Red Princess — an unlikely relief

Caledonian MacBrayne charters timber ferry for Islay after Hebridean Isles suffers visor damage and is dry-docked for repairs.

Red Princess at Kennacraig

Red Princess leaves Kennacraig for Islay — copyright photo John Newth/CRSC

For a number of years Islay has been served during the summer months by two ferries sailing from Kennacraig – Hebridean Isles, and the newer Finlaggan.

On Sunday 24th July CalMac Ferries advised that the Islay service was to be reduced because of technical problems with one of the ships, and it soon emerged that Finlaggan would be sailing on her own as Hebridean Isles was to head to drydock for repairs.

Hebridean Isles duly sailed from Kennacraig that afternoon and reached Ardrossan in the evening – believed to be her first visit to the Ayrshire port. At Ardrossan it was noted that her bow visor had sustained considerable damage, later revealed as having happened when berthing at Kennacraig.

Next morning she left Ardrossan and headed slowly upfirth, taking the Largs Channel rather than passing between Little Cumbrae and Bute. Hebridean Isles lingered off Greenock for a while before entering the river channel and making her way to the James Watt Dock, where she berthed at 1655.

Initial work on repairing her visor started immediately, with damaged areas of steelwork being cut away, and on Thursday 28th she moved into the adjacent Garvel Dry Dock to allow repairs to continue.

From Monday 25th Finlaggan was re-rostered to give three return sailings from Kennacraig; after the morning sailing to Port Ellen she then gave two sailings to Port Askaig. Other arrangements were made to serve Colonsay, normally served by Hebridean Isles on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Despite the rearranged timetable, there was a need to provide additional capacity as Finlaggan was unable to cater for all of the traffic alone.

This came from an unlikely source – a former Greek ferry that had been converted recently to carry harvested timber from diverse locations on the west coast to Troon. Red Princess was, conveniently, lying in Troon Harbour and she headed out from the Clyde on Wednesday 27th. Next morning she arrived at Kennacraig, and berthed successfully at the concrete ramp. She was unable to use the linkspan, as her own bow ramp was too wide. That afternoon she crossed to Port Ellen, where she also managed to fit the concrete ramp.

Berthing trials complete, CalMac pressed Red Princess into service on Friday 29th, and although taking almost four hours to cross she brought 20 cars and a caravan across from Islay, easing congestion on the Islay route. The downside was that Red Princess could not carry any passengers – they would have to travel aboard Finlaggan. Her arrival at Kennacraig was almost simultaneous with that of Finlaggan, and so car drivers were reunited with their vehicles with minimal delay.

It had initially been anticipated that Red Princess would continue to assist Finlaggan until Tuesday 2nd August, when it was hoped that Hebridean Isles would be ready to resume service.

However, repairs to Hebridean Isles took a little longer than at first expected and, with the Islay, Jura and Colonsay Agricultural Show taking place on Thursday 11th August, CalMac found themselves in an awkward position. Although she had not been used every day, Red Princess was committed to another charter elsewhere.

With this in mind, and with the Islay service being extremely busy with holiday traffic, it was decided to augment the three return sailings given by Finlaggan with additional runs. From Tuesday 9th she would give an extra sailing leaving Kennacraig at midnight, and returning from Port Askaig at 0230. In addition Isle of Arran would be taken off the secondary Arran service and redeployed to Islay in place of Red Princess for three days.

In the event, Hebridean Isles’ repairs were completed by Monday 8th and she duly left Greenock early next morning, resuming service later that afternoon. Isle of Arran was thus not required though the late night sailings by Finlaggan were retained for the week.

Red Princess left Kennacraig on Monday 8th for Larne. Perhaps there was a certain irony about her departure, and the subsequent arrangements made, as she was in Northern Ireland to load concrete blocks to form part of the new pier being built at Brodick.

Updated 11th August 2016

Hebridean Isles displays her damaged visor

Hebridean Isles displays her damaged visor — copyright John Newth/CRSC

Finlaggan towers above Red Princess

Finlaggan towers above Red Princess at Kennacraig– copyright John Newth/CRSC

Red princess, loaded and ready to go

Red Princess lightly loaded but ready to go — copyright John Newth/CRSC

Finlaggan heading out of West Loch Tarbert

Finlaggan heading out of West Loch Tarbert — copyright John Newth/CRSC