Cal-Mac Ferries and Other Ships

A good sized ferry leaving Oban for the Inner Hebrides.

Caldeonia-MacBrayne ferries began in the 1800s, 1851 to be precise, as a steam ship company. It served the islands around Scotland, eventually, providing a somewhat more regular way for people and goods to move back and forth. In its first incarnation as David Hutchinson and Co, it was more of a coastal ship, then used the Caledonian Canal (thus the name) to cross over from Glasgow and the west coast to Inverness. When the original owners retired, one of their employees, named MacBrayne, took over. As railroads spread, Cal-Mac shifted to serving the islands as well as the coast. And so it continues today. It is loved, hated, lauded, and fussed about, in part because of the subsidies it gets from the government.

A wee boat sailing out past St. Columba’s Church.

I took two Cal-Mac ferries, one to Broderick (Breda-Vic) on Arran, the other from Arran to the Mull of Kintyre.* The first one I hopped on as a foot passenger and got to ride in the bar, watching the storm move out to finish drenching the main bulk of Britain. The water was smoother than I’d feared, and the ferry was large. Very large. As in easily took semis (for British values of semi) large.

Sailing to Arran. The weather was a little stormy.
This was before the boat to Arran began moving. The wind was a bit fresh, from the west.

We got to Arran without any trouble. That night, the storm cleared, and I saw the first sunset since arriving in Britain.

This is at 2200 hours, with half an hour to go before true sunset. The mountain is north of the Douglas Hotel. Rugged, lovely country is Arran.
It flashed orange just after I put the camera away. Of course.
A French sloop. The morning after the storm.

Arran and Oban provide safe harbors for more than just the ferries. They are still working ports, with fishing boats as well as tourist vessels. The boat from Arran’s northern tip to the Mull of Kintyre was packed and late. As in the first two sailings didn’t go because the tide was too low. So goes life on the sea. My car was #23 of 24. I stayed in the vehicle. It rolled a little bit more than the ship had the night before. In part, we had a stout cross-wind, in part because the ferry was, oh, half the size or smaller than the earlier transport. Everyone waiting in line was patient, or perhaps resigned, and the little sandwich and tea shop across the road did brisk business. They who go down to the sea in ships . . . have to work with the sea, the tides, and ferry schedules that unschedule themselves because of the above.

The big Cal-Mac ferry departing Broderick, Arran in the morning quiet.

* For those of you who heard a certain melody in your mind.


7 thoughts on “Cal-Mac Ferries and Other Ships

  1. Ah yes… Ferries… The bane of existence wherever they are used. And yes, the little shops at the piers do a land office business EVERY day! Never took that particular route, but did do the GNV ferry from Palermo to Naples ONCE… Never again… 150 euro for the ticket, 3 hour early requirement for ‘security’ checks, boat was 2 hours late. Cooked sitting in the carpark. Small room, 11 hours, food was meh, supposed to port at 0700, finally tied up at 0800, off at 0900.

  2. We took the ferry once from Calais to Dover and once from a Norfolk port to Zeebruge. Both were very large, and quite comfortable. The ferries across the Rhine were small (about 20 vehicles max) and crossed in about 20 minutes..

    • The last Rhine ferry I took was mildly exciting, because the river was flooding and very fast. They crossed at more than 45 degrees upstream to the target, engines straining. The crew did a magnificent job.

  3. Took 3 ferries in the isles: Oban to Mull then Mull to Iona, Kennacraig to Port Askraig (Islay), then Mallaig to Armandale.

    On Islay, saw the remains of the Lord of the Isles’ house. Since he had the only fleet, not heavily fortified.

    At Mallaig, saw one of the last steam excursion trains at the open station platform (grits teeth) – “Hogwart’s Express.” The viaduct is real, with Bonnie Prince Charlie’s landing place off the foreground.

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