A catamaran is coming…

We are still waiting for the new Transport Minister Graeme Dey to respond to the findings of Strathclyde University’s report into the new-build catamaran, the purchase of which we have been campaigning for many months. As yet we have had no response to the report that was part paid for by the public generosity of Mull and Iona residents. Our MSP Jenni Minto has met with him however, and lobbied on our behalf on more than one occasion, but as yet we have had no substantive response. The report proves CMAL’s assertion that the catamaran cannot achieve certification from the MCA to be completely false. Rather, it lays out how the catamaran has far greater chance of surviving damage than any of CalMac’s monohulls. So, as well as being more reliable, cheaper to build, cheaper to run, more efficient, having lower emissions, easier to fit the pier, quicker to build, more flexible and better at withstanding windy weather …. we can also say that a medium-speed catamaran would be safer than a CalMac monohull too. Despite this, Scottish Government and Transport Scotland remain silent on whether they will take the opportunity or not.

Part of the reason for the lack of action regarding ‘our’ catamaran may be that another catamaran is being investigated by Transport Scotland, and now it may be about to join the CalMac fleet. The MV Pentalina (pictured above) was the first medium-speed catamaran car ferry to enter service in Scotland. She was built for Pentland Ferries in 2008, and has worked the service to Orkney across the wild Pentland Firth very successfully ever since then. The privately-operated route has been so successful that last year the Pentalina was replaced by a new and larger catamaran, the Alfred.

Communities and experts across the Hebrides have been telling Scottish Government that they should take the opportunity this presents, and either buy or charter the Pentalina. Our campaign for the new-build cat has added to the many voices advocating that CMAL need to look beyond the ever more expensive, ever larger, ever more complex, slab-sided, fuel thirsty and unproductive monohulls they seem to favour. Finally, perhaps partly out of desperation and the sense of crisis in the ferry system, Scottish Government have decided to heed that advice, and charter the Pentalina.

The Pentalina is already performing berthing trials. Over the weekend she travelled from Kirkwall down to Campbeltown, and today she tested her ability to berth in both Brodick and Ardrossan. Over the next few days she will be heading north, and will test both Oban and Craignure piers for fit. If the berthing trials are successful, we believe that a long-term charter will almost certainly go ahead. The Pentalina could be in the fleet until 801 and 802 are finally delivered.

Pentalina’s journey of June 14th, trial berthing in Campbeltown, Brodick and Ardrossan.

CalMac have already been in touch, and have said they will be consulting with us and other islands that might benefit from her deployment. It’s possible that she might be put to work on any of the major vessel routes, but we believe it is likely that this summer she will be trialled on several.

Whilst this is really positive news, there are draw-backs with the Pentalina that make her less attractive than the new-build we have been advocating. Firstly, she only has one vehicle ramp, at the stern. This is no problem for cars because the deck is wide enough for them to easily turn around. Trucks, large vans and cars with large trailers will need to reverse either on or off, and that could cause some problems. It will make quick turnarounds difficult to achieve, and depending on the linkspan and pier layout, may prove difficult in some ports. The passenger access system will also not fit, so foot passengers will have to walk on via the car deck (like they currently have to on the Coruisk at Craignure).

On the positive side however, there are some real benefits –

  • She is likely to be small enough to berth overnight reliably at Craignure – so not only could she take over the Coruisk’s role in summer, but she could give us the ‘Island Focussed’ service we have been campaigning for in winter. By berthing in Craignure each night instead of Oban, the first sailing of each day would leave the island, and the last would return to it. That would:
    • give us much longer on the mainland
    • make many more train and bus connections possible
    • make year-round commuting possible
    • make onward connections much easier.
  • She should give a much more reliable service during windy winter weather. Catamarans are naturally much more manoeuvrable, as well as being lower and less vulnerable to wind. The Pentalina has an excellent weather-reliability record, and she should bring that resilience to her new CalMac role.
  • She has about 50% more car capacity than the Coruisk, and at 58 cars is almost identical to the Isle of Mull. So she could increase capacity in the summer (if she replaced the Coruisk) and give us the same deck space as the Isle of Mull in winter.
Pentalina just off Craignure on Sunday 13th, heading to Campbeltown for trials.

CalMac will ultimately decide where to deploy the Pentalina, and there will be a multitude of operational and practical considerations. That will include how easily she can load and unload in each port, her suitability for different routes (she has limited catering facilities, so may not be suitable for longer routes), and of course, where she might make the best impact. The case for deploying her to Mull is strong, not least because our need is great (we have the most congested service in the network) but also because she could radically improve our winter timetable. She would also allow the Coruisk to return to Mallaig-Armadale, where she is very much missed. Ever since she was removed from that service, the Armadale timetable has been operated by a mixture of ill-suited vessels that cannot berth in all tides or cope with the traffic demand.

The new-build catamaran (which incidentally, was designed by the same company who created the Pentalina) would be a much better solution for Mull, but the chances of getting that are diminishing every day. The CalMac fleet desperately needs the Pentalina, but the lack of bow ramps that would allow vehicles to easily drive through is a significant compromise.

Let us know what you think. Would you like to see the Pentalina work the Craignure-Oban route? Leave a comment below, or on our Facebook page, or email us. We want to know what you think!

8 thoughts on “A catamaran is coming…

  1. Excellent choice and if really problematic for lorries, these could always be put on the Mull. As ex merchant navy, I can see the benefits for the island having catamaran as our ferry and also know of their superior safety issues.
    Hoping this will be the case both for the Pentalina and also for the new builds.

  2. I think the introduction of the Pentolina to replace the Coruisk would be a real boon to the island and for the Calmac fleet. To have this running alongside the MV Isle of Mull would really enhance out service. I agree that the spec of the new build catamaran should be our main aim and continuing lobbying for that should continue but to address our immediate need this could be a good solution.

  3. Wonderful work, thank you. It seems the obvious solution. It would be so good to have a more reliable service and one that would give the possibility of a full working day in Oban.

  4. I am all for the leasing of the Pentalina but would urge the powers that be to go ahead with the purchase and conversion of the more suitable catamaran being built at present.

  5. Reversing trailers onto the Pentalina and the Alfred is not difficult, the turn round time up North is really quick. Before the ‘critics’ opinionate they should try it or go and see it. A subsidy free private enterprise can run a service and the islanders benefit, RMT will always find issue but perhaps they are one of the problems along with the non-catamaran ludites.

  6. It looks like a good solution and anything that provides a more robust service in winter is definitely a good idea. As a live shellfish business, the frequency of ferry cancellations in the winter is a real problem. I understand the Orkney service is cancelled significantly less often in more extreme weather conditions.

  7. Given the woes on the west coast, if the trials go well it would make sense to charter the Pentalina and buy the new build catamaran. Both Glen S and 802 are well behind schedule and the new Islay ferry is long way off. Only by having a Cat on service for a prolonged length of time will CM Assets have the data to change their view on Cat operations.

  8. She’s due to arrive in Orkney tomorrow (Friday) mid-morning, although CalMac has not ruled out future trials on the Stornoway-Ullapool route as part of their quest to improve resilience in the fleet. CalMac spokesperson said today: “We are still investigating. The berthing trials are finishing due to other commitments, however more may take place elsewhere on the network.”

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