SURGERY A Linkspan Replacement

The replacement of the 'linkspan' at the CMAL pier on the Isle of Tiree was elective surgery and the original date was scheduled for Monday the 24th of February. However, in the weeks leading up to the scheduled date, Tiree lay in the path of two named storms and this resulted in cancellation of numerous crossings. As a consequence CalMac and CMAL rescheduled the operation to begin on Friday 28 February 2020.

Tiree's Linkspan To Be Replaced

The linkspan acts as a bridge that can be raised and lowered according to the tide. It links the ferry to shore, providing the access way for transferring vehicles - and sometimes foot passengers - on and off 'Roll On - Roll Off' vessels.

Surgery Required

The linkspan is situated between two concrete dolphins which are anchored to the seabed by piles. On the shore side the linkspan sits in a backseat which in turn allows the linkspan to rotate up and down as necessary. Steel ropes support the linkspan to the dolphins and as these ropes are adjusted so it is raised or lowered as necessary. A control cabinet is located on either side of the linkspan.

'Pre-Op' for Surgery began in mid-January

Preparatory work for the operation began in January. In the meantime two storms battered the island. Surgery had to be postponed for a number of days.

Last vehicle to cross the linkspan

Normally the Isle of Tiree has only one crossing a day from the Mainland port of Oban. However on the day before the operation, two ferry crossings took place. The second crossing was during the hours of winter darkness. The last vehicle to cross the old linkspan was owned by local haulage firm, I.A. MacKinnon. As often is the case in the return crossing it was piggy back style with one lorry loaded onto of the trailer of the other.

The arrival of 'Lara 1'

The very next morning, Friday the 28 February, around 8:00am the crane barge 'Lara 1' arrived in Gott Bay in readiness for the operation.

'Lara 1 - A Mammoth of a Crane

This crane vessel "Lara 1" is a highly maneuverable craneship, equipped with a reliable and robust electrical powered FIGEE offshore crane and belongs to the fleet of Hapo International Barges B.V. whose headquarters are in Rotterdam/Ridderkerk.

'Lara 1' anchored in Gott Bay

Until the actual day of surgery 'Lara 1' remained at anchor in Gott Bay.

Foot Passengers only during the operation

For the duration of the whole operation, including the commissioning of the linkspan, the ferry is operating a foot passenger only service to the island. The occasional mail bags have come by ferry, but most of the mail comes to the island by plane anyway.

'Lara 1' at first light of the morning of the operation

The actual operation of lifting the old linkspan and replacing it with the new one was carried out on Tuesday the 3rd of March. Due to a prior commitment, Life on Tiree is most grateful for photographs from S. Nagy and D. Taylor of the event. Thankfully we did manage to capture 'Lara 1' at first light.

Preparing for Surgery

Almost unbelievably there was a suitable weather window on the Tuesday and preparatory work saw 'Lara 1' on the move at first light. With the barge swung round from when she first entered the bay, the linkspan could be clearly seen.

'Lara 1' coming alongside the pier on the morning of the operation

From the deck of the ferry, the MV Clansman, the orange coloured sling could be seen wrapped around the linkspan. This would later be attached to the crane's hook to enable lifting to take place.

Prepared for the operation

Upon our return to Tiree a new linkspan would be in place. For the time being we had to suffice with a last look back at the old linkspan.

A final look back at the linkspan

Out in the Passage of Tiree, as we made our way to the Mainland, we witnessed the small coastal vessel 'Carly' carrying freight to the island.


The freight for the island is being shipped in containers which are then lifted off the vessel by mobile crane. On at least one occasion this transfer has taken place during hours of darkness because of the forecast of stormy weather approaching Tiree.

Carly alongside the pier

Thus on Tuesday afternoon, after the departure of the 'MV Clansman' and 'Carly,' surgery commenced. In the afternoon there was a slight breeze but not sufficient to stop the operation.

Surgery commences

Fist of all the old old linkspan had to be lifted by the crane.

Surgery underway as the old linkspan is lifted

This whole operation required careful, skilful handling by the team working on the surgery.

Surgery progressing - out with the old

The linkspan had first of all to be lifted out of the backseat in which it is located.

Surgery continues

Then the old linkspan had to be lifted clear of the dolphins and the pier furniture.

This is radical surgery

Then it was lowered onto the barge.

The old linkspan is lowered onto the barge 'Lara 1'

The first stage completed a gaping hole was left.

A gaping hole waits the replacement limb

The second stage of the operation took place in the hours of darkness. If anything the weather was calmer. One of the surgery team described the operation as a Night-Shift. It was certainly a night lift and drop.

The replacement linkspan being lifted by 'Lara 1'

The second phase of the operation involved lifting the new linkspan from the barge.

Surgery continues as the replacement linkspan is swung into place

The new linkspan had then to be swung round avoiding the dolphins and any pier furniture.

It is in with the new - it's a night-shift!

It was reported that on the day of the operation that the top of the linkspan was clearly visible from the neighbouring island of Coll.

Action on the dolphins

As well as the crane operator, there was a dedicated team on the pier and the dolphins helping with ropes to control the placement of the new linkspan.

The closing stages of the operation

Finally, surgery was complete with the rollers located in the backseat and the locking pins in place.

From the ferry a view of the bright new linkspan

So it was we arrived back on the Thursday morning to a brand new linkspan in place.

The operation over - the work continues for full mobility

For one day at least, the sun was shining as the work of commissioning the linkspan continued. Work progressed well with the first control cabinet being installed on the linkspan.

Jenna bringing freight to the island while the work continues

With the work continuing there is still the need for the freight service to the island. On the Thursday afternoon it was a different coastal vessel - Jenna. With her came supplies for the island's two shops - as well as other essential goods.

A control cabinet is transported to the linkspan

There have been few breaks in the stormy weather this winter. The linkspan is now in place but the work is yet to be completed. There has been a return to strong winds and torrential rain but the hope is still that the work will be completed ahead of the scheduled date of Saturday March 21st 2020.

Here is a short video of the operation. Video clips of the operation of the lift are by S. Nagy. Thanks!


Created By
Alan Millar


AH MILLAR and S. Nagy by permission