Something fishy about a ferry on the southern English coast
WALKING the Cornish stretch of England’s 1015km South West Coast Path in 1987, I reached Padstow village, where a ferry is required to cross the Camel River. It was market day and stalls crowded the quay. A local’s outstretched hand pointed to a ferry sign where stone steps led to a smallish wooden boat.
I plonked my backpack against a bulkhead and joined the other commuters. A leathery, wiry Cornishman, revealed as the skipper, satisfied himself there were no more passengers and we motored off, bon-voyaged by discordant seagulls. I relaxed, confident of rejoining the trail before the sun dipped near the yardarm.
We took a diagonal route. I assumed the skipper was navigating obstacles and would soon tack toward the opposite bank, but he continued in a beeline to the river mouth. As the headland loomed, the knot of uncertainty tightened in my stomach. I turned to a passenger and asked, ‘‘This is the ferry, isn’t it?’’.
‘‘No. It’s a fishing trip . for mackerel.’’
After initial surprise, I saw the humour in my mistake, but this was an inconvenient diversion. I approached the skipper, expecting sympathetic ears and possible transportation to the other side.
‘‘Too bad,’’ he blurted before I had time to properly explain myself. ‘ ‘ You’re on board and going fishing.’’
His accent reminded me of the stereotypical Disneyland pirate.
. looking ‘‘Didn’t you see my backpack?’’ ‘‘Plenty of people bring packs with them.’’
Yes, I thought, those who think they’re catching a ferry.
‘‘You are paying the four quid, and that’s it.’’
I returned to my seat and went with the flow, which in this case meant a couple of kilometres out to sea.
I had no interest in fishing, but the skipper’s sidekick — his son, about 11 years old — offered me line and bait, and I acquiesced.
The weather was fine, the sea calm and the shoreline provided a pictorial backdrop. The fishing was surprisingly mackerel plentiful.
The South West Coast Path originally served as a route for the coastguard in pursuit of smugglers. A deceptively hilly trail, one calculation has it that walking its length is the equivalent of climbing Everest’s height four times.
There is accommodation along the route, but I would have to camp this night. We continued rolling in mackerel like tuna fishermen, and the skipper’s son gathered the catch. Eventually we pulled up anchor. The son divvied up the fish and asked how many I caught. I had no idea, so said:
the ‘‘Twenty.’’ He wrapped them in newspaper. The skipper softened and complimented me on my catch. Then we returned to shore.
Lugging 20 mackerel in a backpack would quickly become a smelly proposition and I had no desire to be Pied Piper to a flock of seagulls. I approached a local restaurant in hope of a sale.
‘‘Howmuchdoyouwant?’’ I was asked. I told them four quid would do it. Done deal.
I returned to searching for the ferry departure point and discovered it several hundred metres downstream from the sign. On a sandbar.