Caledonian MacBrayne: Wikis


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Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd
Type Public (State-Owned)
Founded 1851
Headquarters Gourock, Scotland, UK
Area served River Clyde, Outer Hebrides, Inner Hebrides
Industry Transport
Services Ferries
Owner(s) Scottish Government
The funnel of MV Juno.

Caledonian MacBrayne (usually shortened to Cal Mac; Caledonian Mac a' Bhriuthainn in Scottish Gaelic) is the major operator of passenger and vehicle ferries between the mainland of Scotland and 22 of the major islands on Scotland's west coast. It is publicly owned and controlled by the Scottish Government.



The Caledonian MacBrayne headquarters building at Gourock pierhead and a visit from MV Caledonian Isles and MV Isle of Mull.

David Hutcheson & Co.

MacBrayne's, initially known as David Hutcheson & Co., began in 1851 as a private steamship operator when G. and J. Burns, operators of the largest of the Clyde fleets, decided to concentrate on coastal and transatlantic services and handed control of their river and Highland steamers to a new company in which Hutcheson, their manager of these services, became senior partner. Their main route went from Glasgow down the Firth of Clyde through the Crinan Canal to Oban and Fort William, and on through the Caledonian Canal to Inverness.

Caledonian MacBrayne

With the retirement of the founders of David Hutcheson & Co in the 1870s, their partner (and nephew of Messrs. Burns) David MacBrayne gained full ownership, and changed the company's name accordingly.

It remained in the hands of the MacBrayne family until 1928 when, unable to carry on, it was acquired jointly by the LMS Railway and Coast Lines. Its ships featured red funnels with a black top.

The Caledonian Railway at first used the services of various early private operators of Clyde steamers, then began operating steamers on its own account on 1 January 1889 to compete better with the North British Railway and the Glasgow and South Western Railway. It extended its line to bypass the G & SW Prince's Pier at Greenock and continue on to the fishing village of Gourock, where they had purchased the harbour.

After years of fierce competition between all the fleets, the Caledonian and G & SW were merged in 1923 into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) and their fleets amalgamated into the Caledonian Steam Packet Co., their funnels being painted yellow with a black top. At the same time the North British Railway fleet became part of the LNER (which built the PS Waverley in 1947). With nationalisation in 1948 the LMS and LNER fleets were amalgamated under British Railways with the name Clyde Shipping Services. In 1957 a reorganisation restored the CSP name, and in 1965 a red lion was added to each side of the black-topped yellow funnels. The headquarters remained at Gourock pierhead.

At the end of December 1968 management of the CSP passed to the Scottish Transport Group, which gained control of MacBrayne's the following June. The MacBrayne service from Gourock to Ardrishaig ended on 30 September 1969, leaving the Clyde entirely to the CSP.

MV Juno (Iùno in Gaelic) arriving at Gourock on the Dunoon service

On 1 January 1973 the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. acquired most of the ships and routes of MacBrayne's and commenced joint Clyde and West Highland operations under the new name of Caledonian MacBrayne, with a combined headquarters at Gourock. Funnels were now painted red with a black top, and a yellow circle at the side of the funnel featuring the red Caledonian lion. In 1990 the ferry business was spun off as a separate company, keeping the Caledonian MacBrayne brand, and shares were issued in the company. All shares were owned by the state, first in the person of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and (after devolution) by the Scottish Executive.

A joint venture between Caledonian MacBrayne and the Royal Bank of Scotland named Northlink Orkney and Shetland Ferries won the tender for the subsidised Northern Isles services, previously run by P&O Scottish Ferries, commencing in 2002. The ambitious programme ran into financial difficulties, and the service was again put out to tender. Caledonian MacBrayne won this tender, and formed a separate company called NorthLink Ferries Limited which began operating the Northern Isles ferry service on 6 July 2006.[1]

To meet the requirements of European Union Community guidelines on State aids to maritime transport, the company's routes were put out to open tender. To enable competitive bidding on an equal basis, Caledonian MacBrayne was split into two separate companies on 1 October 2006. Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) retained ownership of CalMac vessels and infrastructure, including harbours, while CalMac Ferries Ltd submitted tenders to be the ferry operator. Their bid for the main bundle, Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services, succeeded and on 1 October 2007 CalMac Ferries Ltd began operating these services on a six year contract. The Gourock to Dunoon service was the subject of a separate tender, but no formal bids were made. In an interim arrangement CalMac Ferries Ltd continues to provide a subsidised service on this route.[1][2]

On 14 July 2009, it was announced that CalMac would begin controversial Sunday sailings to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis from Sunday 19 July. These have historically faced strong opposition from strong Sabbatarian elements in the Lewis community, particularly the Lord's Day Observance Society and the Free Church of Scotland. However, CalMac states that EU equality legislation makes it unlawful to refuse a service to the whole community because of the religious beliefs of a part of it.[3]


The company enjoys a de-facto monopoly on the shipment of freight and vehicles to the islands, and competes for passenger traffic with number of aircraft services of varying quality and reliability. Nonetheless, few if any of the routes currently operated by CalMac are profitable, and the company receives significant government subsidies due to its vital role in supplying the islands - these routes are classified as "lifeline" services. In 1996 CalMac opened its first route outside Scotland, winning a ten year contract to provide a lifeline service to Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland.

