THE main ferry linking Largs and Cumbrae will be out of action for almost two weeks early next year.

The MV Loch Shira will be taken off the route for its annual winter maintenance check and service from January 27 to February 10 in 2020.

Ferry operator CalMac say the decision has been taken as it looks to invest a record sum to keep its fleet ship-shape condition during the most testing time for sailings.

The electric hybrid vessel Catriona will replace the Shira during this period.

The company say that more than £9 million is being targeted at vessel resilience, responding to the challenges of an increasing average age of fleet.

This is in addition to the annual planned maintenance expenditure to ensure every vessel is ready for another year of coping with increasing passenger demand across the west coast.

The resilience programme is more than double the amount spent last year.

CalMac's director of asset management Julie Philpott said: "Trying to ensure that every vessel gets the proper levels of maintenance and upgrades, while keeping lifeline ferry services running is an extremely complex operation.

"Not all vessels are suitable for every route and harbour, meaning the matrix we need to design to ensure service continuity is long in the planning.

"We try where we can, within the resources available to us, to provide as seamless a service as possible during this period, matching suitable vessels to cover routes.

"But getting every vessel in for maintenance requires us to do a certain amount of manoeuvring. We try and keep inconvenience to a minimum, and hope the travelling public can understand why we have to make the vessel changes that we do at this time of year.

"Some communities may lose their regular vessel for longer periods due to the scale of the work being carried out this winter. However, this additional time out of timetable will help support delivery of a more resilient service in the long term. Customers will hopefully be able to see meaningful improvements in service."

Work on the vessel will be carried out in Greenock.