The sinister man in the white overall was tall and very athletic. He’d just talked me through what was going to happen next – punctuated by rapid movements of his blue gloved hands. I was still shocked and not sure I’d heard correctly, so in the photo I’m watching carefully as he explains things to the car ‘in front’. My one salvation was that I wasn’t to be the first car to attempt this treacherous descent… I would be the second…

The car in front is really the one behind, because we were all facing backwards to our normal direction of travel… We were doing that because we had to back our cars onto the small boat to allow for easier disembarkation.

The direction of travel was down the quayside to the edge of the loch. There was a boat there, obviously – the above shot was taken before it arrived. We were on the final day of the Silent Eye’s workshop in Orkney. The full story, in the correct sequence, is being told as the Thursday blogs on the Silent Eye website.

I must have missed that when we booked the tickets for our day trip to Rousay; one of the islands north of the Orkney ‘mainland’, shown in green on the ferry company’s map below. The ferry service is used mainly by locals – it’s their lifeline to the outside world.

The ferry boat had arrived. It clunked to a violent and screechy stop on the concrete and didn’t appear to be fastened there by anything but gravity and friction. The ferry was behind me, of course, and the tall man in white with blue hands had taken up his position to ensure that all the departing foot passengers were off the boat.

I was watching all this in my rear view mirror and taking in large amounts of oxygen.

I stared as the car behind me literally disappeared into the gloom of the lower quayside… Then there was a bumping noise and it reappeared climbing backwards onto the boat, making it look simple. “He’s probably done it a thousand times,” I muttered…

I swallowed, noisily. It was my turn… The man with the blue hands was gesturing impatiently at this obvious tourist. I put the car’s auto into reverse and stared, not at the mirror, but at the larger sat-nav screen which doubles as a reversing camera. The view is wide-angle and, thankfully, very accurate – with projected green lines to show you’re on-target… or not. I felt the car tilt down at the back, but at this distance, because of the ‘fish-eye’ effect, I could see only an expanse of concrete. The boat was down there somewhere… All I could do was to aim for the middle until the ferry’s loading ramp came into view. I was conscious that, at this point, I could well have been driving backwards into the loch.

It’s shocking what doubts enter your mind at moments like this…

I can’t show you photos of my own descent… I was rather busy. The middle of the boat’s loading platform had appeared, mercifully, right in the middle of my green lines of safety. I pressed on, conscious that the man in white with blue hands was probably finding fault. No sooner had all four wheels clunked on board than he appeared in my lowered window, apparently less impressed than I was with my arrival on his vessel.

“I want you to stop looking at that fancy rear camera and watch my hands,” he said, exasperated. I’ve modified a couple of his spoken words... I realised he’d probably been gesturing with the blue hands for the past few minutes, while I studiously ignored him… Mmm…

Obediently, I watched him in the mirror as he gave highly precise arm movements – reversed, would you believe, to allow for the fact that he was in my mirror. He looked slightly mollified when I followed them, accurately, and we slid into place without fuss. Then he was off to the next car.

I could breathe again…

Shortly afterwards, he dashed along the loading ramp to rescue a driver who had panicked and refused to back down the quay any further. “It’s okay, I’ll drive it on for you,” he shouted, more warmly than with my rebuke. The driver and her elderly passenger got out and became grateful foot passengers. With the blue-handed sailor at the wheel, the recalcitrant car whizzed backwards to the place next to me… It was all over in about five seconds. I tried to suppress my admiration…

As the last of the cars loaded, I grabbed my camera and shot this sequence to illustrate the ordeal. We had to stay in the cars for the duration of the short crossing.

(Above: Loading backwards. It doesn’t look that close in your rear-view camera!)

(Above: Clunk onto the steel deck!)

(Left a bit!)

(And straighten up… Done!)

Apparently, I was quiet on the rest of the short voyage. Perhaps I was the only one who realised we had a return crossing at the end of our day…

Rousay is beautiful and completely unspoilt. For us, the high-point was a glimpse of civilisation two thousand years ago in the form of a defensive broch – a fortified dome of rock, common in Scotland’s ancient history and still largely intact after all this time.

For that, you’ll need to wait for the full story to unfold on the Silent Eye , but here’s a couple of tasters…

And the ferry people are excellent and will get you there, and back safely…

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, which offers a three-year, personally mentored, correspondence course in self-knowledge and a deeper understanding of how our sense of ‘self’ is built by life and can be deepened.

Click here for more details…

6 Comments on “Backwards into a Loch

  1. I’ve been on quite a few ferryboats here in British Columbia but I’ve not encountered this sort of situation. All of ours are designed with ramps or exits on both ends. Since backing up isn’t one of my strong skills, I would have had to rely on the blue-handed man to do it for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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