crossings&cruises...
Main Crossings Oban - Craignure
Oban - Craignue
Mainland - Mull
Crossing Time:
45 Minutes
Regular Ship:
Isle of Mull

SHIP TIMELINE:

1964 - 1972: Columba
1973 - 1974: Iona  / Glen Sannox / Clansman
1975: Clansman / Glen Sannox
1976 - 1988: Caledonia / Glen Sannox
1988 - Present: Isle of Mull
Additional Ships:
Lord of the Isles / Clansman / Hebridean Isles / Isle of Arran (relief duties or additional sailings).
 

JUMP ON A VIRTUAL CROSSING
 Terminal Facilities:
Oban: 3 storey terminal building with ticket office, waiting area and toilets. Two linkspans, one of which is undergoing redevelopment. Raised walkways under construction to replace the older passenger loading gangway. Large vehicle marshalling area.

Craignure: A single linkspan, hydraulically operated from an overhead gantry, passenger gangway similar to that in Oban, an extensive car marshalling area and a passenger shelter stretching right along the pier.
 
 Route History:
The Oban - Craignure route is one of the busiest in the CalMac network today. Its origins date back to 1964 when the new Columba was introduced on the Sound Mull route, from Oban to Craignure and Lochaline. The pier at Craignure was newly constructed for this ferry, sticking out into the bay at right angles to the shoreline. At Oban, the age-old practice of using the Railway Pier was continued. The Columba loaded her cars by means of a hoist, directly from the quayside. Drive through operation was introduced in 1973 when a new linkspan was installed at the Railway Pier in Oban. This facility enabled not only the Mull timetable to be speeded up, but also that of the long haul service out to Lochboisdale on South Uist. From 1973 to 1974, Mull was serviced by three different ships: Iona, Glen sannox and, when Craignure duly received its linkspan and the route became truly drive-through, the newly converted Clansman. Events conspired to take this ferry away from Mull and in 1976 she switched places with the Arran ferry Caledonia.


Columba arriving at Craignure on relief

Picture: SoC Crew
Caledonia at Oban linkspan

For the next 12 years, Mull was served in summer by the Caledonia and in winter (usually from late September through to mid May) by the old favourite Glen sannox. The people of Mull actually preferred the Sannox and would rather have had her as the year-round vessel, despite the fact she had no bow visor and could only load with her stern ramp at either port. This was not an option though as the versatile Glen Sannox was required elsewhere as a relief ship during the summer months and did indeed visit Islay, Arran and other Clyde ports on a regular basis in the summer. This arrangement continued until the summer traffic built up to such levels that the Caledonia simply could not transport the numbers of passengers that required shipment. 1987 was her final year on the Craignure route as her replacement  was due in service the following spring. When the Glen Sannox took over in autumn 1987, the redundant vessel was placed on the sale list and headed for the dock.

The new ferry duly entered service in 1988 just in time for the summer season. The Isle of Mull was something of a giant; with double the car capacity of her predecessor and a passenger certificate for up to 1000 with a crew of 28. At a stroke the capacity problems associated with her predecessor were a thing of the past, and at the time of writing (August 2007) the Isle of Mull is still the regular Mull ferry after almost two full decades, providing up to eight return sailings a day in the summer months.

When the Isle of Mull first entered service she was also expected to serve Colonsay as well as Mull. This practise continued until 2002 and she would sail twice a week in summer, on Monday and Friday evenings) to Colonsay, while in winter she would also fit in a third sailing on Wednesdays.


Isle of Mull crossing the Firth of Lorn

2002 saw a major shake-up of services operated from Oban. Under a new experiment, one made possible with the new Hebrides sending the Hebridean Isles down to Islay, the Isle of Arran was despatched to Oban to provide additional services to Colonsay, Coll, Tiree, Barra and South Uist. This enabled the Isle of Mull to concentrate solely on serving Craignure and several additional sailings were offered each week at the times she would have previously sailed for Colonsay. This practise continued the following year although the additional vessel was Lord of the Isles, as Isle of Arran was by this time second vessel at Islay. Indeed the timetables were changed slightly and Lord of the Isles provided three sailings to Mull herself, in addition to those provided by the regular vessel. One of these sailings formed part of a cruise via the Sound of Kerrera past Gylen Castle and across to Craignure, making a close pass underneath Duart Castle. Although it did not appear in the main timetables, the 1500 ex Oban did indeed convey cars to Mull and brought traffic back at 1600. This cruise was pulled from the timetables in 2006.
With more vessels being based in Oban it was perhaps inevitable that there would be some switching of vessels, according to demand. Indeed usually three or four times a year the Isle of Mull would be allowed to 'stretch her legs' and continue out beyond Craignure to such exotic locations (well for her at least...) as Tiree and even Barra. On such occasions the Clansman or Lord of the Isles would step in and keep the link to Mull open, but in general though when one is waiting at Craignure, 99% of the time it is the Isle of Mull that appears from behind the miniature railway station.

There have been those who have felt the need to voice concerns on the Isle of Mull's abilities to cope with the traffic requiring shipment. Indeed her passage time was increased by a whole minute, although for the majority of the time she is able to complete the crossing in between 40 - 45 minutes.
 

Picture: SoC Crew
Lord of the Isles on an extra sailing

Picture: SoC Crew
Clansman on winter relief duties
Picture: SoC Crew
Isle of Mull heading out of Oban Bay

Her timetable was also tweaked to eliminate late running during the high summer periods in 2007. The 2006 summer saw her running about 20 minutes late by the time it came to loading for the 1600 ex Oban and this was causing problems for those passengers returning from Mull to get the connecting train to Glasgow. The morning sailings were therefore moved forward by 5 or 10 minutes to give extra loading time and this seemed to have work in 2007. This did not address the question of the Isle of Mull's capacity and there was speculation that Mull may receive a solution similar to that granted to Arran - a second vessel at peak times. Nothing has happened as yet in that respect though to date.

Images from Ships of CalMac Collection


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