PUBLISHED: 14:15 29 May 2016
They are the people that help us get from A to B while giving us some spectacular views in the process. Devon’s silent army of ferry operators often brave the toughest of conditions to make sure this coastal county stays connected. CHRISSY HARRIS went to visit some of the folk working the waterways
Salcombe to East Portlemouth Ferry:
The Shortman family has owned the Salcombe to East Portlemouth Ferry Company for the past 32 years.
The service was recently voted one of the ten best ferry rides in the UK.
Simon Shortman, 54, and his team of ferrymen, including Richard “Tricky” Clayton and Steve Smith take passengers on the eight-minute, picturesque crossing, saving them a 16-mile round trip by road.
Frodo the black spaniel (owned by Tricky) can usually be seen aboard the wooden boats, ears flapping in the wind.
“Our Royal Charter means we’re obliged to provide a service 365 days a year,” says Simon. “We only miss a day if we’ve got exceptionally bad weather and even then we try to take the workers across and back.
“We can cope with pretty much anything. It doesn’t bother us, as long as we can operate a safe service.
“I’ve been doing this this for 32 years and the beauty of this area never ceases to amaze me. The colours you see here in September time and the clarity of the water sometimes - it’s just amazingly beautiful.
“I love it when I get to the boat house, open those doors in the morning and look down the estuary. I realise how lucky I am to live and work here. It’s something I’m constantly reminding my kids.
“The view and the people are what make this job. Everybody knows me here. I can’t walk down the street without someone stopping me and saying hello. We’ve got our regular customers and regular holidaymakers. It can get pretty busy in the summer. It’s funny too – everybody gets on over the course of eight hours and they all want to come back in the last three hours of the day. But we manage well and that’s because I’ve got such a good team of guys.”
Teignmouth to Shaldon Ferry:
The Teignmouth to Shaldon Ferry is thought to be one of the oldest passenger services in England.
Greg Allen, 61, has driven the boat for 20 years and been the service operator for five.
“Passengers often say to me ‘you’ve got the easiest job in the world’ and I suppose it does look like that on a lovely summer’s day but then they only see that side of things. It’s hard work. We work in all weathers and there aren’t many days off. I think I had day off for my birthday in July last year and then my next day off was in September.
“But this is what I do. I just like messing around with boats, always have. I ran away from my posh grammar school in Ramsgate to work on boats and my grandfather ran away to sea when he was 15, so you could say it’s in my blood. I spent years building fishing boats and then about 13 years catching whelks in Teignmouth.
“It turned out that there was no one to run the ferry so I started helping them out and it went from there. The best part of it all is all the people you get to meet. Everyone loves to come on the ferry. Some of my passengers have been coming aboard since they were kids down on holiday.
“We provide a really good service here – we’re the gem in the tourist crown! I’ve got no plans to retire just yet. This is the best life for me. It’s busy but it’s nice to be active. You sit down and put your feet up and you’re finished.”
The Cremyll Ferry:
There has been a Cremyll Ferry for more than 1,000 years.
The ferry links Devon and Cornwall and today it crosses the River Tamar in about eight minutes.
The river runs very fast - as much as eight knots as it flows around Devil’s Point and into Plymouth Sound.
Plymouth City Council owns the ancient right to run the ferry between Admiral’s Hard, Stonehouse and Cremyll.
The service is provided by Tamar Cruising, which is celebrating 30 years as Cremyll Ferry operators.
Chris Boal, 31, has been the skipper, or boatmaster, since 2007.
He says: “I used to be a fork lift truck driver. It’s not that different really – still carrying heavy loads backwards and forwards! People say you must get bored but there’s always something different going on.
“To be honest, the most boring days are when it’s quiet and calm out there.
“It gets interesting when it’s really windy and the tides are strong. I always get told that I’ve got the best job in the world in July – not in January though.
“I like the fact we get to know everybody because we take quite a lot of regular commuters back and fourth.
“We get to know who didn’t come home last night and who’s going across with a bunch of flowers because he’s in trouble! Oh and there’s Sarah, she’s training to be a teacher and that woman there, I’ve known her since she was on here as a schoolkid.
“There’s lot of good local banter. People who work in Plymouth and live in Cornwall quite often say ‘Phew! It’s good to be back’ when they get off in Cremyll.
“A lot of the guys here have worked here for years and I’m still thought of as the new boy, even though I’ve been here for eight years.
“I enjoy it though. It’s a great job. Let’s face it, we’re the best ferry service in the South West!”
Appledore to Instow Ferry:
The commercial ferry service between Appledore and Instow ended in 2007 after the withdrawal of a grant and lack of support.
After a successful campaign, the ferry is now run by a group of 40-plus dedicated volunteers who work long hours to keep the not-for-profit service afloat.
Dane Stanley, one of the five skippers, says: “We’re reliant on volunteers here but we all work together to run a great service. We’re totally confined by the tides– it’s not like it is in South Devon where the ferries can run all day. We’ve got a much shorter amount of time but we make it work.
“I like being on this river. When you’re on this stretch of water, it’s always different. Things are constantly changing. I sail here quite a bit and decided to get involved with the service in 2011.
“I think the ferry helps to bring the two communities together. There’s always been this historic rivalry between Appledore and Instow but people on both sides are involved with the ferry now and love the service.
“The shops and businesses on both sides support us. One of the cafes in Appledore supplies the crew with regular teas and coffees.
“We give local businesses a timetable so they can tell people when we run. We’ve also got a Facebook page and Twitter account and we do regular newsletters for our volunteers.”