Western Ferries

Western Ferries

Infobox Company
company_name = Western Ferries
company_type = Private
foundation = 1968
location = Dunoon, Scotland, UK
key_people = Gordon Ross "(Managing Director)"
homepage = [http://www.western-ferries.co.uk Western-ferries.co.uk]

Western Ferries is a private ferry company with its headquarters in Dunoon, Scotland. It currently operates on the River Clyde running a year-round, high-frequency service between Dunoon and Gourock in Inverclyde.


In the mid 1960s the islands on the west coast of Scotland were served by two kinds of vessel; mail ferries operated by David MacBrayne Ltd and "puffers" - small bulk cargo vessels capable of landing at simple piers or on the beach to discharge coal, lime etc. MacBrayne’s also operated a number of cargo vessels out of Glasgow. None of these vessels was equipped to deal with road transport.

The three car ferries owned by MacBrayne's were all side-loading and not suited to carrying the sharply increasing growth in tourist traffic or commercial vehicles. In 1966 three people engaged in contracting work on the west coast decided to set up the Eileann Sea Service. With the help of an HIDB loan a landing craft type vessel, "Isle of Gigha", was constructed and started operation in the middle of the seaman's strike. But in November the ship capsized and this put the company in financial difficulty.

If anything further were to happen, more money and technical back-up were needed. A group of Scottish businessmen having special interest in shipping and haulage matters, many of whom also had local interest in Islay and Jura, subscribed £100,000 capital and Western Ferries was set up. "The Sound of Islay" was ordered from Ferguson Brothers of Port Glasgow. She was designed to carry 20 cars or a combination of cars and commercial vehicles. She was launched amid a storm of derision.

Trading began on April 7th 1968 between Kennacraig, West Loch Tarbert, and Islay. The service provided a new facility (roll-on roll-off), it operated twice as frequently as the existing boat to Islay, and it offered lower rates without the benefit of subsidy. Unlike its competitor, it operated seven days a week, at night if required, and was punctual. It was immediately successful not only in taking the traffic which had formerly used mail or cargo services but also in converting much of the bulk trade which had formerly travelled in "puffers" to using trailers, thus saving on time, handling, breakage, pilferage and port dues. Also lower rates meant a general increase in trade and the volume was such that a larger and faster vessel was required. The "Sound of Jura" had to be ordered from Norway. She came into operation in 1969 with three sailings a day. The capital of the company was increased to £250,000. Western Ferries had already formed a very close working relationship with a local haulier. He opened depots near both ferry terminals so that trailers could be moved on and off the vessels quickly without drivers and tractors units having to cross with them. He provided a parcel service as well as bulk service, and with dedication, grass roots expertise and low rates he built a thriving business.

At the beginning of 1969 the Port Askaig (Islay) Feolin (Jura) service began, a high frequency service across a short stretch of water with a landing craft type vessel (the "Isle of Gigha" now modified and renamed "Sound of Gigha", capable of carrying the largest commercial vehicle permitted on the road, or six cars). This effectively joined Islay and Jura and increased the traffic to the mainland. Jura was now served by three through sailings a day instead of three per week and both islands could now enjoy things which had hitherto been luxuries, like fresh fruit.

In 1970, the "Sound of Islay" commenced the Campbeltown (Scotland) to Red Bay (Northern Ireland) service and was successful with the initial help of a cement strike in Ireland and a dock strike in England. Attempts to keep up a winter service, primarily with timber, were unsuccessful. The ship continued to operate a summer service until 1973 and spent the winter on charter work all up and down the West Coast carrying every conceivable kind of cargo provided it was legal. She acted as relief vessel to Islay when the "Sound of Jura" was going to drydock.

In May 1973, Western Ferries opened a new route across the Clyde between McInroy’s Point (Gourock) and Hunters Quay (Dunoon) using two modified Swedish vessels the "Sound of Scarba" and the "Sound of Shuna", plus in mid 1974, an ex-British Rail vessel "M.V. Limington" renamed "Sound of Sanda". This service was much shorter than the parallel Caledonian MacBrayne service, (Cal-mac's ferries are considerably faster than those of Western Ferries, but they do take a longer route so both operators take around the same time to make the crossing, usually around 20 minutes). The 'Sound' vessels of Western made the journey simpler for all kinds of vehicles which had only to drive on one end of the ferry and off the other, and rates would have been lower than Cal-Mac had they not reduced their rates on this route just before the Western Ferries service commenced. The service is regular, frequent and operates late hours if the traffic warrants. While Caledonian MacBrayne expressed surprise at the duplication of service, traffic has developed so considerably as to keep both services very active indeed.


At present the company runs a reliable fleet of four purpose built vessels. The two newest being built to order at the nearby Ferguson Shipbuilders in Port Glasgow.The company employs 57 staff including six directors of which 50 live in the Dunoon area. []

In late 2006 a facility restructure project was embarked upon and completed in September 2007. This involved enlarging of the car marshalling areas and installation of a second linkspan at both Hunters Quay and McInroys Point. The frequency of the service however remains the same. During peak periods all four ferries are in operation providing a crossing every 15 minutes. At other times, three crossings per hour are provided whilst evenings and quieter times see a vessel depart every 30 minutes.

Further Information

The Company takes its place in the community very seriously and re-invests its financial resources by employing a local workforce and through local purchasing. Funds are also made available for the sponsorship of local groups, individuals, sports organisations and charities. Specifically, Western Ferries sponsor local sporting events like the Cowal Highland Gathering and the annual "Western Ferries Pro-Am golf tournament".

Another service Western Ferries provide to the local community is the provision of a 24hour call-out service for the Scottish Ambulance Service, providing round the clock carriage across the Clyde for Ambulances carrying emergency cases to hospitals in Greenock, Paisley and Glasgow

In 2001, Western Ferries launched a new vessel built by Fergusons of Port Glasgow. She is called the "Sound of Scarba", as the old vessel was sold after a few years of mooring in the Holy Loch.

Western Ferries' habit of naming ships after geographical straits is confusing to the newcomers since they all appear to be operating off station.

Present Fleet

External links

* [http://www.western-ferries.co.uk/ Western Ferries Official website]

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