In his ‘madasafish’ days as a young enthusiast, Lawrence Macduff went to extremes to capture that elusive steamer photograph — sometimes hiring a rowing boat for the purpose, sometimes getting there by bike. In the latest instalment of his ‘Confessions of a cameraman’, he tells of two such exploits in the mid 1970s.
1974 – boating in Loch Broom
Towards the end of a fantastic 10 days in the Western Isles in June 1974, I crossed from Stornoway to Ullapool, where I had booked a b&b for the night. I discovered it was possible to hire rowing boats there and, having come straight off Clansman, I walked round the shore a short distance and hired a fibreglass skiff. My thinking was that it would be great to row over to the far side of Loch Broom and get pictures of Clansman, hopefully sunlit, heading out on her last crossing of the day to Stornoway.
Well, what a brute of a boat this fibreglass skiff turned out to be. It must have had absolutely no keel bar, because the slightest bias on either oar and it would turn in that direction. Anyone watching my progress, and the boat hirer might have been one of them, could have had some concerns about my progress. Suddenly the opposite side of the loch seemed a long way off.
Some water swished backwards and forwards below the bench seat, but there was no sign of the level rising and I forgot all about it, so pre-occupied I was in trying to keep a straight course while watching Clansman’s departure time creep ever closer. Eventually I found a landing point, jumped out, hauled the boat up, got out the gear and watched the ship come away from her berth in a cloud of exhaust smoke.
The sun committed the ultimate felony by shining on the ship when she was still out of range, and going into hiding when she got closer. Nevertheless, I got some pictures, so the concept had worked. However, as I pushed the craft back into the sea, there was a sloshing from beneath the seat board as the bilge water, having left a high tide mark on my canvas holdall with all my clothes in it, returned to its previous level. Aarrrgh!
1975: burning up Loch Lomondside
Despite her aesthetic and on board attractions, Maid of the Loch always tended to be a forgotten ship amongst enthusiasts. Like many, I had made only the occasional passage and taken the odd photograph of the steamer at work. But in 1975 she appeared with a red-painted funnel and, almost like the red rag to the bull, I just had to go after her with my camera.
Without a car, this looked like a taller order than usual: I’d have to bike it but, living in Glasgow, there was no way I was going to cycle down to Balloch. The journey wasn’t that far, but if I was going to pursue the ‘Maid’ up and down the loch, I would need every last ounce of energy, especially as my bike, festooned with all manner of gadgets, was no lightweight. So I took my bike on the train.
At Duck Bay I’d have to use a telephoto lens when the ‘Maid’ appeared from behind tree cover, and then I’d have to high-tail it up to Luss, where she would pass close to the road at Inchtavannach. Another high speed dash then, and what an awful road to attempt this on – as I quickly discovered. It was mid summer and frantically busy with cars. I constantly had to be listening and looking over my shoulder for cars coming up behind. I had mirrors on the bike at one time which would have helped, but these were no longer serviceable.
Well, I made it, but had to drink gallons of water: I always got very hot as I attempted to maintain between 15 and 20mph during my frantic pursuits.
One other drawback of biking it was that the cameras, which had to be carried in my bike’s saddlebag, were subjected to a ferocious shaking from pedalling hard on even ordinary road surfaces. I was relieved to discover they were never damaged by this.
In the end, the photographs I took bear no sign of the effort involved in taking them, and everything became so much easier when I got my first car in 1980.