Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hitchiking by plane and ship

They stood hopefully at the side of the road holding a sign marked ‘Scotland’ as the traffic passed by. You don’t see many hitch hikers these days and these were the first I’d seen for three or four years. Like many folk I’ve done a lot in my younger days and some of it by unconventional means including hitching on a plane and my partner Trish even managing a trip on an oil-tanker.

Let me explain: I worked in the Shetlands and was on a regular leave flight to Glasgow where I would normally have disembarked and traveled by train to Whitby. I ended up sitting next to the stewardess at the rear of the plane and when she was done with the trolley we chatted. I wondered where she lived and was told Newcastle. I commiserated on her misfortune on having further to travel when the plane terminated in Glasgow. “Oh, it doesn’t”, she replied, “It’s going to Teesside – that’s where we are going to.”

“Any chance of a lift –I live in Whitby”, I asked, with no hope of being told yes.

“I’ll ask the Captain” she said and then added there would be a few more on board who probably would prefer to get off at Teesside instead of Glasgow. Looking down the cabin I could see several others who would love the chance to continue on to Teesside including at least another two who lived in Whitby. Not wanting to give her too much of an extra work load, I told her, half jokingly, that if we could stay on board I’d do her duties for her, something I could do easily as I’d flown on this route with the same airline nearly 40 times in the last three years.

As she disappeared to the flight deck I didn’t hold my breath, as I thought my cheeky request would promptly be turned down. She returned a minutes later saying that the captain was happy with us staying on board, so several of us remained seated as the aircraft discharged most of the passengers at Glasgow and we took off again for the flight to Teesside.

She proffered the microphone and said, “Go on then!”. I made the usual announcements over the PA and whilst the stewardess remained seated I took the trolley down the aisle handing out cold drinks to my work mates, receiving many ribald comments along the way. Forty minutes later we were in Teesside airport and the three of us from Whitby jumped into a taxi and were soon in Whitby. Probably the fastest possible trip ever made from the Shetland Isles to Whitby by far.

I thought this mode of transport was pretty unique for hitching until I met Trish some years later and she told me of her trip to the Isles of Scilly, this being even more of an accomplishment as she did it with four young children in tow.

Trish takes up her story:-

We’d often been to the Isles of Scilly by boat, by helicopter and by small plane. But that had been from England and we now lived on the East coast of Ireland and had four children so it was much more complicated and expensive. It seemed impossible but my then husband who worked for an oil company had a brainwave – he would speak to the captain of one of the tankers that came into the port about getting a lift on board ship. After conversations with the parent company in Germany the captain agreed that they would take us to and from the Isle of Scilly, but we had to organise a pick up in the Atlantic off the Scillies. It sounded good but was complicated and this was long before mobile phones! Firstly we had to think of how we’d get picked up. Fortunately because we’d been before we had contacts who put us in touch with one of the local fisherman who agreed to pick us up. Easy? Not really because the arrival of ‘our’ tanker, The Aztec depended on the weather. It would only be alongside in Ireland for as long as it took to discharge the oil and would be off again a few hours later. I had to have everything packed and organised for six of us and be ready for off when I received the phone call. The fishing boat had to be contacted about our ETA and to complicate things even more we were staying on St Martins, a small off island, so had to be taken off the fishing boat into a rowing boat as my then husband had to go to customs on the main island.

The day and the time came, and we were off, down the Irish sea, and twenty-five miles off the tip of Cornwall to the islands. It was rough and we were seasick but the crew made us welcome and the children had a great time when they weren’t being sick. We arrived and anchored and there was the fishing boat waiting just off the Round Island Lighthouse. Being a tanker it was fairly easy to transfer except that we had a four year old, and a thirteen month old and both had to be handed over to the fisherman. As we approached land a small rowing boat met us and we were rowed ashore whilst my husband headed off to Customs.

Our two weeks holiday started to stretch to three as off shore gales prevented the tanker from approaching the isles. We ran out of money, had to live off rabbits we caught and blackberries and crab apples we picked.

Near the end of the third week a message came through that a tanker, the Sioux was approaching our pick up point. We grabbed our stuff and walked down to the beach and all the locals came down to wave us off. We stood watching with a full moon lighting up the sea and as we climbed into the rowing boat we could see the lights of the tanker as it waited for us off Round Island. Lifting the children onto the ship in the dark was a bit scary but they declared it a great adventure!.

I doubt hitching a lift by plane or ship would be possible now.

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