Report and Photographs: Andrew Clark
Sunrise at Gourock, Saturday 10 October 2015 at 7.40am: a canopy of red sky dwarfs the perimeter of Battery Point and Cardwell Bay, as Argyll Ferries’ Ali Cat, inward bound from Dunoon, makes a gingerly approach to the steps at Gourock ferry terminal. In the car park outside, familiar faces appear from nowhere, greeting each other in the way you do when it’s far too early to chatter. By eight o’clock everyone has boarded a comfortable coach, and 40 intrepid enthusiasts are off on a day of adventure, taking in five ferries on five different routes on the Firth of Clyde.
Well, not quite 40 yet: the CRSC’s five-strong Largs gang have yet to join us as we sight Argyle, Argyll Flyer and Bute off the Ashton shore, and speed past the deserted Wemyss Bay ferry terminal. Largs finds Isle of Cumbrae and Loch Shira at either side of the pier, and Seamill offers our first glimpse of Caledonian Isles, midway from Brodick to Ardrossan, where two more join our party. After some apprehension about whether our coach will be allowed to board — CalMac’s 9.45 sailing for Brodick is fully booked and staff are examining our reservation — we are given the go-ahead. Bacon rolls from the ship’s restaurant are a welcome prospect.
|Dawn at Gourock, with Ali Cat
|Anxious moment at Ardrossan
|Approach to Brodick Bay
|Disembarkation at Brodick
Neptune is kind: the easterly breeze is gentle as we head westwards, with clear views of Ailsa Craig to port and Goatfell ahead, despite wreaths of mist here and there. After disembarking at Brodick, the mood is noticeably jollier, and at Lochranza there are only two cars ahead of us in the ferry queue: just as well, because our coach takes up a lot of space and CalMac allows no advance reservations for the crossing to Claonaig. Loch Tarbert duly arrives, and our coach advances onto the car deck aided by wooden chocks, preventing the vehicle’s underbody from scraping the ramp. Porpoises provide an entertaining sideshow on the crossing to Kintyre, and skipper Ryan Hamil welcomes CRSC cruise coordinator Neil Guthrie onto the bridge.
Briefly letting the Clyde out of sight, we reach Kennacraig in time to photograph Finlaggan departing for Islay. At Tarbert the mood is ‘rest and be thankful’: there is time to shop and eat, before a walk along the pier road to the slipway, where Lochinvar manoeuvres with eerie silence. The vessel becomes a focus for all sorts of conversations. Some like her quietness. Others find her overly constricted. The consensus is that passenger space trails well below eco-friendliness, crew accommodation, vehicle space and over-designed safety features: CalMac’s expensive new breed of ‘hybrid’ ferries, assisted by battery power, already seem too small for the job.
Wooden blocks aid our coach
Neil Guthrie and David Robertson
meet Loch Tarbert skipper Ryan Hamil
Farewell to Claonaig
First glimpse of Finlaggan
The voyage across Loch Fyne evokes memories of bygone days — of MacBrayne’s Lochfyne, of Cowal on her 1970-71 Tarbert runs, of Waverley’s recent summer visits. Before we know it, Adam, our driver, is steering nimbly past cyclists up the narrow road from Portavadie and on to Tighnabruaich and the Kyles of Bute, with glimpses of the Narrows as we head towards Colintraive. The crossing to Rhubodach on Loch Dunvegan is short but sweet, the drive along the East Kyle pure pleasure. Rothesay on an autumn Saturday may resemble a ghost town, but cafes are well patronised for an hour or so before our fifth and last ferry of the day, Bute, sweeps into her berth. The voyage to Gourock is due to last 60 minutes — this route being Brandane commuters’ only option for the six winter months while Wemyss Bay pier is modernised.
Scheduled for a 5.15pm departure, Bute leaves a couple of minutes early, and by 5.40 has settled on a steady course up the centre of the main channel. As we pass Argyle off Inverkip, the sun breaks through the clouds to form a romantic skyscape above the Cowal peninsula. Argyle Flyer precedes us along the Ashton shore, and the Kilcreggan ferry Island Princess emerges from Gourock pier as we approach. Thanks to a cumbersome temporary gangway, we disembark 10 minutes behind schedule, but everyone is glowing. It has been an epic day — and, in terms of ‘sailing together, meeting together and talking together’, an unqualified success.
Photo opportunity at Kennacraig
View from Loch Dunvegan’s bridge
|Passing the Cloch
|Argyll Flyer and Island Princess
Photographs: Roy Paterson
|Another new member has signed up
|Passing Argyle on our way to Gourock