Photo of the month: July 2016

Cowal at Brodick 21 July 1970

Cowal arrives at Brodick on Tuesday 21 July 1970 — copyright photo by Eric Schofield/CRSC

Graeme Hogg, assistant purser of Cowal 1970-72, recalls his experiences on the short-lived Fairlie-Brodick-Tarbert service.

A virtually deserted Cowal approaches Brodick Pier on a bright afternoon in July 1970 on her return from Tarbert. The figure at the gangway entrance is probably me in my white assistant purser’s shirt, preparing to man the gangway at the pier.

Cowal operated the Fairlie-Brodick-Tarbert service over two summers and one winter between May 1970 and October 1971. The service was devised as an indirect replacement of the ‘Royal Route’ from Gourock to Tarbert and Ardrishaig via the Kyles of Bute, which had been operated by David MacBrayne for more than 100 years. This new service had the added benefit of linking Arran and Kintyre for vehicle traffic. Previously, only a seasonal passenger connection was available on the cruise from Lochranza to Campbeltown or, pre-war, by Davaar and Dalriada on a year-round basis.

The new service received virtually no publicity with the result that it was very poorly patronised. The use of Brodick rather than Lochranza prolonged the journey, which meant only one round trip per day was possible. There was also only an occasional connection with the retimed Islay service, so most intending Islay passengers would now travel to West Loch Tarbert by bus rather than boat. Catering on board was essentially still what had been offered on the upriver ferry services, which was not appropriate for a three-hour sailing. CRSC’s magazine at the time carried an article by ‘Oliver Twist’ drawing attention to the deficiencies in the catering department. None of this would have helped popularise the service.

Cowal at Fairlie 1 August 1970 (Andrew Clark)

Graeme Hogg (on pier with officer’s cap) keeps an eye on Cowal‘s vehicle ramp at Fairlie on 1 August 1970 — CRSC copyright photo

The timetable in 1970 involved, after an early morning visit to Millport, mainly with goods traffic apart from weekends, a 09.20 departure from Fairlie, arriving Brodick at 10.25 and departing again at 10.40, immediately before the arrival of the car ferry Caledonia from Ardrossan. The Fairlie-Brodick leg was not advertised at all, although at weekends cars would be booked on the service to relieve the hard-pressed Ardrossan service. The Brodick-Tarbert leg took an hour and forty minutes and was a most enjoyable sail up the North Arran coast and across the entrance to the Kilbrannan Sound. After 35 minutes alongside at Tarbert, Cowal set off at 12.55 on the return journey, which included a leisurely half-hour call at Brodick, returning to Fairlie at 16.10.

After a break from her exertions, Cowal set off again at 16.50 for the hard work of the day, which comprised two runs from Millport, returning to Largs, which could be very busy with both car traffic and returning day trippers, especially when the sun shone. On Sundays there was a 09.30 service to Millport prior to an 11.00 sailing to Brodick and Tarbert, allowing nearly an hour ashore in Tarbert. There had never been a Sunday service to Tarbert before, so the town was not prepared for it, although numbers carried were in any case very modest. There was only one Millport sailing in the evening.

The weekday timetable was recast in 1971. It was decided Cowal should reach Brodick at 11.05 in the morning, after Caledonia left for Ardrossan, so departure from Fairlie was put back to 10.00. This was to avoid a delay to the main service, although that was seldom an issue, other than on Saturdays if the tide was low. The extra time at Fairlie in the morning was utilised on Saturdays to make a car run to Keppel Pier. The boat train was still timed to connect with a 09.20 departure, so it was a far from speedy connection. All other calls were correspondingly later and the afternoon Brodick visit was shortened to ensure the evening Millport services were at the same times.

Caledonia and Cowal in Brodick Bay 9 August 1970 (Andrew Clark)

Caledonia and Cowal pass each other in a gloomy Brodick Bay on the morning of 9 August 1970 — CRSC copyright photo

Working as assistant purser on Cowal over those two seasons was a most enjoyable experience, if hardly taxing most of the time. The ship had earned the reputation as the best of the ABC car ferries during the 1950s and 60s and this was largely the result of a good crew, the core of which stayed on the ship for many years. They made work for a teenage purser great fun.

This reputation may have counted against Cowal in terms of longevity. The Fairlie-Tarbert service was withdrawn at the end of the 1971 summer season, the intention being to replace it with a Lochranza-Claonaig crossing from summer 1972. After spending the winter of 1971-72 on the Largs-Millport run, still based at Fairlie overnight, Cowal was supplanted by the new Cumbrae Slip service in March 1972, making the last ever call at Fairlie as she quit the service. Thereafter, she became a mainstay of the Wemyss Bay-Rothesay run.

Meanwhile her two sisters had been offered by their Gourock management for service elsewhere. In 1970 Arran was transferred to David MacBrayne to become the Islay boat, receiving an upgrade to her accommodation and, in 1973, being converted to stern loading and losing her car hoist. Bute also saw service as relief in the Western Isles, based at Oban and Mallaig, and for the latter her hoist was modified. Cowal remained in unmodified form on the Clyde and, when Saturn joined the fleet in 1978 to introduce drive-through services to Rothesay, it was Cowal, now the least adaptable of the ABCs, which was withdrawn first. She was sold to Greece, but was never to enter service there.

Graeme Hogg was assistant and later junior purser of Cowal, Glen Sannox and Caledonia 1970-75, and finance director and chairman of Waverley Excursions Ltd 2006-2012. He was CRSC president for the 2005-6 session and is the Club’s honorary auditor.

Published on 17 July 2016

Cowal arriving at Brodick 27 September 1970

Cowal at Brodick — copyright photo Eric Schofield/CRSC

Cowal leaving Tarbert Pier

Cowal leaving Tarbert — copyright photo Eric Schofield/CRSC