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#NewFerryArrives - Residents of Rathlin Island now have an exciting addition as a brand new car ferry arrived this morning which is to serve the North’s only inhabited island, writes Jehan Ashmore.

After a 20 hour delivery voyage from boatbuilders Arklow Marine Services, the Spirit of Rathlin sailed into Church Bay. The main harbour of the island which has a population of around 150.

Crew of existing fast-craft ferry, Rathlin Express sailed out of Church Bay to welcome Spirit of Rathlin off Rue Point. A sight that was breathtaking for the operator to see as both vessels approached Rathlin in unison. By coincidence Rathin Express (see artists sketch) with a capacity just shy of 100 passengers was also built by AMS back in 2009. 

Spirit of Rathlin was commissioned by the Department for Infrastructure (Dfi) at a cost of £2.8m and through a tendering process a contract was awarded to Rathlin Ferry Co. The new vessel will enhance operations for both islanders and for tourists exploring the delights of the 'Causeway' coast. 

The tender contract is for a duration of a decade that is to see the new six vehicle ferry ply the Sea of Moyle. This six mile stretch of water separates the island and Ballycastle. The harbour on the mainland is located on the equally stunning Antrim coast.

The presence of Spirit of Rathlin will not mean immediate service as sea trials at both harbours will firstly have to take place. In the meantime routine sailings are operating. 

Vehicles using Spirit of Rathlin will involve the ferry's bow-loading ramp, however only islanders can take their cars on board.

As for the 140 passengers, they will be accommodated in a much larger superstructure compared to carferry Canna. This veteran vessel which has its origins in Scotland, having been built in 1976 for Caledanian MacBrayne (CalMac). They had operated the Rathlin service until 12 years ago and Canna will be replaced by the island's first custom-built carferry.

Last month Afloat reported on the unique arrival of Spirit of Rathlin into Greystones Harbour, as this enabled the 28m long newbuild to carry out the first ever trials of using the bow door. This took place at the boat slip that saw a car embark via the vessels ramp. The exercise was shortly followed by a van.

Published in Ferry

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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