The day the MV Isle of Arran came back home
The MV Isle of Arran has left at the end of another summer season, but there is a fascinating history behind the oldest vessel in the CalMac fleet. Here NORMAN BROWN tells of the vessel’s construction and how it was brought into service 34 years ago.
At the time of the construction of the MV Isle of Arran I was the production director in the Ferguson yard, which was then known as Ferguson Ailsa Ltd, being a subsidiary company of the nationalised British Shipbuilders.
In the early days of nationalisation, Fergusons were part of the Lithgow group of Port Glasgow and as such benefited from the support of the parent company in respect of pipe work, joinery work, pipe manufacture and fitting. Most importantly also, the use of the Lithgow outfitting quay.
With Scott Lithgow, a merger consisting of Scott’s of Greenock and Lithgow’s Ltd, designat- ed as an offshore facility, resulting in Fergusons becoming independent from its parent company, during the time of the Isle of Arran’s construction had to set up in-house pipe, joinery work and fitting while at the same time being amalgamated with the Ailsa Shipbuilders of Troon. This new company became Ferguson Ailsa, all as part of the commercial arm of British Shipbuilders Ltd.
During this period, both Ferguson and Ailsa benefited from considerable investment in equipment and modern techniques. Principal among these at the Port Glasgow yard was the introduction of a flat panel steel assembly and welding facility.
The MV Isle of Arran being the first vessel to be constructed proved to be somewhat of a learning curve and to maximise on the panel line, as it was known, cambered decks were designed out, with the rather unfortunate consequence of very external wet decks, still apparent today despite all efforts to mitigate this. Now you know!
Also proposed for the Ferguson yard was the erection of a building hall. With the closure of the Barclay Curle yard at Scotstoun in Glasgow, this facility became available elsewhere within the corporation.
Unfortunately, planning permission was refused due to its proposed new site being in close proximity to Newark Castle, with Hall Russell’s Aberdeen yard benefiting instead with the erection of the redundant building taking place there.
However, as a quid pro quo, Ferguson Ailsa were one of the first British yards to have computer graphics installed which dovetailed nicely with the panel line referred to above.
This facility pioneered the introduction of advanced outfitting techniques and a just in time delivery schedule of materials and equipment. Not much in evidence as far as I can see with the new MV Glen Sannox due for delivery next year.
Notwithstanding the aspect of flat panels, rounded funnels are well in evidence on this ship, the only CalMac vessel left, I think, that has this design feature. Naval architects have a thing about funnel design.
Prior to delivery, the vessel was dry-docked in Glasgow, travelling under her own steam in her pre-delivery livery prior to final painting – under the Erskine bridge on her way there.
A painting of another sort was commissioned just prior to dry-docking which shows the vessel at the Ferguson outfitting facility under the hammer head crane at James Watt Dock in Greenock. Lithgow’s Kingston basin being out of bounds as explained previously.
I have in my possession, the only facsimile of the original painting, which presumably resides with Ferguson Marine at Port Glasgow. Surely it was rescued prior to the office demolition there.
I well remember, as a local boy, bringing the ship in for berthing trials and, on being tied up alongside at Brodick pier, there was a large contingent of curious locals gathered there. With the gangway down and the expectant group at the bottom, it took only an almost imperceptible nod of my head to have an informal and close view of the impending new arrival.
They rushed up the gangway accordingly and left in an orderly fashion when the time was up, satisfied I am sure that this would be a vessel which would serve the island well. And so I believe it proved.
In those days it was CalMac practice to publish their timetables showing commencement of regular sailings, coincident or nearly so with the builders’ planned delivery programme without any margin for delay or shakedown.
After an introductory cruise for those and such as those, including our then Westminster MP John Corrie and captained by the late Alex Ferrier, the vessel entered service on December 2, 1983.
During this cruise, the vessel came to a unscheduled stop. My heart sank as I thought that a recurrent problem during sea trials was once more in evidence, a problem with engine cooling, never quite resolved as evidence by a puff of black smoke on take way.
But no. Captain Ferrier only wanted to demonstrate the ship’s manoeuvrability with the bow thruster propelled by the engine which blew up recently and where we started out with this article.
I hope that with the introduction of the new MVGlen Sannox, the MV Isle of Arran will still have a part to play in the CalMac fleet. If not, a little bit of me will go with her.
The Isle of Arran with its new livery is towed under the Erskine bridge.
Norman Brown with a picture of the painting of the Isle of Arran at the Ferguson outfitting facility at James Watt Dock in Greenock.