Last Thursday evening, 7th March, nothing much happened at the Dunoon linkspan – but that nothing much has led to a renewed campaign against Argyll Ferries, the passenger shuttle ferry between the town centres of Dunoon and Gourock.
The skipper left Gourock with a full boat and when he was half way to Dunoon he got a radio call letting him know that the wave height at Dunoon was higher than usual.
He could have turned back automatically – although there had been no suggestion that he should – but in the interests of getting his passengers home for the night he decided to go on, have a look and then, if in his experienced judgment it looked too much, take them back to Gourock.
When he saw the reality at the Dunoon linkspan, it was perfectly manageable to land, if inevitably a bit bumpy for a few minutes as the wave settled after the final approach.
The ferry bobbed up and down, then settled. After the settling, the Captain asked the passengers to wait for a short time until he was happy. To be utterly safe, he waited for ten minutes before commencing disembarkation.
The Dunoon Observer Facebook page has a video of the ferry here coming into the linkspan. It’s a few seconds worth of footage. You can see the process described above in action – and after the visible settling of the craft at the end of it, it was 10 minutes before disembarkation began.
Argyll Ferries normal practice in disembarking in the slightest of bumpy conditions, is to station one crew member at the head of the short stubby gangway and to station another crew members at the linkspan end.
To ensure safety at all costs, they then disembark in groups of three people, looked after at either end by a members of the crew, assisting and ready to assist.
On Thursday, as a mother and her six year old son disembarked, at the end of the gangway the boy tripped. He was immediately stabilised by the crew member in position and that was all that happened. The boy did not fall. He was never in the water. He was never at any risk.
But, as it happens, this little boy suffers from cancer and was coming home with his mother after having had an MRI scan on the opposite mainland. He was a perfect campaign focus.
This has now been manufactured into a massive media attack on the ferry company, with members of the campaign group fighting a doomed battle to have a vehicle and passenger ferry restored on the town centres service headlined in the local medias as asking ‘Does someone have to die before they get rid of these dangerous boats?’.
The Chinese-whispers story has now become one of sick child hurled into the water by dangerous ferry, passengers terrified by being asked to wait for a few minutes…
There is no mention of an experienced skipper concerned to do what he could – within strict safety limits – for his boatload of passengers. He would have been within his rights simply to turn round mid-channel when he got the radio update; and leave them to transfer to Western Ferries from McInroys Point just south of Gourock; or to stay in Gourock for the night.
The Argyll Ferries skippers are mature professionals. They are also mature professionals who are being unreasonably harried on what is virtually a daily basis because Dunoon’s civic ego feels it has been slighted by being given a passenger ferry service in place of the former, and underused, vehicle and passenger service.
No Argyll Ferries skipper, in these circumstances, is anything but highly – and actually unhelpfully – risk averse.
These ferries are now not sailing in circumstances where they could and should be sailing – because, properly left to the skipper’s discretion at the time, why would they face more banshee attacks than they have to.
Dunoon has had ferries for how long? Its residents should know that water is not tarmac and that water, in its fluidity, is immediately weather affected where roads are more resistant.
Travelling on water is all about movement. Dunoon has choices other ferry destinations do not. There is a good road to Glasgow and there are bus services. If you don’t like water don’t go on the ferries.
The Dunoon Gourock Ferry Action Group’s campaign has left the town worse served than it might be. It has resisted the establishment of pontoons for walk on berthing at Dunoon and at Gourock – for the sole reason that it fears that to do so would be an admission that the car ferry was never going to comeback.
It isn’t. Economics, EU subsidy law and competition law are all against it.
The risk the ferry campaigners are now running – and it is a very real one – is that the scare campaign they have run to destroy confidence in the Argyll Ferries passenger service had created a third option for Dunoon.
The campaigners have only seen a binary situation – they’re stuck with the passenger service they feel is beneath them or they somehow get a vehicle and passenger service back into the town centre.
The third option now in the frame is simple. Close the passenger service for good.
This would leave the town’s ferry provision in the very capable hands of the faster and highly reliable service run by Western Ferries, with its three vehicle and passenger boats shuttling between the outskirts of the two towns, from Hunter’s Quay in Dunoon to McInroy’s point in Gourock.
Western have two new boats in building and, a well run and entrepreneurial business that is a good advertisement for private sector provision, are more than capable of adapting to changing needs.
Usage statistics do not justify the luxurious variety and frequency of ferry services Dunoon enjoys, A city dweller could not catch a bus more frequently than Dunoon folk can walk on and off a ferry.
The opportunism and the dishonest manipulation of facts in the unceasing attacks on Argyll Ferries are now very likely to see Dunoon’s town centre no longer troubled by the honourable passenger service it has decided to disdain – and in the interests of an unrealisable demand.