CRSC’s excursion to Arran usually kickstarts the year in fine style. Our latest trip was no exception. Andrew Clark reports.
Storms. Cancellations. Breakdowns. In the week preceding CRSC’s excursion to Arran, just about everything that could go wrong on CalMac’s Ardrossan-Brodick service, went wrong. Then the day dawned — Saturday 14 January 2017.
Sun. Quietened seas. Snow-capped peaks. Ships on schedule. Given the reduced expectations of the previous days, there was a mood of mild (not to say wild) euphoria among the 80 CRSC members and friends gathered at Ardrossan ferry terminal, as a gleaming Hebridean Isles, on her first-ever spell on the Arran run, poked her nose round the entrance to Ardrossan Harbour and berthed on time — as if she had been doing it for years.
But just a minute! Most of us have boarded and suddenly the last handful of our party, including CRSC Cruise Coordinator Neil Guthrie, are being held at the gangway: the ship’s current passenger limit is 340, and with some vehicles still rolling on, she is apparently near to capacity.
A moment’s wait — and panic over. Everyone gets on. Those who usually make a beeline for the cafeteria make a beeline for the cafeteria. Everyone else gathers on deck. We’re on our way.
Already subtle differences to usual practice with Caledonian Isles, the regular Arran ferry (currently in dry dock at Greenock), are being noted and discussed. ‘Heb Isles’ adopts a more angular approach when arriving at Ardrossan Harbour. Berthing takes longer — partly because old-fashioned gangways are used instead of the steel gantries custom-made for ‘Caley Isles’.
Subtle differences can also be detected in the make up of our party: plenty of welcome new faces alongside old friends; several husbands-and-wives and family groups; a good cross-section of generations.
As Hebridean Isles heads out of the harbour, a chill westerly breeze sends most people indoors. The sight of Isle of Arran, the second vessel on the Brodick run, brings cameras out halfway across. Ailsa Craig provides a picturesque backdrop on the port side, while the starboard side offers uncluttered views of the Cumbraes — and, less welcome, a new wind farm above Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula. Snowcapped Goatfell makes the greatest impression, especially when viewed from the deck-front beneath the bridge — a facility that will be denied to passengers when the new Arran ferry enters service in 2018, because of a design that confines open deck space aft of midships. Such is progress.
As we approach Brodick, there is ample opportunity to study the gargantuan new pier and terminal building, due for completion in August. Then, after disembarking, the photographers are back in action as Hebridean Isles completes a swift turnaround and heads for Ardrossan.
We have two coaches (one of them imported on our outward voyage, at no extra cost to CRSC) to take us on a 90-minute tour of the south of the island — a journey of constantly changing perspectives, from the scenic overview of Lamlash Bay and the mainland panorama at Whiting Bay, to the peace of Pladda and vistas of Sanda and Davaar. A journey of surprises, too: the winding Arran roads have clearly not kept pace with the deluge of RET traffic to the island, and at a particularly twisty bit near Kilmory there is not enough space for us to get past the car with which we are suddenly face to face.
Pity the careful lady driver: the nature of the road obliges her, rather than the bus, to reverse all the way up the hill and round the bend. But after several attempts, with helpful directional arm-waving from our bus driver and some unscheduled crunches between car and roadside, things are not going well: what started out as comedy is veering towards tragedy. The car becomes enveloped in smoke — the sign of a clutch near burnout — and it’s only when our driver offers to take the lady’s place at the wheel that crisis is averted. Applause all round.
By 1pm we have completed our tour via The String and are relishing the prospect of lunch at Auchrannie Resort. It’s a happy occasion, with everyone ‘mixing in’ at seven long tables as drinks are ordered and waiters dish up a delicious steak pie and other goodies. CRSC President Iain Morgan delivers a rousing speech, congratulating Neil Guthrie on his excellent organisation, welcoming new members and reminding everyone that the Club’s aim is to create opportunities for enthusiasts ‘to meet, sail and talk together’ — and eat and drink together too. Cheers!
Rather than wait for the later return journey by Hebridean Isles, most of our party opt for Isle of Arran at 3.15pm, for which just five cars are in the queue. On the voyage back to Ardrossan conversation flows in more relaxed, reflective mood. But there’s one more surprise. As if there hasn’t been enough excitement for one day, the Master’s voice comes on the tannoy inside Ardrossan Harbour to explain that, as the bow visor is giving problems, we will have to berth stern-first. Cue a quick 180-degree turn in the harbour basin, and we are soon disembarking and on the way home.