Kennacraig - Port Ellen / Port
Kennacraig - Port Ellen / Port Askaig
Mainland - Islay
2 hours 20 minutes
Isles / Finlaggan
1970 - 1973:
1975 - 1978: Pioneer
1980 - 1988:
1990 - 1992: Claymore
1994 - 2000:
2001 - 2011:
2011 - Present:
Isles / Finlaggan
Sannox / Lord
of the Isles
JUMP ON A
CROSSING (Kennacraig - Port Askaig)
JUMP ON A
CROSSING (Port Ellen - Kennacraig)
Kennacraig: Terminal built on an
island sticking out into West Loch Tarbert, joined to the mainland by
causeway. Two ferry berths, one with adjustable linkspan, the other with
just a concrete ramp. Passenger gangway lies between the two berths.
Extensive vehicle queuing area adjacent to linkspan with terminal offices
and facilities close by. There is ample parking space elsewhere on the
Linkspan and passenger gangway facilities located at the pier, as are the
terminal office, vehicle queuing area and public facilities. On the other
side of the pier is a concrete ramp that acts as a high tide linkspan.
Askaig: Marshalling area set back into the
hillside behind the pier. New linkspan, roundhead and Jura ferry berth.
New octagonal terminal office under construction.
At the dawn of the car ferry era on Islay there was much activity and
rivalry. Until the latter years of the 1960s Islay was served by mail
steamer, operated by MacBraynes - forerunner of today's CalMac. Other
Clyde and Western Isles routes had been granted car ferries many years
before, yet Islay had somehow been left behind. A private operator saw
this as an opportunity that they could take advantage of - and they did.
Western Ferries began operating a shorter sea crossing from Kennacraig in
West Loch Tarbert to Port Askaig in the Sound of Islay. The vessel employed
was a simple stern-loading car ferry which used simple loading ramps -
that at Kennacraig still existing today.
The rival service was hugely popular with drivers and soon won a
significant share of the traffic. This was the kick-start that MacBraynes
(and latterly CalMac) needed to modernise the Islay route. In 1970 the
was transferred to Islay to provide a hoist-loading service and when it
was clear that this was not a success more drastic action was taken - she
was converted to a stern loading vessel with an open car deck; huge chunks
of superstructure having been removed.
Relief ship Glen Sannox loading at Kennacraig
lt was in 1974 that CalMac (as it now was known) started to win back Islay
traffic when the Pioneer
was introduced. Running to Port Ellen in the south of Islay and calling at
Gigha on the way, her introduction was a massively harmful move to the
rival operator who had, only a few years before, ordered a new and purpose
built vessel. Over the next five years the Pioneer
became well established on the route until when, in 1979, she was replaced
by the deeper-draughted Iona
- herself intended for Islay some ten years previously. The Iona
took over the route and occupied the former Western Ferries terminal at
Kennacraig. She also provided a service to both ports on Islay; Port Ellen
and Port Askaig. The larger ferry was to remain on duty for a further ten
years before the next replacement arrived.
Iona in the Sound of Islay
Claymore leaving Port Askaig for
The 1980s saw the introduction of no fewer than eight new ferries entering
service for CalMac. The final one of these, Lord of the Isles started a cascade of ships which led to the
improvement of several routes. Claymore
was displaced from the Outer Isles crossing by the new and faster ferry
and became the Islay ship in Spring 1989. Although only a stern-loading
vessel she had a more spacious car deck and did not present a height limit
unlike her predecessor.
It was not until 1993 that Islay's ferry service became a truly
drive-through affair. With the introduction of the Caledonian Isles on the Arran crossing, the
Isle of Arran was freed up to take over the services to Port Askaig and
Port Ellen. She used her bow visor and ramp at Kennacraig's linkspan and
loaded via her stern ramp at the two island terminals.
Hebridean Isles passing Port Ellen lighthouse
Both ferries off West Loch Tarbert
The Isle of Arran brought with her not only enhanced passenger comfort and
larger capacity (for 76 cars per sailing) but also allowed a faster
turnaround time at each port. Gone were the days of vehicles reversing on
or off - instead they could now drive straight through.
2001 saw the Islay service taken over by the Hebridean Isles which had just been displaced at Uig. She was a much more
modern looking ferry than the Isle of Arran and has been on the Islay routes for three years now.
Isle of Arran still serves on the route however. For the last couple of
years CalMac have operated a two ship service from Kennacraig during the
high summer periods, giving
twice the number of sailings and also allowing the island to be served as
normal on summer Wednesdays when the main ferry ventures north to Oban via
The Islay scene continues to change rapidly. Since the start of the
two-ship service in 2003, traffic volumes have continued to skyrocket, with
many sailings leaving upwards of 10 cars on the standby lists each time.
There had been speculation for several years which hinted at a new
replacement ferry. This started out as rumours but then the announcement
came that a new vessel (more than likely to be named Pioneer after the last
vessel to be built specifically with Islay in mind) was to be built with a
view to having her in service for 2011. The long term plan was for a
continued two-ship service, using the new ship and the Hebridean Isles all
year round. Time will tell if and when this happens.
Images from Ships of CalMac Collection