There is something about wheeling a loaded touring bike onto a ferry that is very magical. I know I’m not alone in this feeling so I thought I would try to dig down into the sensation a little to see what it it is that makes it so special.
I have always liked ferries because, with exceptions like the Woolich, they are usually part of a journey that in turn is part of an adventure. More often than not they involve travelling to an island and that in itself promises all kinds of exciting new discoveries and very often changes of culture and outlook. If it isn’t an island it’s an estuary and then it is very likely to be a passage that goes back hundreds of years and carries a different kind of romance.
Most of the ferries we have travelled on so far have been designed to take cars. They loom up above us as they creep up to the slipway and open their huge gaping mouth like a giant steel cuckoo expecting to be fed. Instead they spew out cars and trucks that are made to look like dinky toys and then we are invited to wheel our bikes on board while all the boarding vehicles wait behind us. We can’t help but feel slightly smug being first on board but the roles are reversed on the other side as we are made to wait amongst the diesel fumes before we can disembark. There is always a sense of urgency amongst the crew as they lash our bikes to some iron work and we scramble to collect what we need from our bags for the journey. Then we are off upstairs to the lounge or the deck to pick the best seats before anybody else gets a look in.
The smaller ones, like the Cromarty ferry we used yesterday are the most sociable as cars, bikes, drivers and riders all mingle on deck together and that is when we get the most attention. Somebody always wants to know where we have ridden from and where we are going and a short thirty minute crossing will often see us making new friends that will be following us for the duration of our trip. These brief encounters seem to cut to the quick, slicing through the small talk and getting strangely intimate in such a short time. Perhaps it is the sure knowledge that you can’t get stuck with some utter bore for anything longer than it takes for the boat to get from one pier to another that loosens people up. Whatever it is we often find ourselves waving goodbye in a manner normally reserved for loved ones on train stations after just a half hour conversation.
I love all the ship paraphernalia too. All the tackle and equipment associated with tying up and casting off. The painters, capstans and hawsers that form the complex system of securing a massive ship of several thousand tons to the pier. The smells of engine oil, hemp ropes and salty sea and the sounds of crew shouting instructions and labouring diesel engines holding the ship at bay as the ropes are secured. Who can resist a little shudder of excitement as the last rope is lifted from it’s bollard and cast aside as the boat begins to move away from the harbour. It’s such a symbolic action that so many adventures have started with throughout history. That sense of excitement and thrill of exploration never diminishes whether we are boarding a tiny passenger only vessel for a ten minute crossing or some behemoth that will take us across the seas for hours.
Yesterday’s ferry was our ninth of this trip but there will be many more before we are done and I’m looking forward to every one of them.