The Boat Adrift
Another personal experience related by our cycling acquaintance is an amusing near tragedy concerning the Corran Ferry, over Loch Linnhe, eight miles below Fort William.
Mrs ……….. had been exploring Morven, and arrived at Corran in time for the last boat on Saturday evening. This is a car ferry, a large barge of a craft with a turn table on top, and driven by a petrol or oil engine. The two old boatmen were local characters who spent all their spare time between journey’s in the Ardgour Hotel, close by the pier. Whilst thus engaged it was not unusual for impatient motorists to persist in hooting. At length the sound would bring one of them ambling leisurely out saying ’na na, whads the hurry? Can a man no’ enjoy his refreshment? Hoots awa’, its no’ time to go yet!, and he would then return to his companion at their cups.
Whilst the ferrymen were thus worthily employed the crowd for the last boat grew larger and larger, filling the boat beyond capacity. Nobody could be left behind. The old boatmen packed everyone on, motorists, cyclists, foot passengers, cast off and headed up tide for the out and back sweep over the Narrows.
Suddenly the engine failed. The unwieldy craft swung round, and gathering momentum, lurched on the strong tide running through the strait. Wedges were hurriedly found to wedge the motor wheels, and for a short time nobody was very much concerned, until it began to dawn upon people that the engine was still lifeless, and they were sweeping through the Narrows with increasing speed. As the top heavy craft began to lurch in the tide-rip alarm grew into fear, and the engineer was implored to ‘do something’ with the engine. An American lady who until now had kept herself in fur-clad aloofness jumped up in her motor car crying repeatedly “Is no-one going to save us?”. The question remained unanswered; the boat sailed on towards Salachan Point, the broadening restless waters of the open loch ahead, the ferrymen struggled grimly.
Someone had a bright idea of trying to steady and steer the craft, and an heroic volunteer was found. He was lowered into the water, behind, held firmly by the ankles, and with a bucket in his hands made a human rudder for a short time, but the supply of rudders was not equal to the demand, and he was hauled back in.
Suddenly the engine spluttered into life. The instant relief was premature; the engine became silent again, and morale slumped even further. Now the good ship was careering on the open water, dipping and rolling as if in delight, for such a sedate vessel. An old, old lady who had been sitting smiling all the time remarked complacently “They don’t realise the danger!” A pipe major aboard struck up a merry tune to try and stiffen the fallen morale, but as the boat gave more sickening lurches his own morale suffered an eclipse and he passed from a skirl to pibroch, from pibroch to silence. The shore was a long way off.
Then the engine started and settled into a steady rhythm, which at once struck a chord of hope through the disheartened passengers. With great care and sober skill, the boatmen brought the craft round and as they came inshore, edged it back across the calmer water of Loch Leven. They crept back slowly, and at last tied up at Corran where the pier was agog with a waiting crowd.
The ferrymen forgot to collect their dues. But the police did not forget, and the sequel was heard in the County Court some weeks later when two sober ferrymen were fined £10 for overcrowding. Had the full penalty been imposed on a basis of a certain sum per person over the capacity there would have been something like £700 to pay!