Various versions of a local poem (based loosely on Psalm 24) refer to MacBrayne's long dominance of Hebridean sailings:

The Earth belongs unto the Lord
And all that it contains
Except the Kyles and the Western Isles
And they are all MacBrayne's

Several groups have proposed privatising the service, and there has been a long commercial and political struggle with a privately owned company, Western Ferries, which has run a rival unsubsidised service from Gourock to Hunters Quay (near Dunoon) since 1973. In 2005 the Scottish Executive put out to competitive tender, the collective routes to the Hebrides as a block, with the Dunoon route being a separate tender.[4] Three operators submitted bids for the routes[5] with Cal-Mac bidding to retain all its existing routes. The Executive will decide in 2006 to whom to award the contracts; successful bidders will run the services on a similar "lifeline" basis to Cal-Mac, and would receive subsidies from the Executive. In September 2006, one of the three interested operators withdrew its interest in the (separate) Gourock to Dunoon route. V. Ships pulled out, leaving only CalMac and Western Ferries to tender for this busy crossing.

Some island and union groups oppose the tendering process, fearing it would lead to cuts in services and could be a prelude to full privatisation. Whilst other islanders, visitors and actual ferry users fear the lack of competition and an every growing state ferry monopoly dominating all Scottish waters.

During the tendering period, the company of David MacBrayne Ltd., which had been legally dormant for many years, was re-activated on 4 July 2006. David MacBrayne Group Ltd. acquired the full share capital of Northlink Ferries Ltd., and took over operations of the Northlink routes on 6 July 2006. During September 2006, David MacBrayne Group Ltd., acquired the entire share capital of CalMac Ferries Ltd. In August 2006, David MacBrayne Group Ltd., directed two of its subsidiary companies, Cowal Ferries Ltd., and Rathlin Ferries Ltd., to take over operation of the Gourock to Dunoon, and Rathlin to Ballycastle services. Thus, from leaving the hands of David MacBrayne 68 years earlier in 1928, the west coast ferry service returned to the fold in 2006 vastly enlarged.


MV Saturn (Satharn in Gaelic) arrives at Gourock.
MV Hebridean Isles at Scrabster
Between And Crossing Voyage Time Regular Vessel(s)
Gourock, Inverclyde Dunoon, Cowal Peninsula Firth of Clyde 0 hours 23 minutes MV Jupiter
Tarbert, Kintyre Peninsula Portavadie, Cowal Loch Fyne 0 hours 25 minutes MV Isle of Cumbrae
Wemyss Bay, Inverclyde Rothesay, Isle of Bute Firth of Clyde 0 hours 35 minutes MVs Argyle & Bute
Colintraive, Cowal Rhubodach, Northern Bute Kyles of Bute 0 hours 5 minutes MV Loch Dunvegan
Largs, North Ayrshire Cumbrae Slip, Millport, Isle of Cumbrae Firth of Clyde 0 hours 10 minutes MVs Loch Shira & Loch Riddon
Ardrossan, North Ayrshire Brodick, Isle of Arran Firth of Clyde 0 hours 55 minutes MV Caledonian Isles
Claonaig, Eastern Kintyre Peninsula Lochranza, Isle of Arran Sound of Bute 0 hours 30 minutes MV Loch Tarbert
Tayinloan, Western Kintyre Ardminish, Isle of Gigha 0 hours 20 minutes MV Loch Ranza
Kennacraig, Western Kintyre Port Ellen, Southern Islay via West Loch Tarbert 2 hours 20 minutes MVs Hebridean Isles & Isle of Arran
Kennacraig Port Askaig, Eastern Islay Sound of Islay 2 hours 5 minutes MVs Hebridean Isles & Isle of Arran
Port Askaig Scalasaig, Isle of Colonsay 1 hour 10 minutes MVs Hebridean Isles & Isle of Arran
Oban, Argyll Scalasaig, Colonsay 2 hours 20 minutes MV Isle of Mull
Oban Craignure, Isle of Mull Firth of Lorne 0 hours 46 minutes MV Isle of Mull
Lochaline, Morvern Peninsula Fishnish, Mull Sound of Mull 0 hours 15 minutes MV Loch Fyne
Kilchoan, Ardnamurchan Peninsula Tobermory, Mull Sound of Mull 0 hours 35 minutes MV Loch Linnhe
Fionnphort, Ross of Mull Iona Sound of Iona 0 hours 5 minutes MV Loch Buie
Oban Achnacroish, Isle of Lismore Lynn of Lorne 0 hours 50 minutes MV Eigg
Oban Arinagour, Isle of Coll Firth of Lorne / Sound of Mull 2 hours 55 minutes MV Clansman
Oban Scarinish, Isle of Tiree Sound of Mull / Little Minch 3 hours 20 minutes MV Clansman
Oban Castlebay, Isle of Barra Sound of Mull / Little Minch 5 hours MV Clansman
Oban Lochboisdale, South Uist Sound of Mull / Little Minch 5 hours 20 minutes MV Clansman
Mallaig, Sleat Peninsula Armadale, Isle of Skye Sound of Sleat 0 hours 25 minutes MV Coruisk
Mallaig Small Isles (Eigg, Muck, Rùm & Canna) MV Lochnevis
Sconser, Skye Raasay Narrows of Raasay 0 hours 15 minutes MV Loch Striven
Ardmhor (Barra) Isle of Eriskay (connected to South Uist by causeway) Sound of Barra 0 hours 40 minutes MV Loch Alainn
Uig, Skye Lochmaddy, North Uist 1 hour 45 minutes MV Hebrides
Uig Tarbert, Harris 1 hour 45 minutes MV Hebrides
Leverburgh, Harris Isle of Berneray (connected to North Uist by causeway) Sound of Harris 1 hour MV Loch Portain
Ullapool, Wester Ross Stornoway, Lewis The Minch 2 hours 45 minutes MVs Isle of Lewis & Muirneag

