Oban - Craignure
Oban - Craignue
Mainland - Mull
Regular Ship: Isle of Mull
1964 - 1972: Columba
1973 - 1974:
Sannox / Clansman
1976 - 1988:
1988 - Present:
Isle of Mull
of the Isles / Clansman
Isles / Isle
of Arran (relief duties or additional sailings).
JUMP ON A VIRTUAL
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.
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.
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
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.
Lord of the Isles on an extra sailing
Clansman on winter relief duties
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