It is exactly 40 years since the popular CalMac ferry Saturn took to the water for the first time. Renamed Orcadia in 2015, she now languishes, apparently unwanted, in Orkney. John Newth summarises her story.
Forty years ago, on Thursday 30 June 1977, the new car ferry Saturn was launched at Troon.
Her launch represented the final phase of the provision by Caledonian MacBrayne of dedicated ro-ro vessels on the Upper Clyde car ferry routes. Dunoon had seen the arrival of Jupiter and Juno in 1974 – now it was Rothesay’s turn to have new tonnage built specifically for the service from Wemyss Bay.
Two years earlier the question of a new vessel had been discussed extensively, and in March 1975 proposals were put forward to construct an end-loading ramp at Wemyss Bay, with a side-loading ramp installed at Rothesay. At that stage it was also indicated that CalMac hoped to build at least one new ship to handle traffic heading for Rothesay or the oil rig construction site at Ardyne Point, on the Cowal shore opposite Port Bannatyne.
These services were in the hands of the veteran car ferries Cowal and Glen Sannox that summer, but it was not until early in May the following year that the company’s intention to build another ship similar to the two Dunoon ferries was announced. Later that month agreement was reached with the Government to provide grants towards the cost of conversion work at the two piers and for the new boat. Estimated costs for the project were in the region of £2.2 million. Half of that would be spent on the new ferry, the order for which was placed with the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company.
Before she took to the water at the Troon shipyard, Saturn was named by Mrs Irwin, wife of Mr I S Irwin, Managing Director of the Scottish Transport Group and Chairman of Caledonian MacBrayne. Although the Clyde had a long history of ships named after Greek and Roman deities, the new ferry was the first Saturn in the fleet.
Saturn followed closely the design of the ‘streakers’ Jupiter and Juno, although a number of differences made her easily distinguishable from the earlier vessels. She had an improved hull design, with a more distinctive flare forward to cope better with the more exposed Rothesay crossing, and her wheelhouse was mounted on a deckhouse, allowing passengers a clear view ahead from the forward end of the boat deck. Her tripod mainmast was also mounted on this deck, giving her a unique profile.
Once afloat, fitting out and completion then followed, a period somewhat protracted when problems with the alignment of her propeller shafting were encountered. Saturn eventually ran trials at the end of January 1978, and was handed over to her owners on the last day of the month. She entered service on Thursday 2 February, the large ‘ROTHESAY FERRY’ markings on her hull leaving observers in little doubt as to her destination. During her subsequent career with Caledonian MacBrayne, she visited many of the piers on the Clyde, and even paid a brief visit to Islay in 2007.
Saturn performed the last car ferry service between Dunoon and Gourock piers on Wednesday 29 June 2011, just one day short of the thirty-fourth anniversary of her launch. After spending the summer season on the Arran run, her final sailing – albeit running in a passenger-only mode and on charter to Argyll Ferries – took place just two months later, when she provided additional capacity on the Dunoon route on Cowal Games Saturday at the end of August.
Following an extended lay-up at Rosneath Saturn was sold in February 2015 to Pentland Ferries. After drydocking at Greenock, and being renamed Orcadia, she made the longest voyage of her life to Orkney, achieved under her own power. Since arrival there she has remained unused and recently moved to St Margaret’s Hope where she now faces an uncertain future.
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