Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mallaig - a tale of two ferries

Periodically, I go to Flickr and enter "Mallaig" in the search box, recent entries first, to see what new comes up. Yesterday I was rewarded with this postcard

Picture credit Blackislebennet
My interest in old postcards is due to the fact they're a great source of images of the past and my interest in Calmac ferries stemmed partly from a desire to be able to date a photo from the evidence of any ship appearing in it.

This postcard is a case in point and the coincidence of the two ferries you can see berthed at Mallaig allows this photo to be dated quite precisely to between 6 May and 18 July 1979.

The reason is that the ship on the right is the MV Pioneer. Entering service in 1974 between West Loch Tarbert and Port Ellen on Islay as a stern loading car ferry, she was altered in 1979 by being equipped with a vehicle loading hoist to enable her to take up the Mallaig to Armadale service. This is because there were no linkspans (ramps adjustable to the level of the tide) at Mallaig or Armadale in the 70s to allow vehicles to drive on by the ramp at the stern of the ship. Hence she had to have the hoist added - this is basically a sort of "dumb waiter" to move vehicles between the level of the pier and the ship's car deck. You can see the hoist on the Pioneer in this picture and the seasonal Mallaig-Armadale service opened on 6 May in 1979 so that fixes the earliest date.

The Pioneer arriving at Mallaig in 1988 - the hoist is clearly visible immediately aft of the red and black funnel
The ship on the left in the postcard at the top is the MV Arran. Entering service between Gourock and Dunoon in 1954, she was the first ever car ferry on the west coast of Scotland (except for the ferry from Stranraer to Larne and estuarial short crossings like the Corran and Erskine ferries etc.). The Arran started life as a hoist loading ferry but was altered in 1970 to have her hoist removed and be converted to a stern-loader - this was the "Pioneer treatment" in reverse. The picture below shows how the Arran (left) was altered compared with her identical sister ship, the MV Cowal (right), which remained in her original hoist loading configuration.

Picture credit mona's isle
By the late 70s, the advent of newer ferries had relegated the Arran to spare/relief ferry in the Calmac fleet and in early 1979 she was deputising on the run from Mallaig to the Small Isles. (The previous incumbent of that route, the Loch Arkaig, had sunk alongside the pier at Mallaig in March 1979 and the new ship to the Small Isles, the Lochmor, entered service in July.) The Arran gave her last sailing for Calmac on 18 July 1979 so that fixes the last possible date for the postcard.

All of which is a lot of rather useless knowledge devoted to a rather pointless end! Although in my defence, it enables me to search out smashing archive pics such as the one I leave you with below of the Arran at Port Askaig on Islay (before she had been converted from hoist loading)

Picture credit beaches

That picture can be dated to between 1 August 1969 (entry into service of the red ship on the right, Western Ferries' MV Sound of Jura) and 30 December 1972 (withdrawal of the Arran for conversion to stern loading). See what I mean? Don't get me started, I can't help myself anymore ...!   

1 comment:

  1. Hi Neil,

    I really do wish I had more time to read your blog. I don't read blogs as a rule as i seldom have time but yours is a mine of information, loved this one and the one about the 'Aid'

    Cheers, Paul