crossings&cruises...
Main Crossings Tobermory - Mingary
Tobermory - Mingary
Mull - Mainland
Crossing Time:
c35min
Last Ship:
Coll

SHIP TIMELINE:
1947 - 1968:
Lochbuie
1968 - 1980:
Lochnell
1981:
Staffa
1981 - 1986:
Applecross
1986 - 1991: Coll
Additional Ships:
Applecross / Loch Toscaig

 
 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. At the time of the crossing there would of been little more then the wooden pier that still remains today in some shape or form under the cafe.

Mingary: 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:
In terms of the 1947 Mail Contract a new service was to be operated between Tobermory and Mingary in Ardnamurchan. This was basically for two reasons. One, to save the Outer Isles mailboat having to call there as a connection could conveniently be made at Tobermory, and two, the Mull capital was the nearest shopping centre to the remote village. A new vessel was sought for the service and a redundant  RAF rescue pinnace was bought and extensively refitted and renamed Lochbuie. She was to remain sole vessel on the route for nearly two decades being only releived by the likes of Applecross in spring 1965.

In May 1968 Lochbuie was displaced on the roster by the former Kyle vessel Lochnell. The Lochnell was to spend the rest of her MacBrayne career on this crossing, being relieved by assorted chartered launches. On 1st January 1973 she was not transferred to Caledonian MacBrayne Holdings Ltd and remained registered to David MacBrayne Ltd.
 
The passenger-only route to Mingary became an increasing embarrassment to CalMac with its uptake and facilities and in 1980 they successfully negotiated to reduce it to a summer-only service. Lochnell retired on 7th March 1981, giving way to the launch Staffa and retreating to lay-up at Shandon. Soon after the Applecross then took over the Tobermory - Mingary service in 1981 and also served as tender at Tobermory to ships too substantial to call at its pier – and indeed to all vessels, while the pier was rebuilt between 1984 and 1985. Though a very basic canvas-topped shelter was added by way of improvement She was not a success on the Mingary run – which by now was a seasonal route - and her open, rather vulnerable appearance reportedly put off many tourists. She was soon to scheduled to be replaced on the station by the 1973 bow-loader Coll. In 1983 a Government Economic Committee investigated the Tobermory - Mingary route and surcharges were introduced to avoid high peaks in demand.
 

Picture: Allan Comrie
Pioneer dwarfs the little red Applecross on tender and Mingary duties in Tobermory Bay

In 1986 it fell to Coll to redevelop one of CalMac's most troubled routes, which the Company had tried to close only a few years before. Year-round service had ceased in 1980 but the open launches deployed for the crossing in summer, such as Applecross, were hugely unpopular and undoubtedly deterred many trippers. Under considerable political pressure, as usual, CalMac deployed the sturdy Coll. On 27th April 1986 she enjoyed an interesting charter up Loch Etive – carrying a large mechanical digger, to Ardmaddy – and then lay at Oban for some days as extra passenger seating was fitted to her vehicle deck.

“These were of the individual rigid plastic variety, coloured brown, and totalled fifty-six,” recorded the West Highland Steamer Club bulletin that autumn. “She was also fitted with a new removable companionway from the car deck to the upper deck on the starboard side, covering the existing companionway and at a more gentle angle than it, to assist passenger access. A wider gangway door was also cut in two halves amidships on the port side of the car deck to replace the previous narrow one further forward. A green canopy was stretched across the car deck immediately aft of the ramp to afford passengers additional cover, and five large bright red lifejacket boxes were positioned forward on the car deck. She was also fully repainted, all this work being done by men from Timbacraft, to equip her for a new job – as a passenger vessel."

A new 'upgraded' Tobermory - Mingary service, where a car ferry service was impossible due to the lack of slipways on either side, was initiated. Coll obtained a certificate for 154 passengers and was of course able to give a vastly superior service to that given by the Applecross in recent years. Coll gave three timetabled return sailings daily – five in July and August – and in addition there was a special early morning return run available throughout on specific request to the CalMac office at Tobermory. Time on passage was about thirty-five minutes and the Coll proved a great success on this new venture. The service, however, remained a seasonal one and she followed the usual round of winter relief's when not occupied at Tobermory.

Naturally the cry was increasingly raised for a Tobermory-Mingary vehicular service and Coll finally opened just such a splendid facility on Monday 29th April 1991; Government approval for the construction of suitable terminals had been confirmed the previous October. The new service, now renamed Tobermory - Kilchoan, was scheduled to give eight return sailings daily, though the early morning crossing was again by request.

Related Crossings:
SoC Crossing: Tobermory - Kilchoan


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