The Man Who Jumped From A Ferry - Part 1

If you are experiencing low mood or you are emotionally fragile, please be aware this article details my recent attempt to complete my suicide. I encourage you to seek help the best way you know.

This account is not intended to be sensational or glorify my actions. I hope by writing this it offers insight into the dreadfulness of depression.

I sat in the passenger seat of our car in the loading queue for the Craignure to Oban ferry, morosely gazing at the MV ‘Isle of Mull’ as she hove into view and began her elaborate manoeuvring alongside the Craignure dock. A stevedore expertly performed his task throwing heaving lines with consummate ease to the ferry crew and the thick plaited mooring ropes were secured and the ship gracefully pulled into her mooring for unloading. My wife, Karen, had wandered over to the ticket office to purchase our tickets. I was alone in the car feeling dreadful. We were on our way to the Central Argyll Community Hospital for my psychiatric assessment, hopefully leading to admission on the psychiatric ward.

I looked up at the looming hulk of the ferry, casting my gaze along the external passenger walkway leading to the stern viewing deck. I knew then what I had to do.


Turning the clock back a few days, I recall the circumstances leading to this desperately low point in my life. Each of these instances melded into the other in a timescale which rushed past me at a seemingly uncontrollable pace. In describing them, it’s not my intention to apportion blame or responsibility. This is mine to carry, but this is an explanation of how I interpreted what I experienced. It’s important for me to do this in detail because not to do so, would diminish how my wish and my decision to end my life evolved.

A week or so earlier, to my joy I had been offered a job with the Tobermory Distillery as a part time tour guide. This was my first paid employment in eighteen months, and it was a role I was delighted to attain, whisky being one of my personal pleasures. The arrangements surrounding my start date were loose and confused which ought to have alerted me to what happened next. A week later I was sitting in the queue to board a ferry back to the Isle of Mull when I received a phone call from someone in the Tobermory Distillery’s parent company. In no uncertain terms I was told the job wasn’t mine to have been given and there was no role for me. It was a call out of the blue and because no reason was given to why the job wasn’t mine, my internal response was one of catastrophic thinking. I was angry too and turned to Twitter to express my ire, including naming Tobermory Distillery directly. I made an unsubstantiated assumption the reason for the job being removed was because I’m open about my mental health travails and this worked against me. There followed an outpouring of support from many of my Twitter followers along with a few responses cautioning restraint on my part before I knew the facts.

I then received an email from my paddling partner for a forthcoming kayak expedition raising funds for the R.N.L.I. asking me to reconsider my Tweet since he feared this would reflect badly on him and his professional brand. Regrettably, and I sincerely do regret this, I telephoned him and lost control of my temper. My issue centred on my freedom and identity being governed by another. On deeper reflection, this loss of identity to the will of another is an aspect of my life I have long struggled with. As a result of this tempestuous phone call, I received an email from him letting me know he no longer wanted to paddle with me, and would I see to it that money raised from a few of his Project Patrons was repaid.

I was devastated. Although I hadn’t known him long, I trusted him enough to be totally candid about the darkest depths of my struggle with depression and I understood from him, he would stand with me if I faced these demons during our expedition. My interpretation of this sad situation was again governed by my uncontrollable catastrophic thinking. This was the primary trigger which propelled me towards the decision to take my life. My rationale being, if being candidly open about my depression does not serve me, there is no point in me living. Essentially, I believed myself to be totally useless, a destroyer of friendships and an overall burden to those around me. In the absence of any further contact from my friend, I lost perspective and told Karen of my intention to kill myself. We live on a yacht and my intention was to slide into the sea in the dark of the night and drift away.

As per my ‘safe plan’ when I reach this critical stage of a depressive episode, we visited the local GP together. Thankfully he took control of the situation when he clearly understood Karen’s fear and her stated inability to give the twenty four hour care I required. He made an emergency appointment with the Community Psychiatric Nurse later that morning. I know Mairi very well, often seeing her once a week for support, sometimes twice a week when my mood is very low. When we met with Mairi, Karen again explained her fears. Equally I was unwilling to commit to keeping myself safe. My mind was made up and my intention was clear. Mairi contacted the Community Mental Health team and an assessment was arranged later that day at Succoth Ward (psychiatric ward) at the Mid-Argyll Community Hospital in Lochgilphead. Living on the Isle of Mull, this meant taking a ferry from Craignure to Oban on the mainland. It’s a popular and busy route and without a booking it’s not always possible to get aboard with a car. After hastily throwing together some clothes for a potential hospital admission, we were on our way to Craignure hoping we would be fitted on to the next sailing.

