crossings&cruises...
Main Crossings Otternish - An T-Ob
Otternish - An T-Ob
Berneray - Leverburgh
Sound of Harris
Berneray - Harris
Crossing Time:
1 hour
Regular Ship:
Loch Portain

SHIP TIMELINE:

1996 - 2002: Loch Bhrusda
2003: Loch Bhrusda / Loch Portain
2004 - Present: Loch Portain
Additional Ships:
Various members of the Loch Class ferries on relief duties.
 

JUMP ON A VIRTUAL CROSSING
 Terminal Facilities:
Leverburgh: Simple concrete slipway and minimalist pier used for berthing. Electronic displays giving departure details to waiting passengers. Cafe adjacent to the slipway.

Berneray: The ferry berths here when not in service. Loading is by concrete slipway, suitable at all states of the tide. There's an adequate waiting area for vehicles and passengers.
 
 Route History:
The shallow and treacherous Sound of Harris may only be a relatively distance from Harris to Berneray and North Uist but the current ferry crossing takes over an hour and involves some spectacular course changes during the voyage.

The islands of Harris and North Uist were always traditionally connected by the 'Uig Triangle' ferry, using the termini at Tarbert and Lochmaddy respectively. This crossing of almost two hours duration meant that for many years there would only be one, perhaps two crossings available each day - and the majority of those would be routed via Uig on Skye, doubling the journey time in the process. Throughout the early 1990s there was considerable rumour and hearsay about a long-awaited new ferry service across the Sound of Harris using one of the 'Loch Class' ferries.
 
It was not until 1996 that this new service became a reality. The crossing opened with one of the 'Island Class' ferries in control. The ferry intended for this crossing was actually a newbuild and arrived on the scene in June of that year. The Loch Bhrusda was a revolutionary ferry for CalMac in that she was the first 'Loch' to use a propulsion system other than Voith Schneider units. Instead, the system adopted was a water jet system - and for very good reason. The Sound of Harris is notoriously shallow  and some its more dangerous features are sandbanks and rocky reefs. It was decided that the new ferry should not have anything protruding out below the hull - thus ruling out propellers.

The Loch Bhrusda entered service on the new crossing, and although she was late, soon became very busy and indeed often sailed full. Her route took her originally from Otternish on North Uist before a causeway was built across to Berneray. Once away from her terminals, the ferry had to follow a set route, marked by buoys due to the nature of the Sound of Harris. Indeed when she first entered service there was a rule laid down that unless the next two buoys ahead were visible, the vessel had to stop dead in her tracks.

Through the remainder of the 1990s she developed the route quite considerably in terms of traffic levels. In the first years of the new millennium it was realised that the Loch Bhrusda would soon be leaving for service elsewhere...
 

Picture: SoC Crew
Loch Bhrusda at rest

Picture: SoC Crew
Loch Portain nearing Leverburgh

Picture: SoC Crew
Loch Portain leaving Berneray

The reason for the Loch Bhrusda's departure was all down to her success. Traffic queues were by this time longer than 18 cars - the equivalent of her vehicle deck capacity. From her home on Merseyside came a new and larger ferry in 2003; the Loch Portain. Like the Loch Bhrusda, the new ship was propelled by water jets. And with a capacity for 32 cars this newcomer was something of a giant compared to her predecessor and when she took over the service in the spring of 2003 she all but obliterated the queues in one go. Although she has only been in service for just over a year, the Loch Portain has become established as the Sound of Harris ferry. The Loch Bhrusda does return to the Sound of Harris each winter when the larger vessel is away for her overhaul on the Clyde.


Images from Ships of CalMac Collection


All material on this site Ships of CalMac 2001 - 2017, unless otherwise stated.
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