The first of the new SPIRIT class from Ace Marine Ltd – Naval Architects Ltd., a 14.75m high speed passenger ferry has now entered service on time and on budget. The vessel was built by Sandy Morrison Engineering in Uig, Isle of Skye. Sandy Morrison reported “the Spitit of Skye had finished its trials with flying colous. The performance of the vessel was better than hoped for by a large margin. Predictions were in the region of 28 knots. A top speed of 32.7 knots was recorded. The vessel is now in service – the UltraJets are superb and well ahead of other types we have used”. According to David Gray of Scottish naval architect practice Ace Marine, the idea of a ferry going over the sea to Skye is not a new one, although with the Skye bridge opening a few years ago, it is not an adventure many people undertake these days. Before today’s network of roads came into existence, travelling by boat was the best and sometimes the only way to explore the northwest Highlands and Islands. Caldedonian MacBrayne provided a link between the communities of Gairloch and Portree unti lthe 1940s, when improvements to roads and the ascent of the motor car made the service unviable. However, improvements in maritime efficiency now made the reintroduction of this route a viable and attractive alternative to the time consuming and hair-raising journey by road. There had long been talk of a possible passenger service linking the North of Skye to the Scottish mainland at Gairloch. Following a feasibility study a group of local businessmen formed a new company in 2003 called West Highland Seaways Ltd., trading as 6o West. The vessel will operate on a scheduled 26 nm service between Portree and Gairloch in the Isle of Skye. The requirement to make it successful was that the journey must be done four times per day, in one and a half hours - which required an average speed of 18 knots. The journey had to be comfortable, but in a craft that could also handle the rough sea conditions that can be encountered in that area. Ace Marine were approached to design the craft and responded with what the company describes as a new concept in boat design. Lightweight comfortable aircraft style seating was the starting point for its passengers. A total of 36 passengers and two crew will be onboard. The craft has on-board catering facilities and toilet. The vessel is designed to meet the requirements of the EU Passenger Ship Safety directive class C, and the Workboat Code of Practice. She is constructed in Aluminium. A narrow hard chine planing hull form was moulded around six rows of seats, the hull being designed to offer excellent seakeeping qualities, both at speed and loitering. West Highland Marine requested twin Cummins 6BTA5.9M engines @ 315hp to give a level of propulsive redundancy. However, the large 26 inch propellers required to push the vessel at 18-20 knots meant long shafts with brackets and exposed rudders. A long and deep sloping keel would have had to be added in order to protect the propellers and rudders for beaching purposes. Waterjets were investigated and although initial findings were not encouraging, following discussions with UltraJet, Ace Marine found twin UltraJet 305s met their requirements of efficiency, thrust and cost.