crossings&cruises...
Main Crossings Tobermory - Kilchoan
Tobermory - Kilchoan
Mainland - Mull
Crossing Time:
35 Minutes
Regular Ship:
Loch Linnhe

SHIPS TIMELINE:

1986 - 1997: Coll
1998: Eigg & Bruernish
1999 - Present: Loch Linnhe / Raasay
Additional Ships:
Various members of the Island Class and Loch Class ferries on relief duties.
 

JUMP ON A VIRTUAL CROSSING
 Terminal Facilities:
Tobermory: Quite literally a widened slipway at the very end of the town. The slipway is adjacent to the main pier and lifeboat berth. Nearby there is a cafe on the upper floor of the terminal building, above the ticket and information office.

Kilchoan: Slipway and pier jutting out into the northern end of the Sound of Mull. There is a small vehicle marshalling and turning area as well as a passenger shelter and public toilets situated close by.
 
 Route History:
This crossing was, until the end of 1985 at least, in the care of one of the ex Iona Red Boats, the Applecross and had been previously referred to as the Tobermory - Mingary service. At the end of the 1985 season however, the Applecross was withdrawn and a replacement vessel was urgently required.  This duty fell to one of the spare members of the versatile 'Island Class' ferries; the Coll being the chosen one. With the lack of slipway facilities at either Tobermory or Kilchoan, Coll was restricted to carrying passengers only. For this purpose her seating was increased by using portable semi-permanent seats attached to the car deck and the provision of a covered area forward on the car deck, immediately behind the bow ramp.

Over the following 5 years the Coll had a relatively easy life, shuttling several time a day back and forth between Mull and Ardnamurchan. It was perhaps inevitable that a route with a car ferry operating it was to become a vehicle service.


Coll arriving at Tobermory slipway

Picture: SoC Crew
2nd vessel Bruernish at Tobermory pier

It was not until 1991 that slipways were constructed at the Coll's ports and the crossing became a car ferry service during the summer months. Tobermory was equipped with a slipway beyond the end of the main pier, while that at Kilchoan was a simple and narrow stretch of concrete set just behind the stone pier, on the western side of Kilchoan Bay, opposite the ruins of the castle.

The route continued to grow gradually and the number of sailings during the summer was gradually increased. In the summer of 1996 the Coll was replaced at Tobermory by her Oban-based sister Eigg. That summer proved to be a busy one and on many occasions in the height of the season, Bruernish was also required to carry out additional sailings.
 

Picture: Graeme Phanco
Coll sitting at Kilchoan
Picture: SoC Crew
Loch Linnhe leaving Kilchoan

As demand grew on numerous routes simultaneously across the CalMac network, a major cascade of ferries took place between 1997 and 1999, which saw Loch Class ferries switching route like there was no tomorrow. The Kilchoan route was one of those which benefited from this redployment. Clyde movements freed up the 1986-built Loch Linnhe from the Tarbert - Portavadie run and she was switched to the Western Isles in time for the summer of 1999. Eigg was despatched back down to Oban and the Loch Linnhe took over the seasonal service, allowing drive-through operations for the first time.

It was to be a few years yet before year-round service commenced out of Tobermory, however when it did come round, yet another vessel was required for this duty. Loch Linnhe was required elsewhere in the network during the winter as she was one of the main relief ships on the shorter routes. Demand was low enough or an Island Class ferry to return to the fray once more. The chosen one this time was Raasay and she became the regular winter vessel, handing back to the larger ferry just in time for the summer timetable to commence.

Picture: SoC Crew
Loch Linnhe entering Tobermory Bay

2006 saw a change in the winter deployment and Loch Linnhe was present for the majority of the winter and this appears to have set the precedent for future winters, with Raasay and occasionally Isle of Cumbrae standing in when required.

Images from Ships of CalMac Collection


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