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.

The Arran Banner - - Nostalgia -

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.

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