A BREAKDOWN-plagued Caledonian MacBrayne ferry that has failed to make more than 2,000 scheduled sailings this year is finally being prepared for a hoped-for return this month.

MV Argyll Flyer — which plies the Gourock-Dunoon run — has been laid up since April without working propellers following a major mechanical issue which has decimated services.

New propulsion gear had to be designed and fitted by marine engineering experts at Dales dry dock in Greenock and the vessel is now undergoing sea trials.

The Flyer had been initially due to resume sailings in May, and then September, but her return was pushed back again to October 25 after it emerged that 'significant' work still required to be done.

The vessel was pictured harnessed and being lowered by cranes into the water at Dales to begin tests on the new propellers.

CalMac's head of operations, Finlay MacRae, said: "I am pleased to report that MV Argyll Flyer is now on the water undergoing sea trials.

"The two new propellers were supplied and fitted and, on demonstration of the vessel's performance criteria being met, we hope to have her back on the network as soon as possible."

There have been 13 cancelled sailings every day, for six days a week, since the Flyer went off on April 6.

Scotland's national ferries operator has limped on with an hourly service on the lifeline commuter route after abandoning efforts to charter a replacement vessel.

The tiny 78 gross tonnage boat MV Ali Cat — which can only sail in clear, calm conditions and in a sea state which causes only moderate rolling and/or pitching — has plied the run solo.

There have been a number occasions since April when the route has had no vessel because Ali Cat has been unable to cope with windy weather — leaving passengers with delayed journey times and having to use a replacement bus on Western Ferries.

CalMac's passenger-only service between Gourock and Dunoon has endured around 15,000 cancelled sailings since 2011 through a mixture of mechanical failures and its vessels being too light to cope with certain conditions.

CalMac's Clyde operations manager Tommy Gore said: "Before a new propeller can be built, there is a significant amount of design work that needs to be undertaken to ensure that they will correctly support vessel drive and manoeuvrability."

The company's Mr MacRae said: "Work to complete the annual overhaul and upgrade has taken longer than expected and I apologise for the disruption that this has caused to those who rely on this service.

"Thank-you to our customers for their continued patience."


Pics by Tele reader Bert Boyd