Ships of the Fleet
CLANSMAN was the second of the 1964 vessels and whose early career exemplified the determination of David MacBrayne Ltd. To avoid the 1954 blunder of the CSP in commissioning three car ferries for three services, without thought of breakdown or winter relief. One of the 1964 ships would have to be rostered in such a way as to be free, in the off-season, to replace her sisters; and that proved to be CLANSMAN.
The 50-car behemoth spent her first ten summers, then, developing a new seasonal service from Mallaig to Armadale in Skye; even today, she would be distinctly over-capacity, and in the mid60s, with dreadful single-track roads from both ports, it was a distinctly weird use of a major ship. She would compensate, though, with all sorts of interesting travels – and then, near a decade old, would emerge from radical surgery almost unrecognisable and, as it would prove, prematurely aged.
CLANSMAN was launched – late – on 15th January 1964, one Lady Robinson doing the honours of naming her the previous day. (A damaged slipway had delayed the new ship's joyous dash into Aberdeen Harbour.) The white painting of her
upper works was taken a strake lower than on the slightly earlier HEBRIDES, but this was changed before CLANSMAN entered service. She was entirely indistinguishable from her sister.
Fitting out was completed in dry-dock at Greenock, and after trials CLANSMAN inaugurated the Mallaig-Armadale car ferry service on 5th June 1964, some weeks late; the service as advertised had been maintained heroically by the wee LOCHMOR (1930), a sturdy mailboat of striking ugliness which had just been dethroned by the HEBRIDES and which freighted Skye-bound cars as best she could by crane and sling.
Initially CLANSMAN gave seven double-runs a day; despite the brief passage – scarcely twenty minutes – this proved too tight a roster for a hoist-loading ship, especially in the extreme tidal conditions of the Sound of Sleat, and in 1965 and subsequently this was cut to five. It was not a winter car ferry service (though LOCHNEVIS did maintain a sort of service that first 1964-65 season) and CLANSMAN duly assumed her primary function as the major relief vessel.
Through repeated winters she regularly replaced COLUMBA on the Mull run; LOCH SEAFORTH on the Stornoway service; and of course HEBRIDES on the Uig triangle, During her 1966 overhaul she was the last of the 1964 ships to acquire a new passenger comfort – television; but disgraced herself in October 1967, on the Uig service, when a savage gust blew her aground as she reversed out of Tarbert pier, and she lay aground for four hours.
It was already apparent, by the end of her third season on the Armadale route, that CLANSMAN was grossly underemployed and – though her splendid
accommodation made her an excellent floating hotel for comprehensive tour passengers – she was ill-designed to develop the route to anything like the potential of the CSP gold-mine at Kyleakin. Loading and unloading took too long to offer sufficient frequency of service and the deplorable state of the Mallaig road was another serious drawback.
The obvious solution was to develop further her car ferry capacity in twice or thrice-weekly service from Mallaig to Lochboisdale and Castlebay, freeing the already obsolete CLAYMORE to concentrate on Coll and Tiree. It was only in 1965, though, that the essential improvements to Lochboisdale pier were completed and it was June 1967 before CLANSMAN finally started a Mallaig-Lochboisdale timetable – which was overnight, only in high summer (June to September) and only once a week, on Friday evenings. In 1971 and 1972 the service was extended to thrice-weekly and Castlebay included in the schedule.
There were, though, other diversions. For five months at the beginning of 1970 the CLANSMAN was chartered to the CSP, to reinforce their Clyde ferry system until the advent of the new Iona. She shuttled back and forth between Gourock and Dunoon (where here lavish passenger facilities were greatly appreciated after the bus-like 1954 vessels) and on one occasion also did the Wemyss Bay-Rothesay run, enduring through this time the indignity of a yellow funnel.
With Yellow Funnel on the Clyde
In March 1971, too, CLANSMAN tried a temporary service from Oban to Port Askaig and Colonsay and, later that year, relieved CLAYMORE for the first time on the Inner Isles Mail. 1969, though, saw her most exciting adventure of all; that January she sailed to London and tied up to Tower Pier for ten days, hosting a “Highland Fling”
extravaganza thrown by the Highlands and Islands Development Board – this exhibition being opened by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. The event attracted 40,000 sightseers and, at its end, CLANSMAN sailed home – becoming the first vessel in Company history to circumnavigate Britain.
The new Scottish Transport Group regime, in charge of both MacBraynes and the CSP from 1969, knew that car ferry operations were the only real future and had to confront the reality that most of their existing, hoist-loading ships were already out of date. A full feasibility study was done on the possibility of converting the 1964 sisters to drive-through operation. Other suggestions were at least to make life easier for COLUMBA, by fitting a side-loading linkspan into the face of Oban's North Pier – in fact, the 1964 vessels could not lower a side-ramp without the hoist being raised – or perhaps to fit merely bow-visors and ramps.
At the last it was CLANSMAN, underutilised as she was on the Armadale route, which in October 1972 was ordered to Troon for a re-build on a scale almost grotesque.
