It would be hard to come to Salcombe even for a day and not take a trip over to the other side of the harbour on the iconic Salcombe ferry. The lure of the golden sandy beaches is just too much to handle!
Running every single day of the year (by royal charter no matter what the weather) the Salcombe Ferry is owned and run by Simon Shortman with his team of merry men. Three immaculately looked after boats journey back and forth across the estuary carrying their precious load. Felicity, Lady Mary and Suzy are some of the hardest working ladies in town.
Click for practical information on all Salcombe Ferries.
Simon, the owner of Salcombe ferries, is a great ambassador for the town; humorous, knowledgeable, helpful and charming. Most of you will recognise him, so we have put a range of questions to him, including those from our followers on Instagram and Facebook. Read and enjoy!
For how many years have you been running the ferry service and how did you come to run the business?
In 1983 my family bought it and I took over in 2008. There has been a ferry business in Salcombe since the early 1800’s.
Is it true that you have to run the service every single day of the year by royal decree?
Yes, we have to run every single day of the year by royal charter.
What’s your average day like?
When it’s sunny, being on the ferry is fantastic but every day is different with different people and different weather. It massively depends on the season because the Summer season is the better season, everyone is on their holiday and enjoying Salcombe, so it’s a pleasure. Merlin Rocket week is an interesting one because of the challenges of 120 boats weaving in and out of the ferry route!
What type of boats do you use and why?
We use purpose-built ferry boats that are refurbished every year. It takes me 5 months on average to refurbish all three properly. Two of the ferries were made at Coves Boatyard in 1976 (Lady Mary), 1977 (Suzy) and Felicity is a Cygnus boat fitted out at Coves Boatyard in 1979. I use these specific boats because of their shape and traditional look. I am lucky because our suppliers for wood, paint and parts are local, but the engine parts are sourced up in the Midlands.
You’ve installed new engines in all of your boats – what’s so special about them?
For forty years we have used the same air-cooled engines. Then, in July 2016 we fitted the first water-cooled engine which proved to be such a success because of the quietness and ease of operation; we then fitted the other two later that year and in March 2017.
What do you most like about working in Salcombe?
I like working in Salcombe because of the environment of being on the water and surrounded by boats. Salcombe is a beautiful and unique place with stunning beaches and a range of coastal paths to enjoy. I enjoy getting to know people on holiday especially when they return the following year and the year after that.
Best experience at work? And worst?
The best experience has been when I met my wife. She had a holiday home in East Portlemouth and every day she would catch the ferry to work at a local restaurant in the ’80s known as Wellingtons. We married 10 years later after I proposed to her on one of the ferries.
The worst experience was back in 1987 when a hurricane struck Salcombe and the ferry still had to run but not realising it was a hurricane, it was a challenging experience. On days like that, you realise how powerful the weather and the sea are; the whole estuary was a whiteout.
What are you most looking forward to next Summer?
I am most looking forward to the beautiful weather so the people who visit Salcombe can enjoy and use the beaches. Having a picnic on the beach into the late evening is a real highlight in the Summer so it is a pleasure seeing families enjoy themselves and catching the last ferry home.
Questions from social media:
Please ask him when is taking me for a beer this weekend…?!! – Chris Lewis
When you leave your stuffy office in London I’ll be only too pleased to buy you a beer.
Where’s his favourite place to eat out at Salcombe? – taftyyy
My favourite place to eat out in Salcombe is Boatswains. They have a cracking waitress that just so happens to be my daughter. But also the Salcombe Coffee Company for the best bacon sandwiches and the Island Street Bar and Grill.
Which is his favourite side of the estuary? And why? – lets_go_velo
East Portlemouth is my favourite side of the estuary because of the evening sun that sets on the beaches.
Has anyone fallen out of the Salcombe ferry? – lets_go_velo
Yes, someone has fallen out of the ferry, but it was a ferryman. One of them misjudged the distance between the slipway and the bow of the boat and went straight into the water with a full boat watching.
On a busy July/August day what’s the average number of trips made from one side of the estuary to the other in a day? Simon is always on top form whenever we visit Salcombe! As are all the ferry guys! – lisacbailey24
On a busy day in July and August, the average amount of trips made is huge and we are too busy to count. We aim to get as many people to and from the beaches as possible and safely. In the Summer season, we very regularly have all three ferry boats running.
Who is the most famous person he’s ferried? – Claire Yates
Famous passengers: Sir Clive Woodward on a regular basis, Michael Parkinson, Mary Berry, Martin Johnson, Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), Sarah Wollastone, Rod Stewart. To name but a few.
Is he always so cheerful? – Fran Bottomley
Yes, I am always cheerful because I have the best job in the world. I feel fortunate to be working in an area of outstanding natural beauty and I have a fantastic team of ferrymen that make it all run smoothly.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened in one of his ferries? – Nicki Murray
Lots of things happen that make us all laugh from day to day. I would have to say the funniest thing that I have ever experienced on one of my ferry boats is threatening to throw people out if they halfway across refuse the fare. Only joking! It’s probably towing a dog on a lead behind the ferry because he’s jumped ship.
I’d like to know how old is the oldest boat? – Jeremy Woolfenden
The oldest boat is 43 years old and her name is Lady Mary. Each of the ferries have had major refurbishments which included a refastening of 3000 rivets. All of the refurbishments were carried out by myself and a local shipwright Banger.
Want to find out more about other Salcombe legends?
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