Fraser MacHaffie recalls how CalMac’s distinctive funnel insignia was originally designed for a turbine steamer on the short sea crossing to Ireland.
From December 1960 the Stranraer-Larne operation was the responsibility of the management team at Gourock. The operating company was the Caledonian Steam Packet Co (Irish Services) Ltd. So the ferry ordered in 1959 for the route would be owned directly not by the British Transport Commission but by the Gourock-based CSP (IS) Ltd.
To leave no-one in doubt, the Gourock management put their imprint on the new vessel, pictured (above) leaving the Denny yard for her trials in September 1961.
The name, Caledonian Princess, was a clever compromise between the traditional naming pattern and her Scottish owners. The white line along the hull at main deck level was consistent with the hull colours adopted for the Caledonian Steam Packet’s ABC ferries. Also, she followed Glen Sannox in carrying the CSP’s crest on her bow. But Caledonian Princess went further in showing her allegiance when the red lion rampant of the Caledonian group’s house flag was placed on her funnel.
Who came up with the idea of placing lions on the funnel? We don’t know. The lions do not appear in the ship’s building plans.
Since 1961, white lines have gone, hull colours have changed, but the lions have not only lasted but spread. In late June 1964, the lions appeared on the funnel of Glen Sannox. In the case of both Caledonian Princess and Glen Sannox the lions were the appropriate size for the funnels and I find the 1964 livery of the ‘Sannox’ the most pleasing of her several colour schemes.
During the 1965 spring overhauls the Caledonian vessels went through a change in livery, the most obvious aspects being blue hulls and light grey railings, ventilators and, on the Clyde motor ships, masts. This brought them in line with the other railway-controlled fleets.
But a degree of independence meant that the Scottish ships were saved from the BRB funnel insignia. Instead the rampant lion was affixed to the funnels – even Caledonian Princess retained her lions.
The new lions were smaller than those on Glen Sannox. The lion cubs worked pretty well for the postwar ships and, in fact, the ‘Maids’ carried the new arrangement very well, but the diminutive lions on the taller, thinner funnels of the older ships was not a pleasing combination.
Aesthetically, a ‘full-size’ lion would have sat well with Queen Mary II but she was issued economy size.
But the BRB wanted its mark on the profitable ‘Princess’ and in the spring of 1966 the lions came off and were replaced with the BRB insignia. In January 1967 direct ownership of the Stranraer ‘Princess’ passed from the CSP (IS) to the British Railways Board, though day to day management remained at Gourock.
But on the Clyde, the rampant lions survived the transfer in 1969 from railway control to the bus-dominated Edinburgh-based Scottish Transport Group. The colour scheme of the CSP ships reverted to pre-1965 style with black hulls etc — plus lions.
The next change came in 1973 when the CSP was merged with David MacBrayne Ltd. The new funnels represented a compromise of the two companies with CSP yellow disks containing the lions and placed on red funnels.
And it is so today — 56 years since the rampant lion first appeared on Caledonian Princess.
The ship under construction in the background of ‘Photo of the month’ also deserves mention. Aramoana, built to the order of the New Zealand Railways Department, was launched on 24 November 1961 – the same day on which Caledonian Princess was finally handed over, six weeks late – and entered service crossing the Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton on 13 August 1962, linking the North and South Islands.
She was New Zealand’s first roll on-off ferry and her name in the Māori language translates as ‘Sea Pathway’. In addition to carrying around 800 passengers and 70 cars she could accommodate 30 railway wagons, thus linking the rail systems of the islands.
While the New Zealand ship had many similarities inside and out with the Stranraer ferry (see comparison below), a major difference was the propulsion unit. Caledonian Princess was fitted with steam turbines, but the New Zealand Railways had opted for a General Electric diesel-electric installation.
Like Caledonian Princess, Aramoana was quickly a success. In her first year she carried 207,000 passengers compared to 60,000 in the last year of her conventional predecessor, Tamahine of the Union Steam Ship Company. The new vessel carried 46,000 cars, compared to 11,000 crane-loaded on to Tamahine, and 181,000 tonnes of cargo compared to 14,000.
Aramoana was withdrawn in 1983 and sold. Under a variety of names she saw service in the Red Sea Pilgrim trade and may well have encountered Glen Sannox under one of her several names.
These two 1961 ships remind us that that the Denny yard, in its death throes, was still turning out sophisticated and reliable ferries. It just could not make money. Contrary to what is often stated, neither Caledonian Princess nor Aramoana was the final ship from the Leven yard. Three ships followed: City of Gloucester for Ellerman Lines, a speculative building completed by Alexander Stephen as Melbrook, and the 29-metre yacht Mary Fisher.
Fraser MacHaffie is the author of ‘The Short Sea Route’, the definitive study of sea crossings between south-west Scotland and Northern Ireland. His most recent book, ‘Scotia and Caledonia’, is available for purchase in the CRSC Shop.
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