Looking over at the Cobb today where you might see a few fishing boats and a harbour full of leisure boats it’s hard to imagine that 600 years ago in the reign of Elizabeth the 1 st Lyme was one of the largest ports in the country.
Ships from Lyme Regis sailed through the Mediterranean to Africa, the Caribbean, North and South America and even on to Newfoundland, bringing back all sorts of new and exotic goods into the port. At that time the harbour was so busy that, ( a bit like Heathrow!), ships had to wait at anchor off shore for a slot in the harbour to load and unload.
Ferry boats would row out to the ships and take the crew men over to the other side of the town, where all the night life was. The ferry boat man seated on the rocks at the shore line would call out "Ferry boat! ferry boat! ferry boat!" to let the sailors know he was ready to depart.
One day 3 sailors staggered out of a pub down to the shore where they heard the ferry boat man’s call and boarded one of the small boats.
Now here in Lyme Regis there’s a special kind of mist that descends from time to time. It’s very thick and very localised. If you’re inside the mist it’s so dense that if you blink your eyes you are unable to even see your own eyelids! Well this mist descended as the little craft was half way to its destination, disappearing into the mist. Shortly after, the mist dispersed but the boat was no where to be seen. People thought "this is strange, it’s only a short distance across the Bay. There’s no danger, but something must have happened. Well you know these drunken sailors perhaps they had a fight and tipped the boat. Anyway, we’ll see them again soon!" What they knew was that anything that falls into the sea here in Lyme be it an old tyre, dead dog or a body always turns up sooner or later on Back Beach, but neither the boat the boatman or his 3 passengers were ever seen again!
However, if you get up early in the morning and come down to Gun Cliff, very early just as the last star is disappearing in the first dawn, you won’t see anything, but listen carefully, and you will hear the sound of a boatman calling, "ferry boat! ferry boat! ferry boat!"