Cowal and Kintyre Ferry Hopper- 4th May 2014


Cowal/Kintyre Ferry Hopper
Departing from Gourock Station by coach, to McInroy’s
Point for the crossing to Hunter’s Quay on Western Ferries
and onwards to Tarbert via Portavadie.
Then onwards to Tayinloan for a trip to Gigha on
MV LOCH RANZA for over an hour ashore.
From Tayinloan to Campbeltown to board
MV ISLE OF ARRAN for her first Sunday sailing of 2014
to Ardrossan during which an inclusive two course meal
with tea/coffee was served.
After disembarking return by coach to Gourock.  

Isle of Arran in Brodick Bay – July 2012 (RP)   

Normally our Cruise Coordinator, Neil Guthrie, is just happy when it is all over after each event but on this occasion of so many difficulties and last minute changes in organising the day I have persuaded him to give a brief insight into what he had to cope with.
Neil Guthrie
The Cowal/Kintyre Hopper was initially thought up on Saturday 25th May 2013 whilst on the final leg of the Five Ferries Hopper heading towards Hunter’s Quay for the fifth and final ferry of the day. The objectives were to travel on the new LOCHINVAR and ISLE OF ARRAN from Campbeltown to Ardrossan. 
After completing the finer details of the trip, bookings opened online at 0241 on Wednesday 26th March. Bookings flooded in on the first few days, leaving me with serious thoughts as to whether there would be any space left by the time the Club’s mailing was distributed in mid-April.  I eventually decided to take bookings to the 100 mark and arranged for two coaches. This would come back and haunt me, I discovered that both the Portavadie to Tarbert and Gigha ferries were not manned to carry more than 75 passengers at this time of year.
On Friday 25th April I found out that there was a very strong possibility that ISLE OF ARRAN would not be freed from her duties at Islay, therefore meaning that there would be no vessel on the Campbeltown service. Plans B & C were hastily planned and replanned to cope with this situation. CalMac were instrumental in helping with these plans and sorted out all issues ranging from re-ticketing to ensuring the small vessels were crewed to carry the required number of passengers at the times required. 
When FINLAGGAN returned to Islay on Thursday 1st May all our problems should have been resolved – except the fog appeared on Sunday morning, causing several ferries to be suspended, including our 1145 from Portavadie to Tarbert.  An unplanned stop at Tighnabruaich would replace the planned hour in Tarbert and result in one of the coaches making a dash into Kennacraig for tickets we were originally going to receive on the 1145 Portavadie to Tarbert ferry. 
To add to the nightmare that could have easily unfolded on the day, CALEDONIAN ISLES had a technical problem which caused her to cancel her 0945 ex Ardrossan.  I immediately hoped she would return to service ASAP otherwise ISLE OF ARRAN would have been pressed onto the busy Arran service all day instead of doing her afternoon return to Campbeltown. 
All in all, I hope everyone enjoyed the trip as much as I enjoyed planning it and enjoy reading the reports and browsing the photographs from the various contributors

A number of members used the
train connection from Glasgow (TC)
“Hoppers” start to gather in front of the
Steamer display in Gourock Station (CM)
The misty conditions could be seen inside
the station where Class 380’s  001 & 004
wait their next duty (CM)

David Robertson
Gourock station.  0900.  A wet Sunday in early May.  Over one hundred individuals suddenly gathered, instantly recognisible by their sensible jackets, camera round the neck and carrying a mini rucksack complete with packed lunch, flask of tea and timetable.**  This was no ordinary Sunday.  It was the Clyde River Steamer Club’s second excursion of the year, the Cowal/Kintyre Hopper.  Building on the success of last year’s coach and cruise, an appetising itinerary had been planned by the cruising co-ordinater, Neil Guthrie.  
** “There are folk who don’t understand us”.  Stuart Craig: Clyde Steamers No. 50 Summer 2014. 
Shortly after his arrival at Gourock, Neil was soon encircled by hoppers all keen to know which bus they had been allocated.  For this trip, two coaches were required for the day’s contingent.  Despite having to collect tickets from a Calmac representative, allocate each bus a number and ensure all passengers had arrived, Neil managed to keep his cool and soon everyone had been assigned to a bus.  Just to complicate things, the larger bus (bus one) was parked behind the smaller bus (bus two) meaning bus one was the second bus and bus two the first!  Phew!  Everyone was soon seated in the correct place and we were off through the gloom to McInroy’s Point to catch our first ferry.    

