WaitLink ferries

Wight Link recently switched its service on the Lymington to Yarmouth route to a 45-minute schedule. For months it had been failing to keep to timetable for its 30-minute schedule, and frequently missed bus or train connections at Yarmouth or Lymington respectively. Waits were inevitable.

The switch to one ferry every 45 minutes, instead of one every half hour, was done without consultation. It just happened, with Wight Link citing speed limits in the Lymington estuary as one of the main reasons, along with age of the ferries meaning they could not make up time. The truth is simply that it cannot load and unload the ferries fast enough, because timing the journey shows it still takes 30 minutes to get from one side to the other. The speed limit in the estuary has been 4 knots for decades.

You’d think that adding 15 minutes to the schedule would make a difference, but no. On Friday and today I had the misfortune to travel this route on my way to and from Warfare. I arrived in good time for the 15:30 sailing from Yarmouth, which only managed to arrive at 15:38; it obviously left late and, of course, missed the connecting train to Brockenhurst. A long wait ensued at Lymington Pier, allowing a lovely sunset to be recorded.

On the way back today (Monday) I arrived when the service had switched to hourly, after the usual 25-minute wait at Brockenhurst station for the Lymington Pier train (the mainline train just misses it by a few minutes). at Lymington there was another 25-minute wait for the 13:15 boat, which duly turned up late, and then refuelled, prolonging its departure by another five minutes. I eventually arrived in Yarmouth at 14:05, missing the one-an-hour bus up to my neck of the woods.

The lamentable crapness of WightLink on this route is not hard to fathom. It is using passengers as helpless pawns in its battle with the residents of Lymington to get its new, larger ferries into service. Lymington’s finest have reacted to the ferries in the typical traditions of nimbyism and simply don’t want the new boats. West Wight, however, would be paralysed without them: the ferry link is vital for foot passengers such as myself, and for motorists seeking to travel to the west and south west of England.

The existing boats have severe limitations: their radar doesn’t look low enough for them to be used in fog without the risk of a collision with small boats. The mezzanine deck loading mechanism for cars at peak times is slow and therefore contributes to the delays in getting the ferries away. And like their smaller predecessors they now are showing their age.

The journey to Brockenhurst from the time of departure at Yarmouth should take 55 minutes. Thanks to WaitLink it often takes me two hours. With frequent visits to hospital in Southampton back on the agenda now that J. is on her second course of treatment, even the bus combo involved in travelling from Freshwater to West Cowes and then across by Red Funnel’s RedJet service is beginning to look attractive – and I never thought I’d ever say that.

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