Anyone island-hopping from Skye to the island of Raasay this Easter – if they can drag their eyes from the scenery – should look out for one particular employee of Caledonian Macbrayne, the ferry operator, with a serious twinkle in his eye and a camera in his pocket.
Paul Camilli, the motor man on board the boat that shuttles between Sconser and Raasay, is no traditional Skye boatman. For one thing, he comes from Accrington. For another, he has become, quite unintentionally, an internet hit with his remarkable daily blog, Life At the End of the Road.
On it, he posts the illustrated tales and travails of the little ferry, along with the story of his remote croft on the northern tip of Raasay, where he and his family nurture pigs, hens and an elderly Land Rover.
Mr Camilli does, by almost every measure, have a rather wonderful job. Sometimes the rain is like a power washer, but often he has the sun on his face and the mountains soaring above his head. And that speck in the sky above him is usually an eagle.
Mr Camilli, 52, raised in Lancashire of an Italian father, takes none of it for granted. He knows how lucky he is. “This is a dream job for me,” he says. “Sometimes I wake up and pinch myself.”
All day long, MV Loch Striven, a 200-tonne ro-ro ferry, in her red, black and white livery, plies backwards and forwards on the 15-minute journey between the two islands, fulfilling a vital function for the 200 inhabitants of Raasay as well as tourists.
She does so in all weathers. Mr Camilli’s blog carries dramatic pictures of the ferry, buffeted by storms, trying in vain to land. There are days when the wind squalls down Loch Sligachan from the peaks at more than 50 knots, and the ferry has to battle her way through big seas. The hardest bit, as Mr Camilli puts it, is not the driving, it’s the parking. Most days, though, in the smooth, unhurried rhythm of the day, the ramp comes up and the ferry backs off the slipway and heads out on its short island hop – so brief that passengers tend to stay in their vehicles.
Mr Camilli’s duties are to look after all the mechanical things on board: the generators, the ramp, the pumps, the sewage system (the bane of his life), and most importantly the two 300hp diesel engines. He discusses such things on his blog with pride.
As the sun moves round towards the Cuillin mountains, the daily flow of schoolchildren, mail sacks, timber lorries, contractors and tourists complete their journeys. The crew – captain, purser and motor man – know everyone.
Mr Camilli was a motor mechanic in Accrington 24 years ago when he spotted a mysterious advert in the Fishing News: “Remote job on West Coast of Scotland, long hours, hard work, house provided.” He uprooted himself in a instant and became manager of a scallop farm on Raasay.
Now he and the other crew work 12-hour days, seven days a week, week-on, week-off. They are also on 24-hour emergency call. In January, when the island’s 18th-century mansion, Raasay House, caught fire in the night, they got the ferry out to transport fire engines from Skye. “It can be tiring, with the noise and the vibration, of the steel, but it is good to do something worthwhile,” Mr Camilli says.
His blog – http://lifeattheend oftheroad.wordpress.com/ – started in December 2007 when, an inveterate diarist for 20 years, he found himself without a diary for the new year. He gets hundreds of hits every day, and had thousands on the night of the big fire. He has no mains power, relying on wind turbines, and gets a fragile satellite broadband connection.
“It’s kind of flattering really,” he says. “When the computer is down and I can’t blog, I get lots of phone calls to see if I’m OK.”
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