The conversion of CLANSMAN to a drive-through ferry took almost nine months.
She was cut just forward of the funnel and lengthened by 36 feet. To
maximise headroom in her car deck her passenger accommodation was cut clean
off and then jacked up three feet forward and five feet aft. (This created
5' 6” more headroom, though it was still 2' 6” lower forward than aft.)
Stern and bow ramps were added, of course, with a bow-visor (and bulbous
bow) and her hoist and side-ramps were discarded. That area was fully
enclosed and this created a rather splendid new area of open deck for
passengers. To cap everything, CLANSMAN acquired two new masts; the radar
scanner, though, was affixed to her funnel (which gave it an engaging
jauntiness) and she also acquired the new CalMac livery. Another 1964 design
fault was corrected; she gained twin rudders. A new 4-ton bow-thrust unit
replaced the original 2-ton plant and her machinery was converted to be
fully bridge-controlled. There was, though, one fateful blunder; the Company
did not think it necessary to re-engine the ship.
In Lamonts Dock with new Bow Visor
CLANSMAN duly arrived in Stornoway in June 1973 to assume the new car ferry service to Ullapool, opened by IONA only in March. The IONA had just broken down when she reached and CLANSMAN promptly broke down herself; these were the latest in an astonishing succession of misfortunes which plagued the Company in that first year of Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd.
Things settled down; but it rapidly became apparent that ship and run were ill-suited. Partly, CLANSMAN was a victim of her own success; traffic built up so quickly that by season's end it was apparent she could not cope. The real problem was mechanical. The rebuilt CLANSMAN was too slow and her strained engines were too unreliable. She also had considerably more freeboard and as a result was very vulnerable to serious weather. Gales that LOCH SEAFORTH would have taken in her stride, so to speak, left CLANSMAN in port; when conditions were merely lively, she rolled in the most unpleasant manner for passengers.
CLANSMAN was not long trapped on the Stornoway route. By year's end the SUILVEN, building in Norway, had been identified and purchased “on the stocks” by CalMac, and CLANSMAN was duly liberated from the Lewis service in September 1974. She repaired to the Oban-Craignure service for the rest of that summer timetable and for the whole of the 1975 season. She would relieve at Mull, again, in October 1976.
The genuine success of CLANSMAN at Mull, though, had to be set against
CalMac's increasing embarrassment on the Arran route with the little
CALEDONIA, and from 26th April 1976 the two ships exchanged places.
Struggling on with her increasingly ill-tempered engines, and with her own
capacity becoming an embarrassment as she limped into the Eighties, CLANSMAN
gave five or more daily return sailings between Ardrossan and Brodick. She
also remained the SUILVEN's regular relief at Stornoway, and from 1975 also
relieved regularly, on charter, the P & O ferry ST OLA on their Orkney
service, from Scrabster to Stromness.
Departing Ardrossan for Brodick, 1982
Arriving at Brodick Linkspan
Lying at Brodick in her twilight years
CLANSMAN was not an old ship and her passenger facilities were a good deal
better than anything CalMac managed to build until the mid80s, but by 1983
her mechanical state was appalling and – though re-engining was seriously
considered – it became apparent her career with the fleet was over.
CLANSMAN was advertised from sale from September 1983 and, after a massive
breakdown on the Arran service in 17th March 1984 – so bad that CalMac
engineers and Clydeside expertise quite failed to get her starboard engine
going again – she never sailed again for CalMac. Dethroned by the new ISLE
OF ARRAN, CLANSMAN spent the summer of 1984 languishing in the James Watt
Dock, Greenock. Her last paid employment for the company was as a
film-location; the tied-up vessel impersonated a Russian ship for a BBC spy
Barely twenty years old, CLANSMAN was sold - “for a price reflecting her
mechanical condition” to Torbay Seaways Ltd, who duly took delivery of her
on 14th August 1984. They hoped to start a Torbay-Channel Islands service
with their new acquisition; though they got her engine going again, the
scheme foundered after the Torbay authorities vetoed plans to construct a
linkspan. (It was HEBRIDES, not CLANSMAN, who would take up the Channel
So the hapless CLANSMAN was re-sold, to Mira Shipping Line Ltd., Malta, and
re-named TAMIRA, for a proposed Malta-Gozo run. She left the UK in December
1984 and it was soon reported she had been re-sold, to Euch Zammit &
Sons Ltd., also of Malta – who renamed her AL HUSSEIN. In February 1986
she was was sailing in the Gulf of Akaba, and is still believed to be in
service although later named AL RASHEED.
* She was last recorded in Lloyd's Register in 1994-95 and in 2002 was lying
abandoned off the coast of Sudan - she can still be seen on Google Earth
at co-ordinates 19 22' 35.87"N, 37 18' 56.11"E
Text thanks to John MacLeod
& * Except The
Kyles & Wetern Isles Blog (C)
As the Al Rasheed
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