AN OLD friend has returned to the Largs-Cumbrae ferry service - 47 years after its first sailing on the route.

MV Isle of Cumbrae has been redeployed by CalMac to provide vital extra capacity due to the absence of the regular vessel, MV Loch Shira, which is in dry dock for repairs - and which could be out of service until late May.

After the Loch Shira was withdrawn from service on April 5, the Cumbrae route was covered by the much smaller MV Loch Riddon, which struggled at times to cope with the demand from vehicle traffic, with waits of up to four hours reported at Largs on Monday and up to three hours at Cumbrae Slip.

That prompted CalMac to bring the older vessel round to the Clyde from its usual haunt on the route between Tarbert on Loch Fyne and Portavadie on the west shore of Cowal.

Built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company at its yard in Troon, MV Isle of Cumbrae - Eilean Chumraigh in Gaelic - was launched just before Christmas 1976, and entered service between Largs and Cumbrae Slip in April of the following year.

After nearly a decade serving the island whose name she bears, she moved to the route between Fishnish on Mull and Lochaline in Morvern, and then to the Colintraive-Rhubodach service at the north end of Bute, before becoming the regular summer ferry on the Tarbert-Portavadie link.

Largs and Millport Weekly News: The ferry used to regularly be in service on the Largs-Cumbrae route in the late 1970sThe ferry used to regularly be in service on the Largs-Cumbrae route in the late 1970s (Image: Grahame Ross)

She also provides cover across the CalMac network each winter, and has been a frequent 'stand-in' on the Largs-Cumbrae service over the years.

A crew mess room was added behind the passenger saloon in early 1994, with the upper deck extended over it.

In early 2002, the ship was re-engined with Scania diesels.

She has capacity for 160 passengers and 18 cars across three lanes on her vehicle deck.

She has been the oldest vessel in the CalMac fleet since the 'Island Class' vessel MV Eigg was retired from service in April 2018.

MV Isle of Cumbrae will serve alongside MV Loch Riddon for the next few days, but her stay on the route where she entered service will be brief.

From Friday, April 12, MV Isle of Cumbrae will be replaced by MV Loch Bhrusda, which is able to carry up to 18 cars and is being redeployed from Mallaig to provide cover.