‘These midwinter cruises are addictive!’

MV Isle of Arran approaching Ardrossan Harbour on the morning of 18 January 2020, dressed overall for her CRSC charter round the island of Arran

CRSC notched up another success with its midwinter charter of MV Isle of Arran. The sun was out, the mood on board was relaxed and the ship performed beautifully. Report and photographs by Andrew Clark.

On or off? Northabout or southabout? Steak pie or fish and chips? In the run-up to CRSC’s Round Arran charter on Saturday 18 January, there were any number of questions lingering in the mind. The date of the cruise, originally advertised for a week earlier, had had to be postponed because of a horrendous mass of low pressure sweeping across the west of Scotland, keeping the entire CalMac fleet in harbour.

Thanks to the company’s flexibility, and the availability of Isle of Arran on successive January Saturdays while Caledonian Isles gets her annual overhaul, we were given a week’s grace. A day or two before the 18th, the weather forecasters started talking of sunshine and light breezes. We were definitely ‘on’.

It was, mind, a chilly northwesterly and a snowcapped Goatfell that greeted us as we congregated at Ardrossan ferry terminal in time for our 11am departure. Despite the changed date and a rail disruption affecting those arriving by train, numbers on the day were good: a total of 170 CRSC members and friends picked up tickets from Neil Guthrie, our cruising supremo, and admired Isle of Arran, dressed overall, as she made her dainty way through the harbour entrance in broad sunlight, before berthing at the linkspan.

Once on board (by gangway), the usual rituals of a nutters’ charter were observed — some making a beeline for the restaurant, some for the bar; others congregated on the open foredeck for a grandstand view of departure (for how many more years will that be possible?), while a good number watched a two-part comedy of errors — a taxi driver struggling to get his grumpy vehicle off the quayside and a well-meaning harbour employee reversing into a bollard.

Suddenly we were off. Juggling the competing demands of wind and tide, Captain Jay Shibel calculated that our most comfortable passage would be southabout, so it wasn’t long before Ailsa Craig hove into view on the port side and then Pladda to starboard. Bridge visits began as we headed round the south of Arran.

Captain Jay Shibel played a pivotal role in the success of the Round Arran charter. He welcomed successive groups of visitors to the bridge and answered endless questions, all the while radiating experience and bonhomie. Born in Iraq, Captain Shibel spent his early career deep-sea (seismic surveying off West Africa, cable laying in the Caribbean) before joining CalMac in 2006 as 2nd Mate of Hebridean Isles. His first command was Caledonian Isles in 2014, and he has been regular master of Isle of Arran since 2018. He said the curvature of her hull and shape of her stern made her ‘ideal for manoeuvring, and she handles bad weather very well. For her age she does a great job.’

Captain Shibel and his fellow officers not only extended a charming welcome to successive groups of inquisitive excursionists, but also  gave us a show of Isle of Arran’s pirouetting power, stopping the ship to turn on a sixpence on our way past Blackwaterfoot, with Sanda island clearly visible to the south west.

By now the Mariners Restaurant was doing a hot trade in homemade lentil soup (compliments to the chef) and a variety of tasty main dishes, all of which seemed to garner universal approval. After passing close to the Kintyre shore at Carradale and then veering towards Catacol, we skirted the Cock of Arran and were soon heading past Sannox and Corrie, in the shelter of the hills and beneath a clear blue sky, before turning east, wind on our tail, for the homeward passage to Ardrossan. Hebridean Isles, the main Arran boat for the day, was espied merrily splashing her way against the waves en route for Brodick.

Moving between groups of excursionists, you could detect a handful of common discussion points. For how much longer can dear old-timers like ‘Heb Isles’ and Isle of Arran remain in the fleet? Will ‘Caley Isles’ be moved to Mull when the new Glen Sannox eventually enters service? Where will the new ship go if she can’t negotiate Ardrossan Harbour? Why isn’t Gourock link span being reactivated?

With the world put to rights, another happy winter’s day on the water came to an end. These CRSC charters are becoming addictive. The latest was very different to January 2019’s trip round Ailsa Craig — smaller numbers this year, and none the worse for it. Different, too, to 2018’s circumnavigation of Arran, when the novelty of the ‘big ferry’ charter was somewhat offset by poor visibility. The thread linking them all was the happiness engendered by ‘meeting together, sailing together and talking together’ — that timeless, tireless manifesto that drives all our activities as a Club. As many first-timers discovered on this cruise, it works a treat.

Our thanks to CRSC Cruising Coordinator Neil Guthrie for the time and effort he devoted to making the charter such a success; to Captain Shibel and his crew for their wonderful welcome; to CalMac management for making the ship available and being flexible about the date; to Douglas Hind for manning the Club stall and Ian Wilson for bringing the shop products.

Captain Jay Shibel (right) with (from the left) 3rd Mate Robert Fotheringham, 2nd Mate Derek Horsefield and quartermaster Robert Luther. Captain Shibel stopped the ship off Blackwaterfoot to demonstrate a 360-degree turn and proved a big hit with bridge visitors

Heading out from Ardrossan, with the Arran peaks covered in snow

Waverley Excursions Ltd Chairman Cameron Marshall (right) with Captain Murray Paterson

Ailsa Craig silhouetted on the horizon beneath the midday sun

CRSC cruise regulars: Cameron Wilson and Rob Beale with Iain and Carrie MacKinnon

Father and son (1): CRSC Past President Douglas Brown (right) with Peter Brown

Father and son (2): John Hylands and John Hylands enjoying the open deck

Reunion of retired CalMac colleagues: Chief Engineer Alex Forrest, Captain Alan Sinclair, Electrical Superintendent Andrew McLeod

CRSC first-timers Bryannie and Vicky Campbell

Lee Gallagher and Allan Smith, with Pladda lighthouse

Al Black, David Edwards and Gavin Stewart enjoy the best of CalMac cuisine in the Mariners Restaurant

Gordon Evans, Jane Ann Liston and Douglas Hind at the Club stall

CRSC Cruising Coordinator Neil Guthrie on the bridge with his daughters Emma and Niamh, also 3rd Mate Robert Fotheringham and Cameron Wilson

Sandra Hay with Captain Jay Shibel. Bridge visits took up the best part of two hours

Quartermaster Robert Luther (left) explains bridge equipment under the watchful gaze of Captain Shibel

Chief Steward Paul McCurdy (centre) with professional mariners and Waverley supporters Jamie Shorthouse and John Simm

Experienced sailors: Willie and Marilyn Watson with Ken Mills

The lonely sea and the sky: ‘Heb Isles’ viewed from Isle of Arran


Susi Lunn, CRSC member from Carradale, with 2nd Mate Derek Horsefield and 3rd Mate Robert Fotheringham

Souvenir of a happy day: the open foredeck of Isle of Arran as we returned to Ardrossan

All photographs © CRSC. Join us here for £10 and take advantage of all the benefits.

Published on 21 January 2020