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