Other Vessels

MV Loch Bhrusda is a spare Clyde-based vessel
MV Lord of the Isles is an Oban-based vessel, working on various routes. She has her own roster, operating mainly to the Outer Isles, but often to Mull (once a week in summer alternate in winter) and to Colonsay (summer only and the occasional winter month)
MV Juno has been decommissioned and is without a passenger licence and is laid up in Rosneath.
MV Saturn has been laid up in Rosneath however Saturn is used to relieve Jupiter and operates addtional services to Arran

Passenger Numbers

Passenger Numbers on CalMac Routes(2007)[6]
Route Total Passengers (2007) Passengers (2006) Passenger Difference  % Change
Wemyss Bay - Rothesay 770,316 759,680 10,636 1.40
Ardrossan - Brodick 749,062 735,928 13,134 1.78
Claonaig - Lochranza/Tarbet 54,514 52,393 2,121 4.05
Largs - Cumbrae 750,416 722,561 27,855 3.86
Colintravie - Rhubodach 257,528 264,644 -7,116 2.69
Tarbet - Portavadie 60,460 67,605 -7,145 10.57
Kennacraig - Islay 157,408 152,526 4,882 3.20
Oban - Craignure 596,742 640,426 -43,684 6.82
Oban - Castlebay/Lochboisdale 46,562 45,296 1,266 2.79
Lochaline - Fishnish 130,097 132,897 -2,800 2.11
Kennacraig - Islay - Colonsay - Oban 8,685 7,309 1,376 18.83
Oban - Inner/Outer Hebrides 9,419 9,494 -75 0.79

Current fleet

Calmac has 29 vessels in current service. There are 8 'major units' - ships of 80 m or more in length. The largest ship is the MV Isle of Lewis at 101 m in length. The others are MV Clansman, MV Hebrides, MV Caledonian Isles, MV Isle of Mull, MV Hebridean Isles, MV Isle of Arran and MV Lord of the Isles.

There are 13 "Loch Class" vessels in the company, in different shapes and sizes. These are double-ended ferries with no operational bow or stern (although in official documents the designation of such is given). They are usually symmetrical in shape when viewed from the side. MV Loch Portain is able to handle Force 7 gales and carry 36 cars and 149 passengers, with a crew of 5. Calmac's smallest vessels are the 22.5 m "Island Class" ships. They were built as the predecessors to the "Loch Class" and are now slowly being taken out of service. Only three of the original 8 remain in the fleet.

The company is adapting to the demands of 21st century. In 2007 MV Bute (built in 2005 in Gdansk, Poland) was joined on the Wemyss Bay / Rothesay route by an almost identical sister, MV Argyle. A new "super loch", MV Loch Shira was built for the Largs / Cumbrae route, entering service in 2007. A new vessel is expected on the Islay service in Spring 2011. This has been ordered from the Remontowa Yard in Gdansk, Poland for £24.5 million. The new vessel, to be named MV Finlaggan,[7] will be 89.90m long and capable of 16.5 knots. The vessel is designed to carry 550 passengers, up to 88 cars, as well as coaches, cars and commercial vehicles. She will also be capable of carrying dangerous goods.[8][9]



  • Clyde Pleasure Steamers - Ian McCrorie, Orr, Pollock & Co. Ltd., Greenock, ISBN 1-869850-00-9
  • Steamers of the Highlands and Islands - Ian McCrorie, Orr, Pollock & Co. Ltd., Greenock,, ISBN 1-869850-01-7
  • To the Coast: One Hundred Years of the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. - Ian McCrorie, Fairlie Press, Fairlie 1989, ISBN 1-871209-01-3
  • The Kingdom of MacBrayne - Nick S. Robins and Donald E. Meek., Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh 2006, ISBN 1-84158-500-9
  • Days At The Coast - Robert Preston., Stenlake Publishing, Ochiltree 1994, ISBN 1-872074-42-1

External links


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