What I Learned From Watching Ferry Boats

11 July, 2008 Posted by Joanna As Reflections

I’ve been clearing out photos recently as I start to get ready for my move. A lot of the photos I’ve taken over the years are from walks around the west coast of Scotland, which means ferry boats are a recurring theme.

Pictures taken from the boat, of the boats in the harbour, of the ferry moving back and forth, back and forth, across a distant sound.

I don’t know about you but I get a feeling of freedom, of adventure, when I set off on public transport. Not cars but buses, yes, and trains and boats.

And I find I don’t just need a camera but a notebook too as words, ideas, phrases, words, poems and stories start to tumble and fall.

Words that run free with the motion of the transport, the start of the journey, the sense of possibility it evokes.

But there’s something about the ferry that is particularly powerful for me. (This might explain why I’m moving to a house where I can watch ferries crossing from the window!) It’s not just a journey but a pattern, a rhythm, a reassuring back and forth, recurring, returning, that flows like the tide.

It’s… heck I don’t know what it is. It’s a signal to me that I’m somewhere beautiful, and open and wild. And often a sign that I’m on holiday too… which means by the time you read this I’ll be up in Oban, overlooking the water, watching out for ferry boats, camera in hand, and notebook in my pocket.

I’ll be back in a week with - I hope - words, images, photos and lots of inspiration. There are a few posts in the pipeline including a great piece from Brad Shorr which I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Meantime I’m going to enjoy the freedom of a week without the internet and with plenty of time to watch boats.

This piece is a contribution to Robert Hruzek’s What I Learned From Transportation project. You can still take part - deadline is midnight Sunday.

Photo Credit: As The Boat Comes In V by Joanna Young on Flickr. Capturing the moment the Caledonian Isles sails into port at Brodick. For more ferry shots you can find my full set of Ferry Beauty here.

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

Categories : Reflections

Robert HruzekNo Gravatar July 11, 2008

Ah, Joanna, you bring back so many childhood memories for me! The only ferry I’ve ever ridden is the one that crosses between Galveston Island and Port Bolivar. When I was a kid we had to take the ferry every time - not because it was on the way, but because it was just, you know, necessary.

Uh-oh - I can feel a derivative post coming on… stay tuned!

Thanks for participating! I know you’ll have a great holiday and come back with some amazing photos (and thoughts).

Cath LawsonNo Gravatar July 11, 2008

Hi Joanna - I’ve only been on a ferry once and I was sick. But I know the feeling you mean - I’ve had it on boats and trains. It can be quite stressful driving sometimes - especially if you keep getting lost as I do, which is probably why I don’t get that sense of freedom then.

If only we could all be like Thelma and Louise.

Scott McIntyreNo Gravatar July 11, 2008

That familiar sight of the Calmac ferry evokes memories of childhood summer holidays for me, Joanna.

What can be more pleasant to a child than the few weeks of freedom from school? :-)
I vividly recall peering over the side of the ferry on the way to Arran, watching the basking sharks, as I travelled to spend time at my Granny’s cottage.

Or else, waiting excitedly aboard the ferry as it crossed the River Clyde to Dunoon, where my cousins waved at me from the pier.

Wonderful memories, indeed…

Yvonne Russell July 11, 2008

Enjoy your trip… and the boats. Your new home with a view of the ferries sounds ideal for you.

Shari Smothers July 11, 2008

Hi, Joanna:

Just reading your description reminds me of my own travels and adventures using public transportation, and my own set of excursion tools: paper, pen, and camera. Even more, I love ferries and river boats. Reading this took me back to truly excellent summer nights on the Mississippi River cruises. As always, thanks for sharing.


Sara at On Simplicity July 12, 2008

The new scenery of travel always inspires me. Enjoy being disconnected!

Damien RileyNo Gravatar July 12, 2008

“a week without the internet and with plenty of time to watch boats.”

Very well put.