Despite the hope I would be admitted into hospital and the profound relief of safety I would experience, I remained deeply miserable, considering myself a complete failure for reaching this position yet again. This was going to be my third psychiatric admission to this hospital. In the last twenty years I have accumulated well over one of those years as a psychiatric inpatient in various hospitals. I had no hope whatsoever my life would brighten, and I would be forever cursed with my depression. Since the New Year, I knew I was maintaining only a couple of steps ahead of a deep depressive episode. The kayaking expedition was a serious attempt to pull myself further away from my looming depression. Losing this was a major blow.

The MV ‘Isle of Mull’

This is where I found myself sitting in the car waiting to board the ferry and from Oban, an onward hour long journey to the hospital. As I scanned the passenger walkway and the observation deck on the ferry, I made my decision and formulated a plan. I would leap from somewhere on the deck hoping I wouldn’t be seen, and I would drift through the sea into hypothermic oblivion. My mind made up; I remember a sense of complete calmness suffusing my being. It was a release of my pent up pain. I kept my decision to myself and when Karen returned to the car with the tickets it was with a sense of disembodiment, I maintained a conversation with her.

We boarded and followed our routine of finding a seat in the ferry atrium, a place on the ship where dogs are allowed. We rarely find a seat elsewhere, preferring to sit quietly with mugs of coffee watching the excited tourists and the more sanguine islanders wandering from the restaurant to other parts of the ship. On this occasion though, we didn’t buy coffee or any snacks as we normally did. Once the ship was under way, Karen was oblivious to my neck craning manoeuvres to ascertain where were during the crossing. My plan was to jump into the churned tidal waters off the southern tip of the Isle of Lismore. Twenty minutes into the journey I worked out we were close to this point, so I simply said to Karen I was off to the loo, scratched the top of her head and wandered off. I didn’t look back.

The Sea Off The South of Lismore On A Calm Day

I hastily found my way onto the starboard walkway (right hand side of the ship) where there were too many people gazing down the Firth of Lorne towards a cluster of far off isles. I climbed the stairs to the stern observation deck where again there was a cluster of passengers on the starboard side but only two people in the far corner of the port side (left hand side). Descending the stairs on the other side of the ship to the portside walkway I was relieved to see nobody there. I wandered along to a point where I found I could stand on small flat section of deck after climbing the guard rail and leap with ease into the sea. To make sure I was truly alone I dashed back up the stairs to the stern deck to check if anyone was making their way towards my walkway. I noticed the couple over by the far rail and realised there was a good chance they might see me. I also saw the MV ‘Clansman’, another Caledonian MacBrayne ferry following not far astern. There was nothing I could do about this and I made my way back to my chosen spot. I took off my fleece jacket, so I was clothed in my trainers, trousers and thin t-shirt. I placed my mobile phone on the jacket. Without a second thought I climbed the rail and stood on the edge of the ship. Beneath me the wake of the ship creamed alluringly. Without hesitation I leapt.  

I felt no fear and instinctively pinched my nose with my right hand and held my right arm into my body with my left hand – just as I used to instruct students to do in my Outward Bound days when leaping into deep river pools from the rocks. I forcefully hit the sea feet first and felt pain shoot up from my backside. In a strange moment of ruefulness, I considered the bruise I would eventually have. All this as I disappeared under the water, allowing myself sink as deeply as I could to avoid being seen from the departing ship. The water did not feel cold. I surfaced in the rough and tumble of the wake just as the ship’s stern was slipping away from me. I looked up the stern deck and hoped I hadn’t been spotted by the couple by the rail. I couldn’t be certain, but it seemed to me my jump had gone unnoticed. The next thing which entered my mind was the approaching MV Clansman only half a mile away. I began to wonder if I would be run down.

