Otternish - An T-Ob
- An T-Ob
Berneray - Leverburgh
Sound of Harris
Berneray - Harris
Crossing Time: 1 hour
1996 - 2002:
Bhrusda / Loch
2004 - Present:
Various members of
the Loch Class
ferries on relief duties.
JUMP ON A VIRTUAL
Simple concrete slipway and minimalist pier used for berthing.
Electronic displays giving departure details to waiting passengers. Cafe
adjacent to the slipway.
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.
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...
Loch Bhrusda at rest
Loch Portain nearing Leverburgh
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