ON THE face of it everything is ‘shipshape’ aboard the new-look Windermere car ferry.
For five centuries, come rain or shine, boats of varying shapes and sizes have loyally shuttled people across the lake.
But Maritime and Coastguard Agency regulations mean that the present ferry, called Mallard, must have a thorough refit every five years.
So from April 28 to May 24 Cumbria County Council suspended the service for what was supposed to be a £300,000 overhaul.
In total, 34 different contractors worked on fitting new engines along with automatic hydraulic gates and a fresh lick of paint.
However, the cost came in £40,000 higher than expected and the high-tech gates failed to spring into action.
High costs and unreliability long have divided the opinions of residents of Bowness and Far Sawrey, the ‘community of commuters’ who use the service daily.
For some, its closure left them ‘isolated and stranded’ and one daily user said: “I didn’t know what I had ‘til it had gone.”
Nick Raymond, who manages the ferry, said: “It wasn’t unreasonable that the boat was out of out of the water for a month. We worked out that the engines had been to the moon and back a few times so we had to replace both of them.”
A facelift was not the sole purpose of the refurb job.
‘Mallard’ is now playing a crucial role in the promotion of sports tourism in South Lakeland. As part of a recent Go Lakes initiative, more space has been devoted to cyclists who come from across the UK to ride the new route from Bowness to Wray Castle.
However, with improved roads around Windermere, including the busy A591, many question the merits of keeping this money-draining, supposedly time-saving, service afloat.
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Roland Shuttleworth, a parish councillor for Far Sawrey, lives just 200 yards from the ferry’s dock and has a film of Mallard which he took in 1948.
He said: “It’s not very good really. It’s very unreliable and you can’t trust the timetable. We’re still waiting for the new hydraulic barriers to work and the digital signs signalling if it’s running don’t always work either.”
However, David Foster, Cumbria county councillor for High Furness, said: “Despite the A591 there is still a core user group who have annual season tickets. It is important for the local users and the local economy as it brings a lot of money into the area through tourism every day.”
Commuter Janet Dobson, 32, of Bowness, said: “The ferry is a lifesaver. I have young twins, nearly three years old, I work full time and so does my husband.
“We rely on this service to get to work and take the kids to nursery. When it was closed it was a nightmare trying to get the kids ready earlier in the morning and driving all the way around the lake. Now it’s open again everything it’s part of the rhythm of our family life.”
Justin Lynch is one of the many people who rely on the ferry to get to and from work every day. He believes it is so vital to the area that the service should be extended.
“I think it should be open 24 hours a day,” he said.
“I actually think there should be two of them so that when one’s not running there’s always a back-up. Without it I have to go all the way around the lake.”
During summer the vessel goes from Fery Nab, Bowness, to Ferry House, Far Sawrey, every 20 minutes between 6.50am and 9.50pm, or from 9.10am on Sundays.
For a full timetable visit http://www.cumbria.gov.uk/roads-transport/highways-pavements/windermereferry.asp or call 07860-813427.