Argyll Ferries passenger ferry service between Gourock and Dunoon is currently suspended, with a Review at 5pm – when the winds are supposed to be even stronger.
This sees MV Coruisk, which was added as winter support for the route only yesterday, failing to cope with the adverse weather every bit as completely as the company’s derided ‘bathtub boats’.
Meanwhile, the private sector Western Ferries is sailing away as normal on its own route between the two towns.
Everyone who knew anything about the water told the Dunoon Gourock Ferry Action Group that weather and sea conditions render any ferry service less than 100% reliable; but they insisted that Dunoon’s amour propre required no less than a road over water.
Knowing best, they campaigned against a Scottish government primarily concerned – at all costs – to protect the independence vote for 2014 and with a local SNP MSP in fear of losing his seat against opposition from Dunoon.
Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, therefore promised, against advice, that the Action Group could have the MV Coruisk added to the Argyll Ferries fleet to support the winter timetable.
And today Coruisk has jibbed at the first water fence.
Dunoon is already the most massively overprovisioned in ferry services in the entire UK. The finances of this special treatment given to the town reward consideration.
Argyll Ferries is contracted by the Scottish Government to provide a two-boat passenger ferry service on the town centres route. It could not have absorbed the cost of leasing and operating a third boat for the winter service; nor could it have been asked to do so.
So, although the Coruisk has to be leased by Argyll Ferries to keep everything above board, the Scottish Government is picking up the tab for its leasing and operating costs.
So during the period of the Coruisk’s deployment to do four returns a day, Dunoon is being given a three boat passenger ferry service on the town centres route. Yesterday evening there was a period while all three were in service.
The economics are immediately questionable – sharing the traffic on an already underused service between the operating costs of three boats, one – Coruisk - a heavier and more fuel hungry one.
Moreover, Coruisk is also available to deliver additional daily sailings should one or both of the specialist passenger ferries have to cancel sailings.
A fairly calculated estimate of the additional cost to the Scottish Government of the provision of the Coruisk to Dunoon at this period is half a million pounds.
For the hundred days the Coruisk will deliver, this is £5k per day; and likely to amount to £50 additional subsidy per head.
Today’s cancellation of all three boats, particularly with Western Ferries fleet sailing away while the Argyll Ferries fleet remains tied up, reinforces the vulnerability of this longer and more exposed town centre route into the foolishly misplaced Council linkspan in Dunoon.
Governments on a political agenda do daft things and always with ‘other people’s money’.
A footnote is that the Action Group had planned a part on board today to celebrate getting Corjuisk out of the government. Ironically, that party now looks threatened, with the cancellations and may have to take place on the bus ferrying the party-going passengers to the Western Ferries service.