrie, had asked everyone to remain on the bus while he collected the tickets from the kiosk in the marshalling area.  He had envisaged this being a straightforward undertaking but, unfortunately, he was unable to collect the tickets from there and had to sprint down to the office at the foot of the pier.  Luckily, he was back on the bus in time to issue everyone with their breakfast voucher and to witness ARGYLE’s arrival. 
On board, we had a choice of filled roll – bacon, link or square sausage – and a hot drink.  Full marks to Calmac for being able to serve our party so efficiently while simultaneously catering for ‘normal’ passengers.  The Clyde was like a mill pond and in no time, ARGYLE was powering into Rothesay Bay.
After disembarking at Rothesay we turned right and headed for Rhubodach.  No time to stop and sample the delights of the Bute capital; for us the island was a stepping stone.  As we headed round Kames Bay and along the shore of the East Kyle we were afforded an excellent view of Port Lamont and the approaches to Loch Striven.  We were soon at our third port of the day, Rhudodach, where we were able to enjoy the amenities – well… a slipway and a car park – and wait in the sun.
Quite what the two canoeists who were getting ready to go for a paddle thought when fifty enthusiasts engulfed the shoreline, armed with their cameras, is anyone’s guess!  We were all eagerly awaiting the ferry’s arrival and the sight of LOCH DUNVEGAN pushing effortlessly towards us did not disappoint.  Soon the majority of our party had walked down the slipway and peace and tranquility was restored to Rhubodach. 
I would imagine that the CRSC invasion of the LOCH DUNVEGAN was probably the highest number of passengers to have boarded on foot at Rhubodach in a long while.  After no more than three minutes – at this point the Kyles of Bute are almost at their narrowest – we had reboarded the coach and were soon heading off up the hill out of Colintraive towards the head of Loch Riddon.
The weather conditions continued to improve as we travelled along the single track road to Tighnabruaich.  Fortunately, we did not meet much traffic, only the occasional sheep and in good time we were on another, twistier single track road to the terminus at Portavadie.  From here we could see vessel number three, the veteran ISLE OF CUMBRAE, approaching.  As at Rhubodach, the majority of the coach took up a suitable vantage point on the shore and waited with bated breath for her arrival.  The 1145 sailing had a considerable number of foot passengers aboard and as we crossed Loch Fyne, the waters sparkled.
Our organiser Neil even took a shot in the driver’s seat on the coach
 but to everyone’s relief, he did not get any further than holding the steering wheel.
Twenty-five minutes later, we arrived in Kintyre and passed through the bustling town of Tarbert.  A few minutes later we got our first glimpse of FINLAGGAN, the main event if you like, and were crossing the short causeway to a very busy Kennacraig.  The queue for cars to check in was such that our coach passengers had to disembark a fair distance from the terminal while Neil headed off to purchase the Islay tickets.  The terminal building was packed and many hopeful car passengers were left disappointed as all of the day’s sailings were full.  No such problems for Neil – his planning was perfect.  He was soon able to distribute the tickets for the café cruise to Islay, which included the return sail as well as a two course meal and hot beverage.  In my opinion, this is a very good deal and to be recommended.  After the obligatory photographs, everyone clambered aboard to enjoy the delights of FINLAGGAN.
She sailed at 1300 and powered her way down the West Loch and turned to starboard to head for the whisky isle.  The sun stayed out but with a fresh breeze, many passengers opted to remain on the more sheltered decks at the stern.  In my opinion, FINLAGGAN is by far the most lavishly appointed in the fleet.  Her internal layout is spacious and she affords the opportunity of an outside view over the bow.  As the car deck was full and a large number of foot passengers had boarded, she was busy but her lounges did not feel cramped.  In the Mariners cafeteria queues of up to twenty minutes were reported.  I just hoped they would have food left for the return journey.
Our arrival at Port Askaig was a few minutes early at 1445 and as we only had about half an hour, we were eager to step ashore.  Here there were split priorities for the group – some headed to get photographs of FINLAGGAN at the berth while others preferred the more sedate option of a wee Islay dram in the Port Askaig Hotel.
Apart from the latter and the shop, there is not much else in Port Askaig so after a brief thirty minutes or so, we were back on board for the return sailing at 1530.  It was a quieter crossing, fewer cars and far fewer passengers.  No queues in Mariners this time.  Venison stew and lamb kofta burgers were on offer alongside the more traditional Calmac delicacies of macaroni cheese and fish and chips.  
The weather remained lovely as we sailed back up West Loch Tarbert towards Kennacraig.  During the sail to and from Islay and throughout the day, it was great to see so many familiar and unfamiliar faces talking to each other and enjoying the surroundings.
As part of the day’s event, a ferry quiz had been devised, which for many turned out to be ‘ferry’ difficult.  Nevertheless, the highest mark from those who did return them was Colin McNab’s commendable 16/24 and his prize was a Calmac shopper bag filled with goodies from FINLAGGAN’s shop: an Islay calendar, a fridge magnet and a Calmac key ring and pen.
Time was tight to travel from Kennacraig to Hunter’s Quay to catch the 1930 sailing to McInroy’s Point yet Paul got us there just in time.  Four of our Cowal based passengers disembarked here so we were down to forty-six for our final crossing of the day.  Most of the party reflected on what a wonderful day it had been, a sentiment echoed by club president Deryk Docherty as he thanked Neil for his hard work and effort in organising the day as the bus drove back to Gourock station.  The weather had been excellent, the itinerary well planned, the food superb and the company great.  Full credit goes to Neil Guthrie.  This was the third coach and cruise excursion that he has arranged since he donned the mantle of cruising coordinator and the third that has been a sell-out.  I, for one, hope that Neil continues to organise such adventures and that club members and their friends continue to support them.