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Firth of Clyde, Scotland
Caledonian-MacBrayne Ltd (from 1973)
"Cal-Mac" inherited the fleets of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company (Clyde) and David MacBrayne Ltd (Western Isles) and quickly set about restructuring services to concentrate fully on car-ferries with drive-on-drive-off capability. A massive investment programme in new piers and, later, new ships has led to vastly improved ferry services, but the abandonment of cruising. Cal-Mac ran PS Waverley for one season before withdrawing her as uneconomic and concentrating cruising on TS Queen Mary, with support from local authority grants.
After 1977, with Queen Mary also removed from the fleet, cruises were offered most years, initially by the then spare car ferry "Glen Sannox", for some years by the small motor vessel "Keppel", then by using another "spare" car ferry, until 2000, when Cal-Mac officially announced the end of inter-resort services.

Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries now provides a comprehensive and efficient point-to-point car ferry service at strategic points between the mainland and islands, but now only as a franchised operating company wholly owned by Scottish Ministers. Vessels and infrastructure are now owned by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), also a subsidiary of David MacBrayne Ltd and owned by Scottish Ministers. The restructuring, to allow competitive tendering of the operation of the services, took place in 2006. The company faced competition from Serco when the routes were re-tendered in 2016 but were successful in extending their franchise until 2024    

Following the merging of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company and David MacBrayne, Waverley sailed for one season (1973) in new colours. It was a problematic season and the costly and unreliable paddler was paid off by the state-controlled company after only one summer. Photo by kind courtesy of Kenny Whyte.         

QMII Troon KW.jpg

TS Queen Mary survived to complete the 1977 season but continued to accumulate losses. When Glasgow Council decided to allocate its available grant money to Waverley, it seemed that Queen mary was doomed and the enthusiasts who had kept Waverley going against all odds had won out. It was not a competition however. The market was still in serious decline - although this photo by Kenny Whyte of the turbine steamer off Troon might not give that impression.
Queen Mary eventually found a role as a restaurant ship in central London, serving until 2009. After almost seven years laid up in Tilbury under various private owners, she was eventually able to be bought by a preservation charity in late 2015 and in May 2016 was towed back to the Clyde to be prepared for a new life as a heritage attraction in Glasgow

The high cost of operating and maintaining TS Queen Mary, the competition from the revitalised PS Waverley and the loss of local government subsidies were some of the reasons for Cal-Mac bringing to an end the era of the "Clyde Steamers" after the 1977 season. The company did not want to abandon cruising completely and although the decision was taken to retire the 1933 built steamer, MV Glen Sannox, the former Arran ferry was re-engined and refurbished for cruising. She was not an ideal vessel for this, although she had reasonable covered accommodation and the large open car deck rear which in fine weather provided an unusual feature when decked out with tables, chairs and parasols. Glen Sannox could be used as a reserve car ferry at weekends in the main summer season, one of the main reasons for her being retained in the cruising role. The "Sannox" was withdrawn from cruising after the 1981 season and, for three years, Cal-Mac did not offer anything other than the regular ferry services. In 1985, the Dunoon car ferry MV Jupiter undertook mid-week afternoon cruises in July and early August.
The last purely passenger vessel to be used for Clyde cruising was MV Keppel, which had been relieved from its Largs-Millport station before the start of the 1986 season. Keppel's limited size and slow speed meant that she could not undertake the ambitious programmes of old, but offered a series of "inter-resort" links in the upper Firth and remained in this role for seven seasons. In 1993 MV Jupiter returned to offer a programme similar to that of 1985. From 1994, cruises were offered by one of the car ferries Jupiter, Juno or Saturn, with rosters fitted into their normal car-ferry schedules.
Cal-Mac announced that cruising would stop after the 2000 season, during which MV Jupiter was rostered for the cruises. The season ran from May 7th to September 24th, with cruises from the mainland railheads of Gourock and Largs to Tarbert (Thursdays and Sundays), Kyles of Bute (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays), and Dunoon (Tuesdays). 