However, superseding these observations was an incredible sense of peace and tranquillity. I felt no regret, neither any fear too. I am home on the sea and have never viewed it as an entity I have needed to battle with and overcome. I am often awed by the surging power of the ocean, but rarely frightened by it. In this instance now, I had a deep sensation of being at home, where I would peacefully pass away. My body, naturally buoyant, kept me on the surface, causing me to be mindful of how visible I might be. I forced my lower half to sink and with this, I kept my head from my chin up above the surface. The sea was cold but not debilitatingly so. I looked back to the ‘Isle of Mull’ not fully comprehending what I had done. There was no regret, no change of mind, no sense of fear of what was to happen to me.

The ‘Clansman’ loomed above me as she passed by and I kept myself low in the sea to minimise the chance of being noticed. By now I perceived my movements slowing and my thinking was becoming muddled. The Clansman swept by, her distinctive rumbling engines pushing her forward, the sea piling up around her bow. The wash when it arrived tumbled me a little and I felt the waves pouring over my head. Still there was no sign of me having been seen and once both ships were sailing into the distance, I allowed myself to relax. The wheeling seagulls mewed above me and peace enveloped me. I was aware that I was now being pummelled by the tide race which sweeps around the tip of Lismore and Lady’s Rock. Waves cracked over me and I gave myself to the sea. All was peaceful and the anguish I’d been experiencing over the previous few days was washed away. I was serenely ready for my death.

My reverie was shaken when suddenly three loud horn blasts emitted from the ‘Isle of Mull’. I knew then, my disappearance had been noted and a rescue mission would ensue. I attempted to hasten my end by submerging myself in the hope I would be pulled far below the surface by unseen currents. However, my strength and ability had become weakened and I kept bobbing to the surface. Looking back towards the two ships, I saw they had slowed almost to a standstill and were gradually turning in my direction. The sea was sufficiently rough to make spotting my head a difficulty. The tide now had me in its grip, and I had the sensation of being pulled along through the breaking waves.

My ability to reason was slowing down and I was aware of beginning to drift in my thinking. I saw a small rescue boat speed through the waves a few hundred metres from my position and I made no attempt to hail them. I noticed too, a handsome yacht sailing close by, but the waves kept me hidden from them. The ‘Clansman’ had turned and was pointing directly towards me and I sensed the binoculared eyes high on the bridge scouring the sea around me. I knew then I would be quickly spotted. It would be a matter of minutes before I was picked up. My disappointment was palpable, and I couldn’t help feeling angry I had been cheated from death.

The Rescue Craft Searching For Me - Photo: Hanna Capella, BBC

Minutes later I heard the small recue craft and men shouting. With practised precision the helmsman brought the craft alongside me and two pairs of hands grabbed me and without ceremony hauled me out of the water. I felt my ribs scrunch on the gunwale, and I let out a pathetic moan of pain. It had crossed my mind to attempt to fend off any attempt to rescue me but even in my increasingly befuddled state, I realised this would be foolishly futile. The helmsman gunned the outboard engine and lying in a sodden heap on the floor of the boat, I felt the thumps as the hull slammed into the troubled waves. A thermal space blanket was scrunched around me and a voice close to my right ear was shouting; “What’s your name?”. This was repeated until he could make out my gurgled and whispered response. I was now shivering uncontrollably, my cold body now exposed to the air and wind chill caused by the boat careening through the waves. I could make out some of the rescue crew’s urgent conversation, all of them agreeing it would be best if they took me straight to Oban. Looking skywards I noticed a Coastguard rescue helicopter bank and turn away back to where it had come from. Obviously, it was now known I had been rescued.

I think I had been in the sea for close to half an hour and hypothermia had set in. By all accounts I was fortunate to have survived. This was put down to my strong constitution.

I drifted off into a semi-conscious state because the next moment I was aware of was coming to in the warmth of the Oban Lifeboat cabin, enveloped by the all too familiar pungent aroma of boat and urgency. I was confused because I was now on a stretcher and wrapped in something more substantial. A familiar face loomed into view and a voice with some authority, stated he knew who I was and where he’d met me before. This had been on my 2015 sea kayak journey around Scotland when I visited each of the R.N.L.I. lifeboat stations. Thomas was the mechanic for the Troon lifeboat, and we had stayed in touch since then. Someone took my temperature and I heard them call out I was 35 degrees. My body continued to be wracked by violent shivering and it was nearly impossible to answer Thomas when he spoke to me. I clearly remember him urging me to remain awake and to think of the kayaking journey I was going to share with my paddling partner. I attempted to mumble back that the expedition plan had been shattered but my words erupted in a splurge of regurgitated sea water. I could feel the intense power of the lifeboat surging through my body and for first time I recognised a great urgency around me.

