How well do you know your CalMac lions?

Small is beautiful? Maid of Cumbrae, pictured at Gourock c1976, inherited lions from her CSP days, when her funnel was painted yellow

Colin Tucker has made a study of the lions adorning CalMac funnels — a subject of some importance, given the wildly varying size of these emblems in the four-and-a-half decades since they became common on our ferries. Colin does not claim to be an authority, but he asks some pertinent questions: who decides the size of the lions? Is there such a thing as a policy on lions that we should know about? Here he explains the results of his survey.

One morning, as I watched Loch Seaforth berthing, I noticed just how large were the red lions on her funnels. The yellow discs behind the red beasts left almost no red background showing. It made me wonder if all the red lions on the other vessels in the fleet were of similar size and proportion. A bit of research was called for.

King George V leaving Oban Bay in 1973: she inherited her lions from Duchess of Hamilton

The first thing I discovered was that, although lions were used on Caledonian Steam Packet Company ships in the 1960s, it was not until 1973, the year CalMac came into being, that they appeared on the funnels of Hebridean vessels. Was it really 45 years since those proud red and black MacBrayne funnels had been ‘vandalised’ when the CSP and David MacBrayne Ltd became one?

Photographs of the ships at that time reveal that some of the earliest lions — for example, on Waverley and King George V — were very much smaller than those on the present Loch Seaforth. Compared to today’s lions they look tiny, as if they had been stuck on like the stickers my two-year-old granddaughter puts everywhere.

This led me to a trawl through photos of all the 60 or so CalMac ships which have sported lions. From this I was able to fit them into four broad categories: large, normal, small and odd.

The selection is entirely subjective — mine and open to dispute. I defined a ‘normal’ lion as being one which looked in proportion with the rest of the funnel and its division into red and black.

The results of my survey are as follows:

Large: Glen Sannox (launched 2017), Loch Seaforth, Finlaggan, Argyle, Bute, Isle of Arran, Lochmor, Saturn, Suilven, Caledonia and Glen Sannox (1957).

Normal: Muirneag, Clansman, Hebrides, Hebridean Isles, Caledonian Isles, Lord of the Isles, Claymore, Isle of Mull, Pioneer, Iona, the three 1964 ferries, Arran and the ‘Maids’.

Small: Coruisk, Loch Nevis, Isle of Lewis, ‘Island’ class ferries, Jupiter, Juno, Keppel, Queen Mary II, Waverley and King George V.

Can you tell which ship this is by the look of her lion?

Ships not in the above categories, such as Loch Shira, have ‘odd’ lions and funnel markings.

The next thing to do was to look for some explanation – or perhaps it was all just random?

In some cases it was reasonably easy to explain why some of the lions were small. The former CSP steamers Waverley and Queen Mary II had lions the same size as when their funnels had been yellow and black. Perhaps they had simply painted round the existing beasts?

And had King George V simply been given ones to match? In fact, hers came from the approximately same-sized funnels of Duchess of Hamilton.

A larger lion could not have been painted on Keppel’s tall, almost cylindrical exhaust – anything larger would have completely wrapped itself round the funnel. Similarly the ‘Island’ class ferries had diminutive funnels which, of course, could only support little lions – perhaps these should therefore be considered to be in the ‘normal’ class.

Were Jupiter and Juno given small lions to remind commuters from Dunoon and Rothesay of CSP days? For some reason Jupiter’s lions nestled close to the black top, rather than being placed in the middle of the funnel. I cannot suggest any reason why both Isle of Lewis and Loch Nevis have small lions – any ideas?

Glen Sannox was the first of the Clyde and Hebridean ferries to have lions

The ‘odd’ category is to an extent self-explanatory. If a ship sadly has no proper funnel, then there is no proper place for a lion. Another solution had to be found to indicate that these were true CalMac ships. This applies to most of the small double-ended ferries of the ‘Loch’ class and others.

The two Skye ferries, appropriately named Kyleakin and Lochalsh, appeared with a small square-shaped insignia in red and black, with attendant lion looking rather lost on the white wheelhouse. Their successors, Loch Fyne and Loch Dunvegan, have a wheelhouse painted red and black with a diminutive lion on the white below, while the other side of the vessels sports a small low funnel with what is quite a large lion.

Loch Ranza, Loch Linnhe and Loch Striven appear with a small lion on a ‘wheelhouse funnel’, while Loch Alainn and Loch Bhrusda have the raised part of the side superstructure painted to resemble a funnel, although the positioning of the lion is different.

The more recent small ferries, with their hulls sporting much more white than black, have a tiny ‘funnel square’ on the side, looking even smaller amongst all the white paint. On Loch Bhrusda very little red surrounds the lions, while the poor animal looks lost among all the other fittings on Lochinvar.

The little Carvoria proudly announces her CalMac identity by having a red stern wheelhouse, with lions on both sides and the stern.

Finally, let us consider the large lions. It would seem that most, although not all, of the newer ships are being given large emblems. But some of the large lions were also to be found on older vessels, such as the 1957 Glen Sannox and Lochmor. The lions on Caledonia were of such a size that they covered almost the whole width of the funnels.

All this is a piece of light-hearted conjecture, based on looking at a few photographs. I make no claims to accuracy: lion size and positioning may have changed through the years.

But I would like to pose some questions. Who decides on the size of the lion? As size seems to be increasing, is there a policy on size? Has there been a conscious change, from red-and-black funnel with lion on it, to a funnel which is predominantly red lion?

Caledonian Isles has medium-size lions

Medium? A Lawrence Macduff photo of the 1978 Claymore, pictured when new

Can you spot the mistake? Eigg and Bruernish pictured by David Sinclair

Loch Seaforth qualifies as a ‘large lion’ ship

Suilven also had large lions

To which ship does this lion belong? That’s a head-scratcher

Who decided that Isle of Lewis should have modest lions?

Under wraps: Saturn at Garvel Dry Dock, Greenock, in October 2000


Lochs and Lochs, or sailing in home waters

Crossing the Minch — Variations on a Theme

The names the same

MacBraynes in the 1960s

Return to Scalpay

A Stern Lecture

MacBrayne lookalikes

The future of the Outer Hebrides, 40 years ago

Gleanings from the ‘Highland News’

Japanese tip for CalMac

More Gleanings from the ‘Highland News’

Extracts from ‘The Log Line’

Colin Tucker’s widely admired book Steamers to Stornoway is available in the CRSC Shop.

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Published on 12 April 2019