Tarbert (Loch Fyne) -
Tarbert - Portavadie
Mainland - Mainland
Crossing Time: 25 Minutes
1995 - 1996:
1999 - Present:
Various members of
the Island Class
and Loch Class
ferries on relief / winter duties.
(Loch Fyne): A small vehicle queuing area
before the concrete slipway, sticking out into East Loch Tarbert. There is
also a car park next to the slipway, with sufficient space for a dozen or
so cars. For foot passengers there is a small shelter just up from the
slipway. Nearby there is the village of Tarbert with various shops and
Very few facilities here. A Seasonal CalMac office with
notices instructing passengers to purchase tickets on the ferry when not
open. There are
seven spaces in the vehicle queue and a bus stop just round the corner. No
other facilities to be found at this terminal other than a small car park
and an electronic
sign giving ferry times and phone numbers.
The ferry across Loch Fyne had been wanted for several years before it
actually materialised. Drivers wishing to get from Cowal to Kintyre or
vice versa were faced with an arduous drive of around 80 miles around the
top end of Loch Fyne - a drive that would often take over two hours.
It was for this reason that the ferry was started initially on a trial
season to see if there was potential for growth.
1994 saw the slipways completed adjacent to the sailing club in Tarbert
and in a sheltered bay at Portavadie on the eastern shores of Loch Fyne,
ten minutes drive from Tighnabruaich. The long awaited crossing became a
reality and was a joint venture between CalMac and Argyll and the Isles
Enterprise. Initially the route was in the hands of the little Rhum,
whose capacity was for 6 cars.
To say the trial season was a success is an understatement. If anything
the Rhum provided insufficient capacity and towards the end of the 1994
season, as word had spread about the new service, she began leaving cars
behind as she set off from each terminal with a full load - quite an
achievement for a service in its first year of operation.
The following two seasons also saw the Rhum
taking the Loch Fyne service in her stride. Unfortunately though, because
the service was only seasonal there was a limit as to how much growth
could be achieved on the route. After a couple of seasons as a summer only
service, it was decided to offer a limited timetable in the winter months
as well. This in fact killed two birds with one stone and also allowed the
winter ferry to do the tanker runs to Arran, instead of the Caledonian
Isles. Several crossings would be offered across Loch Fyne during
morning and late afternoon, whilst lunchtime saw the ferry cross from
Tarbert to Lochranza, thus keeping the secondary route to Arran open in
the winter as well. By this time the winter ferry was usually one of the
'Lochs' - often either Loch Linnhe or her sister Loch Striven.
Loch Linnhe in East Loch Tarbert
Isle of Cumbrae approaching Portavadie
By the time the 1998 season kicked off it was clear that a new ferry
was urgently required to take over the Loch Fyne crossing. Following the
reintroduction of the Loch Alainn on the Clyde as opposed to her intended route in the
Western Isles, a cascade of ferries took place. The Loch Linnhe had been displaced from the Cumbrae route by one of her
three sister ships, the Loch Riddon and so she was free to displace the
which had taken over the Portavadie run the previous season. The route was
upgraded in two ways; firstly drivers could now drive straight on and off
the ferry and secondly, the much needed extra capacity was available.
Commercial traffic could now grow.
The Loch Linnhe was not to remain in charge for long though. Just one year
later the Isle of Cumbrae was freed up from the Colintraive crossing and
was placed on the Tarbert route, again increasing vehicle capacity from
12 to 18. The days were also longer, with more sailings in the
Loch Riddon unloading traffic at Portavadie
Winter relief ship Loch Tarbert crossing to Cowal
Since 1999 not much has changed on the Tarbert - Portavadie crossing. It is
still operated by the Isle of Cumbrae during the summer timetable, and her place is taken in
winter usually by the smaller Loch Riddon which is surplus to requirements at Cumbrae during this
period. These two ships do not hold the monopoly on operating the service by
any stretch of the imagination. The Loch Tarbert is a regular relief ship
during the first few weeks of the winter, while there have been numerous
other vessels dropping by to provide short-term cover in the past, such as
Loch Alainn, Loch Dunvegan and Canna. Certainly in decent weather the ferry usually sails at least half
full and for now drivers are virtually guaranteed a space on the sailing
they arrive for. However, given how quickly the route has grown in the years it has been running, quite how long this remains the case is unknown.
The Isle of Cumbrae does occasionally leave vehicles behind but on the whole
she does manage most of the time, to clear all that is waiting for her.
Images from Ships of CalMac Collection