‘A bold and enterprising excursion’

Winter cruising CRSC-style: George, Ray and Rob Beale joined Simon and Robin Morgan and Sarah Turner on the top deck of Isle of Arran as Pladda came into view. Although visibility was poor, the rain stayed away for most of the voyage and spirits were high

On Saturday 13 January 2018 CRSC chartered MV Isle of Arran for a sail round the island after which she is named. Here is Stuart Craig’s personal view of the day’s proceedings.

This past week has been a very good one for the Clyde River Steamer Club. We had an excellent presentation at our Jurys Inn meeting on the subject of Maid of the Loch, we augmented our ranks by a veritable muster of new members and, oh what else? Yes, we chartered a CalMac ship and took her right round Arran. Yes, our very own ship, Isle of Arran, full of ‘steamer club’ members, their friends, an assortment of day trippers and ship enthusiasts, and of course the crew.

What a day it was! Gloomy, overcast, drizzly and a Beaufort Scale 5 to 6 sweeping up from the south-east — all these did their best to dissuade us from heading out of Ardrossan Harbour, but failed to budge the bunch that had signed on for this special day. There were smiles all round as 183 passengers skipped up the gangway for the start of what promised to be a real, intrepid adventure.

Not since February 2004 has CRSC been able to charter a CalMac ship. On that occasion it was an anti-clockwise cruise round the same island aboard Caledonian Isles from Brodick. Maybe the wait had whetted the appetite of those boarding, for they had turned up in numbers and everyone seemed to be bristling with anticipation. They were not disappointed.

From the start we felt very welcome aboard, from Captain Tony McQuade’s reassuring address just before we sailed, to the welcoming notices pinned outside the Purser’s Office, to the patience and professionalism of the catering crew, who made sure everyone was amply fed and watered during the five-hour cruise.

By general consent Captain Tony McQuade made a big contribution to the success of the Round Arran charter. His friendly face and welcoming manner spread down to the rest of the ship, and he exuded geniality as group after group came up to the bridge to see around and talk to him. Renfrewshire-born Captain McQuade went to sea at 16, joining the BP tanker British Willow at Lagos, Nigeria, in 1977 and later working for Glenlight Shipping before coming to CalMac in 1990. This is his 40th year at sea. His first command was Iona in 1996, followed by Lochmor, and he brought Lochnevis out of the builder’s yard at Troon in 2000. He has now been Master of every major unit in the fleet apart from Loch Seaforth, latterly serving as Relief Master on the Islay run. Describing Isle of Arran as ‘a good sea boat’, he says that, whereas Hebridean Isles is ‘always jumping about in a sea’, Isle of Arran sits ‘squat in the water. She is made of heavier and tougher steel than the modern ships. She’s got permanent ballast and her Berg control system, installed two years ago, has made her a lot more reliable. She’s a great old boat. She may not have the power of the modern ships but if you treat her well, she’ll treat you well back.’

We headed out into a strong beam sea off our port side towards the south of the island. Sheltered spots could always be found on deck and Isle of Arran demonstrated the sound sea-going qualities for which she is renowned. Despite waves dancing all around us the ship was remarkably stable.

Holy Isle materialised out of the gloamin’ and then the south coast of Arran, with the attending Pladda. The wind picked up and we held onto our hats – and what an assortment of those on display. One well-kent ‘steamer club’ face looked as though he was wearing a cat on his head, another a recently deceased badger.

Onwards we ploughed and, to keep the troops happy, bridge visits were organised, those wanting to partake being ushered in groups of 10 — nine groups in all, such was the popularity of this.

Into the shelter of Arran’s west coast and the elements were pacified. Lunch was being served and here the crew really excelled. How they managed to serve 184 meals (yes, one Club regular had two) was beyond me. And although Isle of Arran has a somewhat cramped dining saloon, great patience was shown by everyone in queuing without fuss and then making way for others when finished with their meal. A furnace-full of lasagne and an entire shoal of haddock was fished out to the hungry hordes by a troupe of catering staff who seemed just as enthusiastic as the passengers at this break from their normal routine.

Inside for a heat I chatted to several non-CRSC members, tempting four to join the Club. There was a family from Durham who had come north specially for the trip, and a couple who love Arran so much they couldn’t resist a sail round it – despite the fact it was January and they never got to see much of it in the gloom.

After the sail up Kilbrannan Sound the ship slowed off Lochranza and the fast-rescue craft (FRC) was launched for a training exercise — and perhaps to give further entertainment. The orange dart zoomed off into lumpy waves and spun around the ship for 15 minutes. By the time it was hoisted back aboard a small queue had formed on the starboard side. How disappointed their faces were when they were told that no, the passengers were not allowed a shot on the FRC and they should return to their apple pie.

In no time we were round the other side of the island and heading diagonally across the Firth to Ardrossan.

This was a wonderful day out and all credit must go to Neil Guthrie, our Cruising Coordinator, for his tenacity in achieving such a bold and enterprising excursion. Plaudits, too, to CalMac for being receptive to allowing their ship – which would otherwise have been resting between peak hour sailings – to be chartered.

The ship was great, the crew were great, and the passengers? Well, they had a whale of a time – or should that be ‘haddock’? Here’s to more such trips.

Dressed overall for her CRSC charter, Isle of Arran enters Ardrossan Harbour on time at 10.40am

Boarding party led by Lawrence Macduff, prior to a prompt 11am departure

As Isle of Arran casts off from Ardrossan’s Irish berth, the most popular gathering place is the open viewing space in front of the bridge — a much cherished feature of older ferry design that has been sacrificed on the altar of increased internal seating room in the two new ferries under construction at Port Glasgow

Bridge visit: Chief Officer Iain MacKenzie explains the ship’s equipment

Bravo to the Stewards department for their hot and tasty offerings, gobbled up by 183 hungry souls

John Beveridge, Iain MacLeod and Deryk Docherty

Third Officer Jordan Brown charts the route with Barbara Craig

Cameron Shaw, Alice Hickford, Hazel O’Neill, Iain Quinn, Anne Mitchell, Ian McCrorie

Ken Mills and Libby Jamieson

FRC practice off Lochranza

The Fishers have become CRSC excursion regulars – James, Sandy, Iona and Aileen

David Stirling with Paul and Wendy McVittie

David Edwards and Al Black

Peter Reid, Murray Paterson, Gordon Wilson, Ian Milne, Elizabeth Wilson, Heather Reid, Kathryn Paterson

Colin Smith, Chris Quirk, James Hamilton, Ian Ferguson

Stephen and Stuart Craig with Eric Schofield

David Mackie, Ken Hinshalwood, Davie Wright, Eric Niven, Elsie Hinshalwood

Fiona, Jim and Elizabeth Sim (foreground) with Pat Marron and Eila Handyside (behind)

Isle of Arran served us extremely well on our Round Arran charter, thanks to her roomy decks, friendly crew and reliable sea performance

Thanks to Douglas Brown, Robin Copland, Roy Paterson and Colin Smith for photos.

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