Main Crossings Wemyss Bay - Rothesay
Wemyss Bay - Rothesay
Mainland - Bute
Crossing Time:
35 Minutes
Regular Ships:
/ Bute


1954 - 1969: Cowal / Bute
1970 - 1971: Glen Sannox
1972 - 1977: Bute / Cowal
1978 - 1985: Saturn
1986 - 2003: Jupiter / Juno / Saturn / Pioneer*
2004: Jupiter / Juno / Saturn
2005: Jupiter / Juno / Saturn / Bute
2006: Juno / Bute
2007: Juno / Saturn / Argyle / Bute
2008 - Present: Argyle / Bute
*On relief at first then as 2nd full time vessel
Additional Ships:
2003 - Present:
Coruisk (Winter Relief)
Hebridean Isles / Claymore / Iona / Lord of the Isles (Relief duties or additional sailings).
 Terminal Facilities:
Wemyss Bay: Pier with passenger gangway located right outside the railway station. Vehicle waiting area and linkspan are adjacent to this. On-shore ticketing recently introduced so all passengers and vehicles require tickets before boarding the ferry.

Rothesay: Terminal set on the pier with the old linkspan set into the face - as at Dunoon. Newly introduced end-loading linkspan now in use. Vehicles queue back along the pier access road, next to the Victorian gardens. The inner faces of the pier also provide extra ferry berths for spare vessels - especially used by 'Loch Class' ferries during the winter months.
 Route History:
This crossing was the second to be revolutionised in the 1950s in the initial wave of route upgrades brought about by the 'ABC' ferries. These ferries made up the regular ferries to serve the route until 1970. The Arran, Bute and Cowal regularly changed  among the Upper Clyde routes to Dunoon, Bute and Cumbrae. New tonnage on the Clyde in 1970 saw things change.
Following her replacement on the Ardrossan - Brodick crossing in May 1970, the Glen Sannox was switched to the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay route, utilising her hoist at both terminals as linkspans would not be installed for another seven years. She was not overly successful on that route due to Rothesay pier's height above the water (or lack of) at high tide.

1972 until 1977 saw the route back in the hands of the Bute and the Cowal as they neared the ends of their service lives with CalMac. 1977 saw linkspans installed at Wemyss Bay and Rothesay in readiness for a major shake up on the crossing the following year.

From 1978 the newly converted crossing was in the hands of the Saturn, a semi-sister to the Jupiter and Juno built four years previously. Like the two older vessels, the Saturn used her stern ramp on the mainland and her starboard side ramp at Rothesay, where the linkspan was set into the face of the pier like that a few miles away at Dunoon.

From 1986 the Saturn was no longer as closely tied to the Bute crossing, as the three sisters switched between the Upper Clyde routes on a regular basis. During this period the Rothesay crossing continued to produce more traffic.

Picture: SoC Crew
Glen Sannox arriving at Wemyss Bay

Picture: SoC Crew
The third Streaker, Saturn arriving from Bute

Picture: Allan Comrie
Pioneer pulling away from Rothesay pier

From 1989 Rothesay also started to be served by the Pioneer, on a relief basis at first but as the 1990s progressed, the route grew busier and the latter ferry was brought in as the dedicated second vessel; the 'Streakers' continuing to change between routes. Since that time the crossing from Wemyss Bay has continued to be served by two vessels at any one time - the only exception being during the Cowal Highland Games when service is often reduced to one vessel running.

Since the end of 2003 though, there had not been the luxury of a spare vessel to rely on in case of breakdowns due to the laying up of the very useful Pioneer. Although winter now saw the new Coruisk on Clyde relief duties, summer timetables now relied on all three 'Streakers' operating without failures.
It was announced in 2004 that the next generation of Upper Clyde ferry was destined for the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay crossing. The contract for the new vessel was controversially awarded to the Remontowa Group in Gdansk, Poland and the introduction to service was expected in late spring 2005. The name of the new ferry was announced a few months later - she was to become the seventh Bute to ply the Clyde. The launch took place in March 2005 and the new ferry was introduced to her element sideways - as had happened in 1985 with Hebridean Isles in Selby. To look at, the new ferry had more than a passing resemblance to the old 1978 Claymore as she had most of her passenger accommodation towards the bow.
The Bute was delivered via the English Channel in late June 2005 and following berthing trials at her new home ports, she undertook a VIP cruise round Cumbrae before taking up her new occupation. Around the same time, CalMac announced that the second such new ferry had also been ordered - again from the Polish yard. This move re-ignited the arguments and controversy surrounding the contract and tendering process, meanwhile Bute settled down into regular service. There were the usual teething troubles surrounding her inability to berth as quickly as the streakers but this was down to the fact that the new ferry was not blessed with the well tried and tested Voith Schneider units - the company having instead opted for azimuth pods like on Coruisk.

Picture: SoC Crew
Juno passing Toward Point

Bute settled down into her new run during the 2006 season and was partnered for the whole of the summer timetable by Juno. It had been planned for the second new ship (named Argyle) to be launched in early summer but numerous delays in Poland led to the new ship being launched as late as September. In fact it was to be early May 2007 before Argyle finally entered service! With the onset of the winter timetable in October 2006, Juno was sent up to Rosneath for lay-up alongside Saturn. It was not to last for long though as the two were called back into service in January. Part of the long-term plans for Rothesay included a new ferry berth and long overdue end-loading linkspan. In order to accommodate the required construction work, Bute and Coruisk were laid up for what was supposed to be 6 weeks (but actually turned out to be over 2 months) and the Wemyss Bay - Rothesay crossing was once again in the reliable hands of the Streakers. Because of the construction delays, Juno actually had to have a 2 month extension to her passenger certificate granted by the MCA and the survey was carried out on 24th February.
Picture: SoC Crew
Winter ship Coruisk leaving Rothesay
Picture: SoC Crew
New ships Argyle and Bute off Wemyss Bay

Argyle was finally brought over from her builders' yard in Poland in late April 2007 - several months late. Her VIP cruise took place on Friday 4th May and on that date she took about 100 guests (two of the SoC Crew included) down the east coast of Bute, between the Cumbraes and back via the Largs Channel before entering public service with the 1815 sailing from Wemyss Bay that same evening. Both ships still had to use their side ramps though as the contract work to install the new stern-loading linkspan was running many weeks behind schedule due to technical problems and a partial structural collapse.

The route became a true drive-through service in mid-December 2007 with the opening of the new linkspan. Bute and Argyle were now able to use their stern ramps at Rothesay while continuing to berth bow-in at Wemyss Bay.

Picture: Saturn (SoC Forum / Daily Bute)
Argyle, Bute and Coruisk pictured together (very rare!!)

Images from Ships of CalMac Collection except the Argyle, Bute and Coruisk photo by Zak

All material on this site Ships of CalMac 2001 - 2017, unless otherwise stated.
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