Photo of the month: December 2017

Lion rampant: the red funnel lions made their debut in September 1961, when Caledonian Princess left Dumbarton for trials. Courtesy of Robert Cleary

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.

Advance publicity for the new cross-channel turbine suggested a blend of the traditional and the modern. Courtesy of Robert Cleary

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.

Caledonian Princess fitting out at Dumbarton in July 1961. Copyright CRSC/William MacDonald Collection

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.

Caledonian Princess on trials in September 1961. Copyright CRSC/William MacDonald Collection

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.

Caledonian Princess in Loch Ryan

Aramoana in the Cook Strait

Press coverage of the launch of Caledonian Princess on 5 April 1961 made reference to her ill-fated predecessor on the Stranraer-Larne route.

A page from the official leaflet introducing Caledonian Princess to the ‘short sea route’. Courtesy of Robert Cleary

Aramoana also received extensive coverage in the press when she was handed over to her owners in June 1962

Caledonian Princess on the Skelmorlie Mile in September 1961. By courtesy of Fraser MacHaffie

There are few photos of Glen Sannox in her 1964 livery of black hull with white line and large red lions. She was the first Clyde vessel to follow Caledonian Princess in adopting the lions, and they suited her well. In 1965 — along with her Clyde fleetmates — her hull was painted monastral blue, and although it reverted to black in 1970, she kept the lions until she was withdrawn and sold abroad in 1989. She is pictured leaving Ardrossan for Brodick on 3 July 1964. Copyright Fraser MacHaffie

The diminutive lions on the taller, thinner funnels of the older ships was not a pleasing combination. This photo, taken on 1 August 1965, shows Talisman struggling to keep to time on her Sunday afternoon run from Millport to Tighnabruaich: by now she was down to three engines and would last only one more year in service. Copyright Fraser MacHaffie

The lions introduced by Caledonian Princess in 1961 were to become a permanent feature of the Clyde and Western Isles fleet. By June 1967, however, when this photo was taken of Caledonian Princess at Larne, the lions had been removed, following her transfer earlier that year to British Railways Board ownership, and her funnel was now painted red, superimposed with the standard BRB insignia. Copyright CRSC

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