We have a convoy!
Our Coaches waiting at McInroy’s point (DR)
Sound of Seil
arriving for us (DR) 
A driver’s eye view
of the car deck (DR)
Sound of Seil
arriving at Hunter’s Quay (JN)

Normally at a ferry port it’s nice to watch the ferry approaching and have a stroll.  No such luck today; the fog was thick, the rain was descending and it was only in the last moments of her crossing that we were able to see the SOUND OF SEIL approach the berth at McInroy’s Point.  Three more hoppers joined here and soon our two buses had filled the car deck on one of the newest acquisitions to the Western Ferries’ fleet and we were gliding eerily through the mist en route to Cowal.

Buses boarding Sound of Seil 
(3rd bus was a service bus to Dunoon) (JN)
“Meeting, sailing and talking together” 
The CRSC at its best! (CM)
On arrival at Hunter’s Quay, the remaining five hoppers joined the party and we set off on the next leg of the journey.  The road from Dunoon to Portavadie is very scenic but today we had to imagine how things looked as visibility was poor.  ‘If you look on the left hand side you would normally see the Kyles of Bute!’  We had intelligence earlier in the day that due to the fog the service between Tarbert and Portavadie had been suspended.  We were hopeful that sailings would resume in time for our booked departure at 1145.  No such luck unfortunately as this sailing too had been cancelled.  Now there was a decision to be made.  Do we head to Portavadie and wait?  Do we divert north towards Inverary thus reaching Tarbert by road?  Do we stop in Tighnabruaich and fill the coffers of Suzy’s?  The latter was chosen figuring that if the ferry did not go back in service, at least there was less doubling back to do.
Duly arriving in the car park behind Suzy’s at 1130 in the pouring rain, everyone disembarked, most pleased to get out of the coaches for a while.  Some opted for a coffee at Suzy’s, others preferred to walk in opposite directions; some towards the pier, others towards the shops.  The queue at Suzy’s quickly resembled the queue for the ladies on a Clyde Marine ‘booze cruise’.  It did take some time to get served, especially as they were probably not expecting two coach parties to descend.  
Our unscheduled stopping point in Tighnabruaich
I’m not sure if the look on Suzy’s face was one of panic
or £ signs at the appearance of two unexpected bus loads! (TC)
It was fortuitous that we had an unscheduled stop in Tighnabruaich as no sooner had we stopped when LOCH RIDDON was spotted emerging through the drizzle.  She was heading towards the East Kyle and Rothesay for repairs after experiencing problems on the Lismore service.  Anyone would have thought Neil had deliberately planned it that way.    
Loch Riddon passing Tighnabruaich (JN)
Soon we had word that the ferry would be sailing from Portavadie at 1245 and it was ‘first come, first served’ given the earlier cancellations.  Most of the party were quickly rounded up and back on the coaches, thanks in part to Iain Quinn’s announcement of ‘everybody out!’ to those in Suzy’s, some of whom were still in the queue!  Leaving Tighnabruaich we picked up four stragglers (all members of the committee no less) and headed through the rain across the Ardlamont peninsula.
Meeting and talking together,
with service disruption notice (CM)
Isle of Cumbrae arriving Portavadie (CM)
Isle of Cumbrae arriving Portavadie (JN)
1st bus was boarded fully loaded
 2nd Bus was emptied first (NG)

On arrival at the slip at Portavadie, there was only one vehicle waiting which meant both coaches would be able to cross together and we would be back on schedule.  The mist had lifted by now but the low cloud remained which did not deter those who decided to install themselves on the verge adjacent to the slip to photograph the ISLE OF CUMBRAE’s first arrival of that day.  After loading both coaches, we sailed for Tarbert, our second crossing of the day.  I wonder when was the last occasion that two coaches crossed together on that route?  Unfortunately, the new LOCHINVAR was not in service but she could be seen in the inner harbour as we disembarked.  She was due to be handed over from Fergusons a few days later.  

