Friday, December 02, 2011

Ferry bad indeed

Today, the Firth of Clyde is calm after a week of wind and rain. The photo above was taken on Monday morning and shows the Argyll Flyer, with one of the Western Ferries in the background, passing Dunoon's East Bay heading for the pier into the wind that was gusting from the south and pushing the waves upriver. Study that photo, for it is one of a series that shows just how alarming this crossing can be even in a sea that is not particularly spectacular. It proved to be the last passenger ferry to Dunoon that day, and two days later it was again cancelled around the same time in much less wind. I tweeted about the second cancellation at the time, and had this response on Twitter from our MSP, Mike Russell:
Now, I appreciate the fact that a response was made, but feel the need to point out that it's not the correct response. Hence this post.

Argyll Ferries ( a subsidiary of Cal Mac) cannot possibly "up their game" with these boats. They are, quite simply, too small. It takes only a very moderate sea to have them pitching and rolling. When they do this, the sea sweeps over the limited deck area - so you can't go out for some fresh air without the risk of drowning. No, you stay in the cabin, unable to see the horizon, and hope desperately that you land before you throw up. Even in the summer, there were tales of mothers having to buy clothes in charity shops for their children who had puked down their own clothes on the crossing, and only yesterday we were told of elderly passengers unable to use the onboard lavatory for fear of falling and breaking a hip - and suffering the indignity of wetting themselves where they sat.

So much for the onboard conditions. But there are many more ramifications. The frequent cancellations mean that people in Dunoon can no longer trust the transport system to get them home if they travel to Glasgow - to work, to shop, to remind themselves that there is life outside the grey confines of their town - by train. There is a spanking new railway station under construction at Gourock, but at this rate few of us will use it, when the only way to ensure that you will get home at night is take your car and use Western Ferries. This flies in the face of all the rhetoric about thinking Green, using public transport if possible, saving fuel and not polluting our environment. As it stands, I would not even think of visiting Inverclyde hospital, which I can practically see from my house, without taking my car: a friend with a newly-broken wrist was stranded in Gourock on Wednesday morning on her way home from the plaster clinic, having just missed what turned out to be the last passenger ferry of the day. She had then to make her way to Western Ferries and have someone meet her with a car.

On Wednesday something else happened to confirm my growing suspicions that we were trapped in Dunoon. The road over the Rest and Be Thankful was closed; anyone driving from Glasgow would have an extra 26 miles to go. Last weekend we drove that road, in the fear that the ferries might be off - it's no fun to arrive at McInroy's point and find that you have to retrace your journey to the Erskine Bridge and on into the dark. The flashing lights, warning of increased landslip danger, had us beetling up the road into the hills with the tops of our heads cringing and the full beams on to see any obstacle that might have dumped itself on the road. The journey from Edinburgh seemed absurdly long, a good hour longer than usual in lashing rain and gales.

We realised this week that if this situation had obtained at the time when we moved to Dunoon in the early 1970s, we would never have come here. We realise with horror that a time will come when we are no longer willing or able to drive these roads in the dark - and that time is drawing closer. We feel like prisoners in the town our family grew up in. We have begun to think seriously of leaving before house prices go through the floor. The sad thing is that things were looking up - the number of people living here and working elsewhere, or vice versa, has increased, new houses have sprung up, the approaches to Gourock have improved. Now, suddenly, we've been dumped.

Many people - myself included - seem to have thought that an SNP government would care enough about the people who voted for them to give us a decent transport system. We're told till we're sick that we don't need another car ferry to the town. Fine. The shopkeepers would disagree, but I don't run a local shop and I'll stick to my own perceptions. We may not need another car ferry, because Western Ferries do a great job and run a decent timetable till a sensible time of night. But we do need a bigger passenger ferry, one that can cope with the rough seas and not go off at the first puff of wind. And if a bigger ferry could actually carry some cars just because it's a bigger boat - fine. Good ballast. We have the new pier, the breakwater ... and a couple of pathetically small pleasure boats to use it.

We deserve better. Otherwise this town will die.


  1. Susan2:44 PM

    Very well writen blog. I can share the feelings of being a prisoner of Dunoon. I have lived here 10 years and there has always been a lot of TALK of a decent ferry/train system and a lot of TALK of a decent sized supermarket. Neither has been achieved. One of my offspring has been staying while sorting housing and trying to get into Glasgow Uni everyday -no hope. How people manage to work in Glasgow now is a mystery to me.
    I will be on the move next year, for other reasons as well, but it will be a good feeling not to be a prisoner any more.Just hoping house prices hold a while longer !

  2. Once upon a time some fifty years ago, when I was stationed in the Holy Loch, Caledonian Steam Packets had three smaller craft "the Maids" that could cope with weather. Now one of them is on a permanent mooring in the Thames as a restaurant ship … could it's engines be restored?

  3. Have you submitted this to the local paper Chris? You have put the salient points so well. I am really shocked at these puny craft and the Portakabin waiting rooms and 'shelter' which provides none at all. Unbelievable.

  4. I sent a link to the reporter I contact with other stuff, but in fact the paper is full of ferry stuff already. I've been tweeting at the SNP and the Transport Minister, but only Mike Russell has had the grace to respond that he has read the piece. The Importunate Widow is my inspiration ...

  5. Powinienem podziękować christine McIntosh jako wysłała link do reporter wsparcia fakt pełne promy podobne wiadomości już. Mike Russell już odpowiedział na artykuł na papierze.

  6. Morgan11:21 PM

    I went over to Glasgow 24th Nov with my wife and young baby. Journey over on flyer and train all went well. By the time we were coming home a gale had blown up and the flyer was off. We got a taxi from Gourock to Western ferries, which had no car seat and cost £5. Waited on the dock there for half and hour in the rain and wind, Paid about £4 each to get back on Western and luckily were picked up from ferry. This all added about £13 on the day-money I can ill afford, added another hour on and put my baby at risk. NEVER AGAIN. As we had paid for a return ticket are Argyll ferries going to run a bus to Western and issue a ticket for the crossing?? Some hope I think !

  7. Anonymous12:35 AM

    Meanwhile, the MV Saturn is still sitting at Rosneath, she used the new linkspan for the Cowal Games this year and a far more suitable vessel. Does it not make sence to use this vessel again?

  8. Great blog by the way!. Whoever agreed that the four-year contract would include such small vessels for the moderate sea-state crossings between Gourock and Dunoon by the subsiduary company of Calmac , obviously , they didn't know what they were talikng about and ain't no seaman , to tell them the dangers of putting to sea , albeit the upper Firth , in small fair-weather boats in the height of winter. The SNP then cannot then go on to complain that the full service is not being provided , presumably they had an input into the terms of the contract before delivering it. Bring back the big boats , this is not emotion , it is sense , passengers will always feel safer in bigger vessels. The 'retired' Saturn and the Coruisk are both sitting up in Rosneath , time for a change of plan maybe? The people of Dunoon and the Cowal Peninsula , and those who travel for the train without their own mode of transport are not getting a full service at least for now.