Glen Sannox: worthy of the name?


Ready to go? Glen Sannox at Ferguson Marine, Port Glasgow, on 18 November 2017. The new Arran ferry will be launched by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at 1.30pm on Tuesday 21 November, but the vessel is not expected to enter service until the 2018/19 winter. Copyright Jim Phanco

As final preparations are made for the launch of Glen Sannox, the fourth Clyde vessel to bear the name, Iain MacLeod looks back to her illustrious predecessors — and sheds light on a little-known aspect of the first Glen Sannoxs wartime career.

What an inspired decision it was when CMAL listened to the people and chose for their new Arran ‘steamer’ a name which will bring back happy memories for many. When Glen Sannox is launched at Port Glasgow on 21 November, she will be the fourth Clyde ship to bear that name.

It was the third Glen Sannox, built in 1957, which took my family on holiday to Arran. Between 1925 and 1954, a turbine steamer with the same name did the same job for its generation. As the 19th century moved into the 20th, the principal Arran boat from Ardrossan Winton Pier was the first Glen Sannox, a paddle steamer notable in both looks and performance.

The 1892 Glen Sannox arriving at Brodick. Copyright CRSC

After her launch on 26 March 1892 the Glasgow and South Western Railway had to wait only until 1 June for trials which delivered a remarkable average speed of 19.23 knots and a maximum of 20.25. On her first day on the Arran run Glen Sannox crossed from Brodick to Ardrossan in 33.5 minutes and sailed round the island in 2 hours 37 minutes. By the end of the week she had brought the journey time from Glasgow to Arran down to 78.5 minutes.

Though Glen Sannox sailed only in summer, generally to Arran and on various cruises in the lower Firth, she did occasionally visit other corners of the Firth, including Arrochar, Lochgoilhead, Colintraive, Skipness, Kilchattan Bay, Auchenlochan, Ormidale, Strachur and Stranraer. The Ardrossan Merchants’ Committee took her to Garelochhead in August 1897, but her most remarkable outing was surely in July 1902 when she landed a group of statesmen from across the Empire at Toward. There they transferred to the new turbine Queen Alexandra for dinner and the last part of their day on the Firth.

Captain Alex Fowler. Copyright CRSC

By 1915, when a wartime challenge loomed, Captain Alexander Fowler was well established as Master of Glen Sannox. His first command that year had been Minerva but on 15 February he returned to Glen Sannox in Greenock’s West Harbour and four days later set sail for Southampton, arriving two days later.

Glen Sannox’s first voyage as a cross-Channel troopship took her overnight from Southampton on 23 February to Rouen, arriving at 9.15 next morning. She left five hours later and was back in Southampton by 1.30 the following afternoon.

With more troops embarked, the ‘Sannox’ left the Solent again at 9 pm on 26 February, but by the time she reached the Nab Lightship, east of the Isle of Wight, strong south westerlies were posing a problem, with both paddle boxes under attack by heavy seas and several angle irons broken. Fowler decided to return to Southampton, arriving after an uncomfortable 14 hours at sea.

It was not until the evening of 6 March that Glen Sannox tried another crossing. This time she reached Rouen after a 20-hour voyage but the return trip in north easterly winds and heavy seas took even longer – over 30 hours – and Fowler meticulously listed yet more damage, the paddle wings once again bearing the brunt.

Before taking up passenger work Alex Fowler had worked on tugs in the waters of England’s south and west coasts, so the conditions perhaps came as no surprise: but one aborted and two completed crossings of the Channel must have convinced the authorities that Glen Sannox was too vulnerable to continue trooping. She lay at Southampton for a few days before beginning the voyage home on the morning of 17 March. Even that was not straightforward, for Glen Sannox had to shelter at Milford Haven for the best part of two days and did not reach Greenock until the early hours of 21 March.

That was the end of what might have been a proud contribution. Glen Sannox returned to Arran and, though Alex Fowler left her later in 1915, she sailed on until September 1924. The decision of the LMS, though, to keep alive her name when they launched their first new Clyde steamer in February 1925 happily acknowledged the glory days of one of the great paddle steamers.  Now we look forward to judging for ourselves whether our new Glen Sannox is worthy of the name.

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The turbine Glen Sannox in Brodick Bay c1949. Copyright CRSC/J.T.A. Brown Collection

The 1957 Glen Sannox at Brodick in June 1967. Copyright CRSC/C. Kennedy Mills

Yard No. 801 (Glen Sannox) on Fergusons’ slip at Port Glasgow on 14 November 2017, a week before launch. Copyright Jim Phanco

Clyde panorama at Port Glasgow on 16 November 2017, with the new Glen Sannox taking recognisable shape in the foreground. Copyright Jim Phanco

A close-up of the Ferguson Marine shipyard at Port Glasgow on 16 November 2017, with Glen Sannox awaiting launch and her yet-to-be-named sister ship (No. 802, destined for the Uig triangle) in the left foreground. Copyright Jim Phanco

An auspicious day aboard the Great Glen

Ten of the Best: No 1, Glen Sannox

Graeme Hogg on Glen Sannox’s funnel colours

Passage to Arran in the CalMac era

Published on 15 November 2017