Aasheim alongside at Portavadie (CM)  A tight fit for our buses (CM)   Gavin and Shelagh enjoying some fresh air (TC)


Secretary Eric Schofield leads
the charge to the buses (GL) 
Getting the two buses re-boarded
with Isle of Cumbrae in background (CM)
The new Lochinvar at Tarbert (JP)

It was disappointing that we were unable to have our time in Tarbert as planned.  The reason for this was that we had another ferry to catch.  As one of the buses had to divert to Kennacraig to collect tickets, we were a few minutes late arriving at Tayinloan to catch the 1400 sailing to Gigha aboard LOCH RANZA.  This was the first time since the 1980s that the CRSC has visited Gigha on an excursion.  On that occasion it had been there and back on a bus direct from Glasgow.  Fortunately today’s route was more inviting.  
 Boarding Loch Ranza at Tayinloan (CM)
By now the weather had improved and our third crossing of the day began when the LOCH RANZA pushed off the slip at 1410.  As with the ISLE OF CUMBRAE, Calmac had put on an extra member of crew to ensure the vessel could carry the passengers offering.  The crossing only lasted twenty minutes but during this time, Neil managed to fulfill one of his lifelong ambitions and made an announcement over the tannoy informing the hoppers of their options of a ‘non landing’ trip or time ashore.  There were dolphins frolicking in the shallow waters of the Sound of Gigha as we crossed which added to the atmosphere of escapism.  

Dolphin alongside Loch Ranza (DR)  Off we go onto Gigha (DR)  Passengers coming ashore at Gigha (CM) 
Loch Ranza departing Gigha (JP)

The majority of the party opted for time ashore on Gigha.  Many walked towards ‘The Boathouse’, a small restaurant on the shore which was suddenly overwhelmed by the unexpected influx.  Others headed up the hill for a drink in the hotel or a look around the only shop.  It was amazingly tranquil on Gigha and nice and sheltered from the wind.  

Even on Gigha, someone messes
with the road signs (JP) 
 General view of Gigha (JP)
Loch Ranza arriving back at Gigha (JP)

Soon LOCH RANZA was back for the 1530 return sailing.  No dolphins or announcements this time and before long, almost 100 people were ‘power walking’ up the slipway towards the buses to catch our next ferry.  Those who had chosen the ‘non landing’ option had taken advantage of the wee café at Tayinloan.  

Next stop Campbeltown!
Hoppers pour off Loch Ranza (DR)
Paul Semple prepares to tackle his “snack”
supervised by Roy Paterson (CM)

Once back at the main road, we turned right and continued to head south, further down Kintyre towards Campbeltown.  Normally the way you go in to Campbeltown by road is the same way as you have to come out but fortunately the new service from Ardrossan has changed that.  We were booked on the 1655 sailing from Campbeltown to Ardrossan on the ISLE OF ARRAN and as we approached the town, we could see her over the rooftops, already at the berth.  

 Isle of Arran seen through the bus window
as we arrive at Campbeltown (DR)
Link span awaiting our Buses (DR)

No time for photographs here.  We were soon being checked in at the rather extensive terminal and waiting to join the seven cars and thirty two other passengers for the sailing.  This service only carried three coaches in the whole of 2013 so I would suspect that two coaches on the one crossing is a first.  Just before 1655, the ISLE OF ARRAN had slipped her moorings, was pulling off the berth and heading down Campbeltown Loch towards Davaar Island which passed a few minutes later to starboard.  
Included in the day’s fare was a two course meal onboard which Neil had taken orders for earlier in the day.  The food was great – mackerel fillets, lentil soup followed by fish and chips, curry, macaroni cheese or steak and ale pie with a choice of desserts to finish.  The onboard services staff were amazing too and were not remotely phased by serving us over a hundred meals in addition to catering for the ‘normal’ passengers.     

