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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 Scotlandmarker and 22 of the major islands on Scotland's west coast. It is publicly owned and controlled by the Scottish Government.


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 Glasgowmarker down the Firth of Clydemarker through the Crinan Canalmarker to Obanmarker and Fort Williammarker, and on through the Caledonian Canalmarker to Invernessmarker. With the retirement of its founders 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 Greenockmarker and continue on to the fishing village of Gourockmarker, 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 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 Ardrishaigmarker ended on 30 September 1969, leaving the Clyde entirely to the CSP.

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.

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 Gourockmarker to Dunoonmarker 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.

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.


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 Islandmarker in Northern Irelandmarker.

Various versions of a local poem 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 Gourockmarker to Hunters Quay (near Dunoonmarker) 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. Three operators submitted bids for the routes 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 Hebridean Isles at Scrabster
Between And Crossing Voyage Time Regular Vessel(s)
Gourockmarker, Inverclydemarker Dunoonmarker, Cowal Peninsulamarker Firth of Clydemarker 0 hours 23 minutes
Tarbertmarker, Kintyre Peninsulamarker Portavadiemarker, Cowal Loch Fynemarker 0 hours 25 minutes
Wemyss Baymarker, Inverclyde Rothesaymarker, Isle of Butemarker Firth of Clyde 0 hours 35 minutes MVs &
Colintraivemarker, Cowal Rhubodachmarker, Northern Bute Kyles of Butemarker 0 hours 5 minutes
Largsmarker, North Ayrshire Cumbrae Slip, Millportmarker, Isle of Cumbraemarker Firth of Clyde 0 hours 10 minutes MVs &
Ardrossanmarker, North Ayrshire Brodickmarker, Isle of Arranmarker Firth of Clyde 0 hours 55 minutes
Claonaigmarker, Eastern Kintyre Peninsulamarker Lochranzamarker, Isle of Arran Sound of Bute 0 hours 30 minutes
Tayinloanmarker, Western Kintyre Ardminishmarker, Isle of Gighamarker 0 hours 20 minutes
Kennacraigmarker, Western Kintyre Port Ellenmarker, Southern Islaymarker via West Loch Tarbertmarker 2 hours 20 minutes MVs &
Kennacraig Port Askaigmarker, Eastern Islay Sound of Islay 2 hours 5 minutes MVs &
Port Askaigmarker Scalasaigmarker, Isle of Colonsaymarker 1 hour 10 minutes MVs &
Obanmarker, Argyllmarker Scalasaig, Colonsay 2 hours 20 minutes
Oban Craignuremarker, Isle of Mullmarker Firth of Lornemarker 0 hours 40 minutes
Lochalinemarker, Morvern Peninsulamarker Fishnishmarker, Mull Sound of Mull 0 hours 15 minutes
Kilchoanmarker, Ardnamurchan Peninsulamarker Tobermorymarker, Mull Sound of Mull 0 hours 35 minutes
Fionnphortmarker, Ross of Mullmarker Ionamarker Sound of Ionamarker 0 hours 5 minutes
Oban Achnacroishmarker, Isle of Lismoremarker Lynn of Lorne 0 hours 50 minutes
Oban Arinagourmarker, Isle of Collmarker Firth of Lorne / Sound of Mull 2 hours 55 minutes
Oban Scarinishmarker, Isle of Tireemarker Sound of Mull / Little Minch 3 hours 20 minutes
Oban Castlebaymarker, Isle of Barramarker Sound of Mull / Little Minch 5 hours
Oban Lochboisdalemarker, South Uistmarker Sound of Mull / Little Minch 5 hours 20 minutes
Mallaigmarker, Sleat Peninsulamarker Armadale, Isle of Skyemarker Sound of Sleat 0 hours 25 minutes
Mallaig Small Islesmarker (Eiggmarker, Muckmarker, Rùmmarker & Cannamarker)
Sconser, Skye Raasaymarker Narrows of Raasay 0 hours 15 minutes
Ardmhormarker (Barramarker) Isle of Eriskaymarker (connected to South Uistmarker by causeway) Sound of Barra 0 hours 40 minutes
Uigmarker, Skye Lochmaddymarker, North Uistmarker 1 hour 45 minutes
Uig Tarbertmarker, Harrismarker 1 hour 45 minutes
Leverburghmarker, Harris Isle of Berneraymarker (connected to North Uistmarker by causeway) Sound of Harris 1 hour
Ullapoolmarker, Wester Ross Stornowaymarker, Lewismarker The Minchmarker 2 hours 45 minutes MVs &

Other Vessels

is a spare Clyde-based vessel;
is an Oban-based vessel, working on various routes. She has her own roster, operating mainly to the Outer Isles, but often to Mull and occasionally to Colonsay and Islay;
has been decommissioned and is without a passenger licence.
has been laid up on the Clyde but is available for service

Passenger Numbers

Passenger Numbers on CalMac Routes(2007)
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 at 101 m in length. The others are , , , , , and .

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. 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 (built in 2005 in Gdansk, Poland) was joined on the Wemyss Baymarker / Rothesaymarker route by an almost identical sister, . A new "super loch", was built for the Largsmarker / Cumbraemarker route, entering service in 2007. A new vessel is expected on the Islay service in Spring 2011. This has been ordered from the Remontowa Yardmarker in Gdansk, Poland for £24.5 million. The new vessel 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. The vessel will also be capable of carrying dangerous goods.



  • 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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