Brad ShorrNo Gravatar July 12, 2008

Joanna, Isn’t it funny how we can love something like watching ferry boats and not be able to explain it or describe it? There is something about watching ships that is hypnotic and relaxing. I’ve taken a few cruises over the years and always enjoyed watching those immense ships inch their way in and out. Have a wonderful and inspiring holiday!

UllaNo Gravatar July 14, 2008

reading your description reminds me of my holiday last year in Denmark - sitting there and watching the big ferries coming in and going out. It gave me a feeling of wanting to visit far away countries, to cross the deep blue sea, to discover unknown worlds.

Jackie Cameron July 14, 2008

I love ferries. A few weeks ago I was in Orkney and Shetland and travelled on of ferry boats of varying sizes. I find it amazing that the local people factor ferries into their daily lives. If the boat can sail then they can get from A to B - if it can’t they can’t. Simple really!
Hope the move goes well. I guess this means that you and I will no longer be neighbours

Jeanne DininniNo Gravatar July 16, 2008


When I was a young office worker commuting to Mid-town Manhatten each weekday, a ride on the Staten Island Ferry became a normal part of my daily routine. (My commute, in fact, added three hours to my normal eight-hour workday-between the bus ride to/from the ferry, the trip across the harbor, and the journey across town on the subway-a long trip to undertake twice every day!)

Yet, for all the routine regularity of it all, the ferry always held a special charm. No matter how used to it I became, I could still enjoy its magic whenever I rode the ferry for sheer pleasure. I can definitely relate to the emotions the ferry has stirred in you!

Thanks for inspiring those nostalgic reminiscences!


Joanna YoungNo Gravatar July 18, 2008

Hi everyone and thanks for your patience in waiting for replies!

Robert: Glad you enjoyed the post. You know I just couldn’t resist taking part. Ferry travel being ‘necessary’? Most definitely - so much in the experience to be savoured and enjoyed

Cath: getting lost adds something to our concept of the road movie doesn’t it? I have a hopeless sense of direction too. Maybe that’s why I like ferries: they can only go from a to b :-)
Scott: my childhood memories are of the ferry to Skye - slow and often a long wait, but always more magical than crossing by the efficient speedy bridge. (The Caledonian Isles - Brodick/Ardrossan - is my favourite Calmac boat. Haven’t been on them all - yet - but it’s my favourite so far)

Yvonne: thank you. I think it will help to keep me both grounded and inspired

Shari: now a river boat, that sounds most delicious - especially one on the Mississipi. I wonder what kind of sights, sounds, smells, tastes you’d find on a boat like that? And what stories it might ask you to tell…

Sara: thank you and I did. Disconnection from one thing helps us to connect to another maybe?

Damien: glad you liked that line. I enjoyed my time watching boats - I think perhaps it’s Brad’s point about the hypnotic effect that I find so therapeutic

Brad: yes, and you’ve reminded me of Amy’s post and the poem ‘tell me the truth about love’. We can’t put our finger on the nature of some experiences because we can’t find precise words for love - just take photos, tell stories, write poems, find scraps of poems that try and share what it is that has moved us, or changed things

Ulla: what a poetic comment! You’re right - it’s that sense of worlds opening up, new possibilities, an adventure as yet unknown…

Jackie: I’ve not been to Shetland and Orkney yet - keep getting distracted by the islands on the west coast. Good point about getting used to the constraints of the ferries: it can seem frustrating at times but you get used to weather, timetables and needing to wait for things… I think it’s a good discipline, and a healthy antidote to 24/7 consumerism that affects most parts of our lives

I’m only going to be 2 hours from Edinburgh so you’ll still be closer to me than most of my readers!

Jeanne: that is a long commute indeed. I’m glad the repetition didn’t kill the charm for you. Staten Island Ferry sounds exciting and romantic to me (too much film going I guess) - I’m sure it’s a rich source for writers too


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