Sandbanks Ferry is a vehicular chain ferry which crosses the entrance of Poole Harbour in the English county of Dorset. The route runs from Sandbanks to Studland and in doing so connects the coastal parts of the towns of Bournemouth and Poole with Swanage and the Isle of Purbeck. This avoids a 25-mile journey by road on a return trip.
The ferry, along with the road that connects with it on the Studland side, is owned by the Bournemouth - Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Company, which initiated the ferry crossing in 1923, and a toll is charged for use of both road and ferry. The current toll for a car is £4.10 each way. The current ferry boat, named Bramble Bush Bay, was put into service in 1994 and can carry up to 48 cars. It is the fourth vessel to operate on the route.
The entrance to Poole Harbour is a particularly busy waterway, used by many private and leisure craft along with commercial vessels including large ferries serving routes to France. This often affects the ability of the ferry to maintain its nominal 20 minute frequency. More Bus cross the ferry frequently throughout the day, on route 50 from Bournemouth to Swanage.
The ferry operates from 7am until 11pm 364 days per year, and 8am until 6pm on Christmas Day. The normal service sees a departure every 20 minutes from each terminal, however a shuttle service operates at busy times to clear the queues. The service operates as normal in the vast majority of weathers, but very occasionally the service is suspended during exceptionally severe storms, or due to mechanical problems, or when large heath fires break out near to its southern terminal. Also, it is typically suspended for refit once every two years, usually for a fortnight in November.
Although the ferry itself has a good safety record, there have been several incidents involving its passage across the harbour entrance.
On 29 August 1976 a 14-foot sailing dinghy was driven into the side of the ferry by the outgoing tidal run following an engine failure. Although two of the occupants were pulled to safety the third occupant, a sixteen-year-old girl was unable to be pulled clear before the dinghy was pulled under the ferry by the current. She was able to free herself from the wrecked boat only to become trapped under the ferry in an air pocket beneath the bow ramp. She was subsequently rescued by her father, one of the dinghy crew who against advice, attached a rope around his waist and went under the ferry where he was able to locate the trapped girl, pulling her out and saving her life.
On 6 May 2001, four 21foot XOD racing dinghies taking part in a race were pushed into the ferry by strong currents and an ebb tide. One of the boats was sucked under the ferry; two crew members were pulled from the water after attempting to climb on to the ferry but a 72-year-old woman went under with the boat and was rescued after resurfacing on the other side.
On 16 June 2006, a yacht, the Flying Monkey, sustained severe damage to its mast and sails after a collision with the ferry. Because of the tide, the crew were unable to avoid both the chain ferry and a Condor commercial ferry which were approaching. The two men on board were able to board the chain ferry and the yacht was disentangled.
On Friday 1 June 2007 a small motorboat collided with the ferry and was pinned to the side by the current, reportedly after having run out of fuel and drifting into its path. Its two occupants were safely rescued by the RNLI.
On 21 April 2009, a car rolled from the slipway, into the sea, while waiting for the ferry at the Sandbanks terminal. The car was not occupied at the time.
On 25 May 2012, the RNLI rescued two individuals, one of whom was clinging to the outside of the ferry. Their small motorboat had suffered engine failure placing the occupants at risk of being pulled under the chain ferry.
On 16 July 2014, The Sandbanks Ferry was forced to stop crossing for two days as one of its chains was again broken by the Barfleur which passed fast and close to the moored Bramble Bush Bay, at a very low tide. The resulting movement of the smaller vessel lifted the chain into the propellers and rudders of the Barfleur, which were also slightly damaged.
The ferry, nick named Chug because of the sound of the chains passing through the ship's drive mechanism, is the hero of a children's book of the same name. In the story Chug rescues a larger ferry which requires him to break free from his chains. Sales of the book benefit the Swanage lifeboat station.
- Hall, Nick (November 2006). "Chained links". Ships Monthly. IPC Country & Leisure Media. pp. 17–21.
- Bournemouth Evening Echo, Tuesday 31 August 1976
- Yacht woman 72 dragged under ferry -Telegraph 7 May 2001
- "Contact made by passenger ferry Barfleur with chain of chain ferry Bramble Bush Bay" (PDF). Marine Accident Investigation Branch. Retrieved 2015-05-31.
- Yachtsmen rescued after ferry collision
- "Motorboat crashes into Sandbanks ferry". Poole News. 4 June 2007. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
- "Car lost at sea after ferry slip". BBC News. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
- "Woman 'hung on to side of Poole Harbour ferry'". BBC News. 26 May 2012. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
- "Meet Chug, the Sandbanks chain ferry who saves the day in new children's book". Daily Echo. 26 December 2015. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
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