A FERRY master with decades of experience sailing on the west coast has hit out at the management of the lifeline service and the “inadequacy” of Scotland’s current quayside infrastructure.

As pressure mounts on the islands for action to improve the performance and reliability of Scotland’s vital ferry network, a senior captain has marked his retirement with a savage attack on operator CalMac and the failings of harbour infrastructure policy presided over by CMAL (Caledonian Maritime Assets).

And the mariner underlined the difficulties which the under-pressure service is causing for island communities, claiming that any local looking to book a vehicle space on a ferry must do so six months in advance.

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The claims come after a recent series of reports in The Herald exposed deep-seated problems on the ferry network, which islanders and exports say are the cause of an ageing fleet, insufficient capacity and a lack of vessel flexibility.

Calls have been made for a review of how vessels and harbour infrastructure are procured.

In an email circulated to CalMac vessel managers and directors, seen by The Herald, the ferry master writes: “My enjoyment and satisfaction in sailing ships and providing a ferry service has been considerably soured in recent years by the increasing amount of drivel emanating from Gourock (CalMac head office) and passing managers who think they know better than the sea staff (and port staff) who’ve been here for dozens of years.

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“Whenever someone in Gourock comes up with another bright idea, yet another consultant and analysts get employed to look after it, but the ship is expected to just squeeze their part in the process in somewhere, and do it yesterday please.

“When I ask a manager to help solve a problem, I get replies of “are you sure”, “can’t you manage it yourself”, “can you prove it”, “start gathering evidence to support this”, and what seems to be every other delaying tactic. Presumably in the hope that I’ll just get fed up and drop the subject.

“What is supposed to be shore support just feels more like shore obstruction.

“I have become steadily more and more disillusioned and disheartened.”

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The CalMac veteran argues that increasing capacity on the network is not the solution to the problems, and claims that around 10 per cent of space on ferries should be reserved for locals until 48 hours before sailing.

“I have island family connections and I’m getting really upset with this situation,” he said.

“I’m pretty sure all of our island customers feel the same.”

The seafarer also uses the missive to criticise harbour infrastructure, which is the responsibility of CMAL, and claims that captains have had to invent “endless workarounds for ships that don’t fit piers, gangways that don’t fit ships, and inadequate marshalling areas and terminal facilities.”

He reinforced criticism over the new harbour at Brodick on the Isle of Arran, which locals claim has led to higher cancellations because its new position makes ferries more susceptible to easterly winds. And he echoed dissatisfaction expressed on Arran over the port’s new terminal and passenger access system.

The captain said: “Attention needs to be focused on fixing the infrastructure problems if the company I’ve been proud to be part of is to carry on without falling flat on its face fairly soon.”

He added: “We need to be planning piers that will accommodate a 5 metre draught, and we need to be doing it 10 years ago, not 10 years from now. Preferably solid, double sided piers with a linkspan on both sides.

“Draught is our biggest physical obstruction to progress.”

CMAL has vigorously defended its new facilities on Arran, including the new harbour, which it said was “considered the best orientation for a pier that is perpendicular to the shore, and for the Brodick bay location.”

A spokeswoman said: “We are well aware that a deeper draught is, in general terms, better because it can offer more operational flexibility. However, it is not simply a matter of dredging deeper berths or channels across the network because in many cases the existing infrastructure won’t allow it. The best time to deepen the draught at a pier is during reconstruction and upgrade work, and we have done this as part of a number of recent projects.

“It is important to bear in mind that optimal pier infrastructure varies around the harbour network – it is not a one-design-fits-all approach. To suggest it is demonstrates an over-simplistic view.”

A CalMac spokesman said: “CalMac’s management culture is open and inclusive. Any member of staff who feels strongly about a subject is free to raise it at the highest level. Our managing director’s door is always open to anyone and we would expect our leaders to raise any concerns internally in order that they may be addressed through the appropriate channels.”