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.
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.
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!