Above : Cal-Mac hoped for some success in continuing Clyde cruises using the former Brodick car ferry Glen Sannox - a motor ship 24 years younger than the withdrawn Queen Mary - but she was not really suited to the job and thoughts turned to the much smaller MV Keppel, seen sharing Largs pier with the Sannox. Photo by Kenny Whyte.
keppel largs 1989.jpg

Above : MV Keppel at Largs in 1989. The vessel was originally one of three sisters on the cross-Thames ferry service from Tilbury to Gravesend and named "Rose". She replaced DEPV Talisman on the Largs - Millport leg of the withdrawn paddler's Cumbrae ferry service after the 1967 season. Her small size and slow speed came as a bit of a shock - but a sign of the times. In later years she was allocated to "inter-resort" cruising with little success
Juno Rothesay 1993.jpg

MV Juno, one of two 1974-built sisters was normally on the Gourock - Dunoon car ferry service, but at certain off-peak times, was able to offer passenger excursions. She is seen in 1993 leaving Rothesay for a cruise up the Kyles of Bute with a good number of passengers aboard, The open car deck aft now doubled up as a promenade deck - of sorts


Cal-Mac maintains a number of point-to-point car ferry services on the Clyde (and the Western Isles) with ever larger and more efficient vessels to handle growing amounts of vehicular traffic. The company remains state-owned as a subsidiary of David MacBrayne Ltd, which is wholly owned by Scottish Ministers. No passenger excursion services are offered. The company runs the services as the result of a competitive tendering process .


The Wemyss Bay to Rothesay (above) service is in the hands of MV Argyle and her sister ship MV Bute. The flagship Gourock - Dunoon service is currently operated by a subsidiary (Argyll Ferries) with two small passenger vessels, with the car-ferry contract lost to the long-time competitors Western Ferries and their service between McInroy's Point and Hunter's Quay. The largest tonnage is placed on the Ardrossan to Brodick (Isle of Arran) serviceThe Wemyss Bay to Rothesay (above) service is in the hands of MV Argyle and her sister ship MV Bute. The flagship Gourock - Dunoon service is currently operated by a subsidiary (Argyll Ferries) with two small passenger vessels, with the car-ferry contract lost to the long-time competitors Western Ferries and their service between McInroy's Point and Hunter's Quay. The largest tonnage is placed on the Ardrossan to Brodick (Isle of Arran) service


A number of links are maintained between remoter places such as the Colintraive to Rhubodach (above) service across the eastern Kyle of Bute with smaller drive-through vessels

Loch Shira 2011.JPG

MV Loch Shira was on the Largs to Cumbrae Slip station in 2011. It is simple for cars to drive on and off these floating platforms ........... but passengers have to walk up the ramp as well. With the crossing only taking a few minutes, passenger comfort on these short links is not the main priority although the facilities are not too bad at all

Argyll Flyer Dunoon 2012.jpg
In 2011, a new company, Argyll Ferries Ltd, was set up within the David MacBrayne organisation, to run a newly franchised passenger-only service between Gourock and Dunoon. Alongside the smaller catamaran MV Ali Cat which had been in service for Cal-Mac under charter since 2002 on the service as a peak relief vessel, the company bought MV Argyll Flyer, which had been built in 2001 in France and operated on the Aran island service on the west coast of Ireland as MV Banrion Chonamara. Argyll Flyer is seen above at Dunoon in 2012. The service is fast and frequent but has encountered much criticism for the inability of these "lightweight" vessels to operate comfortably and in some cases, not at all, in choppy sea conditions.


Speed Bonny Boat : The Story of Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd under Scottish Transport Group 1969-1990
John Whittle
Published in 1990 by Saltire Communications , 47 Queen Charlotte St, Edinburgh EH6 7EY on behalf of the STG
ISBN 0-946265-13-5
Definitive illustrated history by the former Executive Director and Deputy Chairman of Cal-Mac

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