Maybe including those aboard Manannan when she suffered a systems failure and made a hard landing on the Victoria Pier in Douglas when arriving from Liverpool during the Easter rush on March 24th. She suffered some crumpling in one of her aluminium hulls and five passengers were checked out in hospital. Drydocking at Cammell Lairds and tidal delays there meant she was not back in service until April 3rd. Meanwhile, Arrow took all the freight and Ben My Chree was dedicated to passengers for several days. There was considerable praise for the way IOMSP handled the untimely problem while the investigation into the cause is awaited with interest.
Meanwhile, I can hardly recall when there was not a debate or controversy surrounding the Bute ferries. A grumble recently arose when commuters were turned away, the ship being full, when it appeared that cars belonging to the crew were being transported to and fro as if it was their floating car park. If true, it is no way to make friends and influence people, especially when Calmac’s operating contract is soon due for retendering. But a more profound issue has taken over from the others, at least for a month or so. It is a campaign long latent, but maybe being resurrected for a bridge between Bute and the mainland.
In the Victorian era, the large attractive island of Bute in the Upper Firth of Clyde and its main town, Rothesay, became a prominent summer destination for the burgeoning industrial populations of the Central Belt of Scotland, particularly Glasgow and its satellite iron making and coal mining towns. ‘Going doon the watter’ from the Broomielaw in central Glasgow has passed into world folklore. The Clyde paddle steamers became legendary with breakneck competition to serve the developing resorts of which Rothesay on Bute was supreme. The local builders vied to turn out faster and more luxurious vessels, many of which would move on to other waters when replaced by the latest model. The excursion steamer business survived WW2, but began to run down in the 50s and 60s as other forms of recreation and the private car became common. Bute transmuted to a commuter dormitory town, but one wholly dependent on the less picturesque than the steamers, but mundane and practical motor ships and, increasingly, car ferries.
So today, Bute is served by the sisters Bute and Argyle on this lifeline route linking to the Scottish mainland via the newly refurbished Wemyss Bay terminal. Then from the Northern end of the island across the Kyles of Bute by sheltered water floating bridge type ferry, currently Loch Dunvegan, is a five minute hop between Colintraive on the Cowal peninsula and Rhubodach on Bute. Part of the Kyles of Bute is only 300ms across and some Bute islanders and others who advocate a bridge here would, at a stroke, make the island seem less isolated and less weather dependent, though it is hardly a clear cut argument.
It is difficult to say whether the pro or anti bridge factions will win the day. A bridge would at least save the Kyle ferry operating costs but: a traveller landing in Cowal heading for Glasgow has a far longer road journey than if they had boarded ship in Rothesay. Cowal is a beautiful peninsula, but its road links are poor. Inevitably the expression ‘a bridge from Bute to nowhere’ has already been quoted.