We are fortunate to live beside a busy shipping lane between the mainland of Scotland and the Inner Hebridean island of Mull. It's a narrow passage, with viciously rocks shores and invisible shoals, but it is relatively protected from the Atlantic gales. It is also a busy stretch of water, particularly in Summer, when it carries a mix of boats from 100,000grt ocean-going ships to delicate sea kayaks.
This occasional series, "Ships in the Sound", describes the vessels which are most commonly seen in the Sound of Mull. The first entry describes four of Caledonian-MacBrayne's twenty-nine ferries.
Cal-Mac, as the company is often called, started some 160 years ago with a fleet of eight paddle-steamers which worked west coast and island routes to the north of Glasgow. The company nearly ceased trading after the First World War but continued business after a rescue by the London Midland Scottish train company. It became a state-owned company in the 1960s, with a monopoly on ferry services along the west coast, but now faces competition from outside tendering.
Two ferries serve the Kilchoan-Tobermory run. For most of the year the Loch Linnhe (above) plies the route, with a service which crosses the Sound seven times a day in summer, taking about 35 minutes. Built in 1986, the Loch Linnhe carries up to 12 cars and 200 passengers at a maximum speed of 9 knots. Being flat-bottomed, she is interesting to watch in a stiff cross-wind.
If the Loch Linnhe is out of service, usually during the winter for her annual overhaul, the smaller Raasay replaces her. Built in 1976, she can carry five cars at a squeeze, which have to be backed on, and up to 75 passengers. She has her limitations: an attempt to load a German coach at the Kilchoan terminal resulted in the vehicle becoming firmly wedged, half on and half off the boat, on a rising tide.
The Clansman plies the Oban-Coll-Tiree or Lochboisdale routes, and is one of Cal-Mac's newer ferries. Capable of over 16 knots, and carrying 90 cars and over 600 passengers, she was built by Appledore Shipbuilders in Devon. Her reliability was called into question when, in the summer of 2010, her camshaft went, requiring her car deck to be cut open so her engine could be removed for the repair.
The Lord of the Isles, which shares the Clansman's routes, is an older ship, built in 1989, which can carry 54 cars and 500 passengers. Like the Clansman, she has a top speed of 16 knots.
Much more detail about Cal-Mac here.