 An empty top deck on Isle of Arran (TC) Isle of Arran arriving at Ardrossan linkspan (DR) 

ISLE OF ARRAN made light work of the crossing and was soon nearing Ardrossan.  Club President Angus Ross on his first CRSC outing since donning the mantle ten days earlier thanked the crew of the ISLE OF ARRAN for their outstanding service during the crossing and to Neil for his expert organisation and for ensuring that the day ran smoothly despite the cancellations earlier in the day.  Once off at Ardrossan at 1930, both buses headed back up the coast to Gourock, dropping off passengers at different places on the way and everyone reflected on what a great day it had been.  Ok, the weather hadn’t been as good as last year’s trip but the enthusiasm was there nevertheless.  Again, full credit goes to Neil Guthrie.  Where does he find the time to plan all this?  He managed to double the number of participants from last May and has eclipsed the numbers who have participated in January excursions to Arran.  Thanks to all members and friends who supported this excursion and as I know Neil well, I am pretty sure he’s already planning the next adventure.
Stuart Craig
Itinerary for the day
McInroy’s Point 1000   Hunter’s Quay  1020
Coach to Portavadie
Portavadie  1245   Tarbert  1310
Coach to Tayinloan, dep Tarbert 1320
Tayinloan  1400     Gigha      1420 
Gigha       1530     Tayinloan  1545
Coach to Campbeltown
Campbeltown  1655   Ardrossan   1920
Coach to Gourock
It is a brave person who volunteers to be Cruise Co-ordinator for the CRSC, or any enthusiast group for that matter. Trying to arrange an interesting day of cruising with the raw materials that are available nowadays, and at an affordable cost, can be like trying to walk up Ben Nevis backwards.  It was an ambitious coach-and-cruise excursion that Neil Guthrie had planned for us on Sunday 4 May.  Taking a hundred plus day-trippers, and two coaches, on five sea crossings, and over  many miles of linking-up, on indifferent roads, gave plenty of potential for things to go awry, rendering the trip into a coach-and-coach excursion. However fortune favours the brave and Neil’s plan turned into a brilliant day out, in the tradition of many CRSC excursions in previous years.
On board Sound of Seil (TC)
We started at our meeting point outside Gourock Station where we were all slotted into our coaches. Our first ferry was to be the new Western Ferries’ Sound of Seil. Pulling up at McInroy’s Point ferry terminal the ship was nowhere to be seen. In fact there was nothing to be seen anywhere, on account of a heavy veil of fog shrouding the firth. The lack of any other waiting traffic made some of us wonder if the ferry was suspended, thus effectively grounding us before we really started. However a red and white shape, like a giant plate of strawberries and ice-cream, soon materialised out of the gloom.  We were off, but the mist was still threatening to scupper us. 
Our next crossing, Portavadie to Tarbert, was currently suspended due to the fog and there was no guarantee it would be reinstated by 1145, our sailing time. If it wasn’t then the coaches would have to be taken on a circuitous trip around the head of Loch Fyne, thus missing out on the planned visit to Gigha. We set off anyway – always hopeful – and on reaching Tighnabruaich learned that Isle of Cumbrae would commence service at 1245. Hesitating briefly to photograph the unexpected appearance of Loch Riddon heading for the Kyles of Bute we continued to Portavadie where the far side of Loch Fyne was reassuringly emerging from the mist. Although an hour behind schedule Neil had cleverly factored in extra time and the remainder of the day was now likely to go as planned.

Quite intimidating to be in your
car at the front of the queue!
 (I liked the driver’s instant rain canopy) (CM)
 On board
Isle of Cumbrae (TC)
On board
Isle of Cumbrae (TC)
Heading for the buses (DR)

Getting the buses onto Isle of Cumbrae was no easy matter. Every time our bus attempted its assault on the ramp the ferry seemed to be shunted back into the loch. As one wag put it: ” trust the CRSC to try to get two buses onto the smallest ferry we could find!”  But the resourceful crew persevered and off we were again in gradually improving conditions. Once at Tarbert we immediately headed down to Tayinloan, fifteen miles away, passing the brand new (and not yet in service) Lochinvar, which will soon be replacing the old Cumbrae on the Loch Fyne route.
On our way south our cheery driver was unfolding his knowledge and interest in the CalMac fleet with every passing mile. He clearly had latent, steamer-nutter tendencies, and such was his enthusiasm that the Membership Secretary soon had him signed up as a new member to the Club. He wasn’t charged for today’s trip, however.

