One Man’s Winter

‘Bobbing about like a cork in the Sound of Islay’: Eilean Dhiura battling against the tide on her way from Feolin to Port Askaig, captured by Gordon Law during the CRSC excursion to Islay on 27 October 2018

Gordon Law argues that, despite the prospect of longer days and brighter nights in weeks to come, there are as many photo opportunities for the resourceful enthusiast during the dark winter months as in spring and summer.

The sure sign that the ‘off-season’ is under way is the moment when the first of the major Caledonian MacBrayne units checks in for overhaul. Thus the visit of Lochnevis to the Clyde last September kicked off a succession of vessels proceeding to Greenock, Troon, Ardmaleish, Aberdeen, Leith and Birkenhead.

Hebridean Isles at Brodick in late September 2018

The process had actually begun a few weeks earlier, when the small Kerrera ferry Carvoria had gone for her annual survey, being briefly replaced in August by Gylen Lady.

The woes of the veteran ferry Isle of Arran were the catalyst for my first trip of the 2018-19 winter — a visit to Brodick on Caledonian Isles to picture stand-in ferry Hebridean Isles at the new terminal. I had been to Brodick after the opening of the ‘Glasgow Airport look-a-like’ terminal, but without a camera. Despite finding ‘a good place’ on this occasion, the visit was plagued by the ‘MacBrayne cloud’ scenario!

Hallaig was the first of the small ferries to stop off at Largs en route to the Garvel, on a day which produced a fierce south-westerly — not even Wetherspoon’s provided shelter.

On my first visit of the winter to Rothesay, I photographed the stalwart Bute off Wemyss Bay.

Loch Alainn at Colintraive on 27 October 2018

The CRSC Coach’n’Cruise in late October was hugely successful — not least for the rare opportunity it gave to photograph Loch Alainn at Colintraive. Her presence there was necessary because Loch Fyne, previously the regular relief, is no longer suitable, due to having had her ramps altered for the Mallaig to Armadale route.

On the same trip I captured Eilean Dhiura bobbing about like a cork in the Sound of Islay. At Port Askaig, visits to Finlaggan’s bridge and engine room, as well as the local hotel, helped to make up for the truncated sailing on Finlaggan, which omitted Colonsay due to wind and swell conditions.

Two winter regulars then appeared at Largs — Loch Buie and Loch Dunvegan. Photographs of the latter were severely restricted by CalMac’s Health and Safety Policy, which blocked off the pier. I have never felt endangered at any time on Largs Pier, and I am certain the crew would not have been not bothered by a single ‘anorak’ standing there. This is political correctness gone absolutely daft!

Coruisk passes Toward on her way to Rothesay in October 2018. The visit to Bute was enjoyable and worth recording on camera, despite the lingering presence of ‘MacBrayne cloud’

My next venture was to Rothesay to photograph Coruisk. For the second time this winter I was thwarted by low cloud but, as they say, ‘I recorded the occasion’.

Largs was the location for the next number of pictures — Hebridean Princess and the Lismore ferry Loch Striven posing in brilliant sunshine.

Loch Tarbert then joined the regular Cumbrae ferry Loch Shira in a staged photograph, while Loch Alainn and Catriona both called at the Ayrshire resort either pre- or post-overhaul.

As usual, Loch Shira was replaced during her annual overhaul by Catriona: for me, a highlight of her spell on the run to Cumbrae Slip was a bridge visit.

The normal relief arrangements were again in place in January on the Arran station, with Hebridean Isles and Isle of Arran replacing Caledonian Isles, which headed up-firth to the Garvel for overhaul.

Bonus picture: Isle of Arran berthed unusually at Ardrossan Winton Pier

When I visited Brodick for photographs, I discovered that the gentle sweeping arc taken by one master in September, with Goat Fell in the background, was not the way another master berthed Hebridean Isles in January — it was back to the drawing board for me!

But a nice bonus picture of Isle of Arran, unusually berthed at Ardrossan’s Winton Pier, was captured on this occasion.

Loch Bhrusda, ‘the noisy ferry’, was the next visitor to Largs in January, and she is seen (below) with the Cumbrae Slip relief ferry Catriona, unusually tied up at Loch Shira’s overnight berth.

January also brought the CRSC excursion round Ailsa Craig on the veteran Isle of Arran. Many superlatives have been used to describe recent Club outings, but this charter sailing must go down as one of the best ever using a major CalMac ferry — and I go back some 45 years. The January weather was almost perfect, Isle of Arran was in sprightly form, and 240 enthusiasts attended, all sampling the finest CalMac catering and a really close-up view of ‘Paddy’s Milestone’.

Clansman’s presence on the Arran run in February 2019 was another winter bonus — necessitated by a longer-than-expected spell in dry dock for the regular ferry, Caledonian Isles

This was all supervised by the genial host, Captain David Allen, and his superb crew. My bridge visit coincided with the circumnavigation of the ‘Craig’ — what luck.

There was more excitement in store for steamer dreamers. In order to keep the overhaul programme on schedule, CalMac replaced ‘Heb Isles’ and Isle of Arran on the Brodick service for one week with Clansman, prior to her visit to Birkenhead — what a bonus. However, on our visit there was no sign of the sun. Clansman’s presence was necessitated by Caledonian Isles’ longer-than-expected spell in dry dock.

James Watt Dock provides the perfect vantage point for pictures at this time of year, and both Loch Portain and Isle of Lewis were duly recorded there. However, watch the weather — especially the Greenock weather!

As summer approached my wife Mhairi and I headed by public transport from Largs to Inveraray for afternoon tea. Our trip included a sail both ways on Argyll Flyer, some glorious February weather, a meeting and discussion on “the state of the ferry industry and Fergusons” with the three musketeers Bob Lambie, Norman Leitch and Alex Russell, and superb coffee and scones in Brambles. A definite winter ‘must do’, although you only get 35 minutes in the Lochfyneside village.

A bus pass, a copy of the CalMac overhaul schedule and winter timetable, the AIS Marine Traffic website and the enjoyment of being out in the fresh air — all these help to bring the ‘off season’ to life. I strongly recommend it.


Hallaig visited Largs in October 2018

Another rare caller: Loch Dunvegan

Ayrshire rendez-vous for Catriona and Loch Bhrusda in December

Catriona, one of the ‘silent hybrids’, arrives at Largs in November

Catriona on one of her latest midwinter visits to Cumbrae Slip

Loch Alainn, the regular ferry at Largs early in her career, made one of her rare return visits in November

Hebridean Princess and Loch Striven visited in November

Iona ferry Loch Buie swung by last October

Loch Shira and Loch Tarbert made an unusual combination this winter


Argyle fogbound at Wemyss Bay in December

Isle of Lewis paid an extended visit to the Clyde in February, offering ample opportunity to capture her in James Watt Dock

With winter sunlight illuminating her features, Bute makes a splendid sight on the Rothesay run

Argyll Flyer at Dunoon in early March — complete with a winter’s accumulation of green mould on her lower bow wing

Published on 17 March 2019