24 December 2006
Isle of Wight ferries
Mark Holland
Despite having seen it from the mainland, or the North Island as the islanders call it, on hundreds if not thousands of occasions, yesterday I visited the Isle of Wight for the very first time. Very interesting. I didn't know what to expect really. It was much more built up than I expected although apparently it's a lot more wild towards the south and west. I'm currently training for some big cycling events in the summer so I reckon a lap of the island sometime in the spring would be a worthwhile undertaking on a number of levels.

I've seen the ferries operating from Lymington, Southampton and Portsmouth many times before, from the shore, but was only up close up I realised just quite how impressive the whole set up is. Sure, it might not be as glamorous as an airport. And if a Force 12 were to delay crossings I wouldn't expect 24 hour rolling news channels to park their satellite trucks on Red Funnel's dockside to show us the anguished faces of people unable to get to Cowes for Christmas. Actually I reckon weary travellers would probably take refuge in the living room furniture department in the West Quay shopping centre's John Lewis and the major problem would be the supermarkets on the island running out of goods while their laden truck trailers were sat idle on the mainland. The weather would have to be very bad for that to happen though.

Normally the amount and frequency of crossings means The Solent might as well have a paved causeway. From Portsmouth there are three levels of ship.

The car ferries are like floating Tardises. They mightn't look like much from the outside but they have either two or three car decks whose heavily laden ramps are lifted and lowered by doubtless phenominally powerful hydraulic arms. The headroom on the lowest deck easily accomodates trucks.


Then there are the passenger ferries: Fast catamarans which take 18 minutes to zip between Portsmouth and Ryde, compared the 45 minutes it takes the car ferry to reach its dock. Thanks to the vision of the Southern Railway (1923-1948) and its predeccesors, the same people who turned Southampton into a modern port and built Britain's first international airport at Shoreham, Portsmouth Harbour railway station brings trains direct from Waterloo right up to the dockside. On the otherside is Ryde Pier where the ferries come alongside at the end, beyond the whims of the tide, and the trains come right out over the sea to meet them. Thus we have proved an integrated transport policy can only be acheived through central government direction, er hang on.


And finally there's the hovercrafts. From the beach infront of Southsea's Clarence Esplanade, right next to the amusement arcade where Uncle Bernie shoots down the aeroplanes in The Who's Tommy movie, the craft reverses over the sand and right out onto the water, turns through 180 degress and fair belts across the water. It zipped past us and left the cross channel ferry standing. 10 minutes the trip takes. I know it's pretty old technology these days but I still find it highly impressive.



Like I said, none of this is terribly glamorous, a bleak sea in December isn't for some reason. Nevertheless these ferries are a vitally important transport link carrying people and goods all day and everyday.

  1. Hi,
    Seems you had adventurous trip, enjoyed a lot. Last year I too had similar experience while traveling across the channel to France, Dover - Dunkerque ferry route boasts a unique service.


    Posted by channel crossings on  08 July 2008 at 04:25 pm

  2. Yes, but you know, a passenger can travel ferry with some of the ferries like Norfolkline with own pets paying a small extra payment, and cars as well.  I planned to take my car today being week end and can enjoy France ride smile

    Posted by ferry on  21 March 2009 at 11:38 am

  3. Never been to isle of white - just back from Denmark with http://www.dfdsseaways.co.uk - was pretty good (restaurant was a wee bit pricey but the food was really good)

    Posted by Mike on  20 April 2009 at 08:19 pm

  4. The pictures shows that you had a adventurous trip by ferry. Thanks for sharing the pictures. It was a great time reading your blog.

    Posted by ferry boat on  03 June 2009 at 11:47 am

  5. Seems you had adventurous trip, enjoyed a lot.Actually last year i too had similar experience while cheap ferries to France, Dover - Dunkerque ferry route boasts a unique service

    Posted by Cheap ferries on  17 July 2009 at 05:20 pm

  6. you all enjoyed a lot on board. I too like to travel through ferries, but i didn’t had any adventurous trip till now.

    Posted by ferries on  30 July 2009 at 01:08 pm

  7. So good to see blogs on ferries, considering the amount of traffic they take daily, there’s not much info on the web. I’d like to think that with a lot of new vessels commissioned over the last few years ferry travel is improving!! grin

    Posted by Ferry on  09 November 2009 at 08:28 pm

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