Dolphins (TC)
You have your perfect day with friends and family
You plan a secluded trip to a romantic island
All seems idyllic until you are surrounded
by 106 hopping hoppers! (CM)
Loch Ranza heading back to Tayinloan (JN)

At Tayinloan the coaches were abandoned and we skipped onto the waiting Loch Ranza which had the presence of mind to wait for us so that we could enjoy some time ashore. We sailed off ten minutes late but this still allowed an hour on ‘God’s Island’. The one car aboard was festooned with pink balloons and liberally daubed in white with “Just Married”.  My goodness, the couple must have got an awful shock when 106 steamer nutters joined them on their mini cruise to the ‘deserted’ hideaway that was Gigha.
Over on the other side some chose to stay aboard the ferry, some sauntered off to the café and a thirsty few strode out purposefully towards the hotel – indeed some could be seen breaking into a run, including the honeymooners.

Gigha Scenery (TC) Loch Ranza with putting green in foreground (TC)
Neil Guthrie, Charles McCrossan and Paul Semple
discussing the Waverley charter in August (GL)
I’m intrigued by this one –
Gordon Law, centre, submitted the photo!
Norman Leach and Ian Montgomerie enjoy a refreshment (GL)
Andrew Anderson and Stuart Craig
enjoy a refreshment on Gigha (GL)

The weather seemed milder on Gigha and the sun was trying hard to break through. All too soon we were back on Loch Ranza. Neil was yet again desperately trying to count everyone aboard until it was pointed out to him that some folk had never even made it off the bus at Tayinloan.
 Loch Ranza heading back to Tayinloan (JP) Loch Ranza back at Gigha (JP)  Loch Ranza arriving at Taylinloan (CM) 

The next leg was the run down the west coast of Kintyre to Campbeltown where, right on cue, Isle of Arran was just berthing. This time we sailed on schedule at 1655. Dinner was included in the cost of our ticket, and our little flock had the presence of mind to stagger their appearance at the restaurant. Here the ever cheerful and helpful stewards and chefs served us a lovely two course meal, which was one of the highlights of a fascinating day. They worked very hard on our behalf and their efforts were much appreciated. 

 Moving onto Isle of Arran (NG) Buses on board Isle of Arran (NG Isle of Arran food servery (NG) 

I had been a bit apprehensive about the meal as I had been given the task of collating everyone’s order. So apologies to the gentleman from Saltcoats who had three platefuls of strawberry gateau. You’ll get your fish ‘n chips next time.
 No demand for a seat outside (GS)
The rain finally put in an appearance on the two and a half hour sail to Ardrossan but despite that I think everyone enjoyed it, especially as we were sailing with the wind and so it felt mild out on deck. Perhaps the breeze had an influence for we arrived at Ardrossan twenty minutes early.
This was a gem of a day. Many who came along had never sailed on the Campbeltown-Ardrossan route, had never been to Gigha and had never crossed from Portavadie to Tarbert. That is the attraction of an excursion such as this; enabling folk to enjoy sailings and routes that some of us take for granted, and at an affordable cost.

 Isle of Arran at Ardrossan (SC) Isle of Arran at Ardrossan (SC) 

I spoke to one chap over dinner and asked him if he had enjoyed his day.
“Brilliant. You know when you come away on a CRSC excursion such as this that it is going to be so well organised.” Well Neil, I think that sums it up perfectly – well done! 
Just a final shot from Tom Carryette to show that the weather hadn’t really improved much during the day.
Sound of Soay seen through the bus window
as we dropped some Hoppers off at McInroy’s Point (TC)
Thanks to everyone for their help.  Neil Guthrie, David Robertson and Stuart Craig submitted text for the report.
The following supplied photographs: David Robertson (DR); Gavin Stewart (GS); Gordon Law (GL); John Newth (JN); John Park (JP); Neil Guthrie (NG); Roy Paterson (RP); Stuart Craig (SC); Tom Carryette (TC) and Charles McCrossan (CM)