Again, my awareness of being lifted off the lifeboat and into the waiting ambulance is clouded. I can’t remember how this happened. I was beginning to fade in and out of consciousness with only a faint recollection of the wail of the vehicle’s siren and the motion around me as it made haste the short distance to Oban hospital. I think a canula was inserted into an arm by a medic with an urgent voice willing me to remain awake.

On arrival at casualty I was swept indoors where what seemed to me, a host of nurses and medical staff were waiting for me. I was gently but hastily transferred from the ambulance trolley stretcher onto a raised bed in a brightly illuminated room. I continued to shiver uncontrollably, my teeth now chattering a loud tattoo. My clothes were ripped off me, leaving me completely naked. It all seemed a complete blur to me, urgent voices, firm but gentle handling, cannulas being inserted, my temperature regularly checked, my modesty thoughtfully covered. My shivering continued and I couldn’t form any words. A hand suddenly and gently stroked my right cheek, a doctor leaning towards my head, her voice consoling me, telling me I was safe now and whatever pain I was experiencing would be taken care of. She had an Eastern European accent. Her sympathetic words unlocked my emotion and hot tears welled up and coursed down my cheeks. I cried silently while my body ached from my violent shivering. Her ministration was one of the kindest acts I have ever experienced from a stranger.

I was asked if my wife could come into the room to see me. I could only nod and soon she was there, touching my hand, her eyes expressing her fear and concern. I mumbled again and again – “I’m sorry.”

I remember then a voice asking if my spine had been checked and it was obvious this had been missed. I was immediately log rolled onto my right side, a warm pair of hands holding my head still, and fingers purposely prodded my spine. I yelped when my lower back was touched and immediately, I heard the words ‘MRI’ and ‘scan’. I was gently log rolled onto my back again, a brace placed firmly onto my neck and then I was lifted on to a waiting trolley, the medic holding my head calling the instructions. Despite my fuzzy state, I recalled how we used to practice this as mountain rescue medics in my days of being a member of various mountain rescue teams. I was aware of Mairi entering the room and touching me gently, her voice full of concern.

The trolley was trundled through echoing and brightly lit corridors of the hospital, into a lift and then quite bizarrely into what seemed to be an adjacent portacabin. The accompanying medic ruefully told me that this was a temporary arrangement while the MRI suite was being constructed. Nevertheless, I was aware of the scanner to my side. With the same purposeful gentleness, I was lifted off the trolley onto the scanner bed and instructed to keep myself perfectly still. I was still shivering, and I focussed my effort in attempting to bring this under control. The scan was quickly conducted, and it wasn’t long before I was being placed gently onto the casualty room bed again.

I was asked if I wanted to speak to the captain of the ‘Isle of Mull’ who had telephoned to ask how I was. I declined but Karen took the call and later told me he was concerned for me and wished me good health and recovery.

By now my shivering was within my control and I was increasingly becoming coherent. The doctor again ministered her wonderful kindness and told me I was to be transferred to the psychiatric ward in Lochgilphead. She said over and again, she couldn’t offer me the care I required, and I would soon be safe, and eventually I would get better. I could only nod in response, again emotion rising from within me. The sense of urgency around me was beginning to dissipate. The results from the MRI came back and I was told I hadn’t suffered damage from the jump but there was evidence of an old fracture on my spine. I was assured this would not cause me any problems. I would love to tell you this fracture was caused through some past act of daring do but I think it occurred when I was vacuuming a steep flight of stairs and I tripped on the hose, sending me tumbling to the bottom of the floor below.

I was covered with a form of bubble-wrap with large squishy plastic bubbles. A hose had been placed between my legs and warm air was blown underneath the covering to bring my temperature up. This was a rather pleasant sensation on my nether regions. With this warmth my body temperature was soon restored and the business around me was halted. Medics and nurses drifted away, leaving Karen and I alone.

There followed a slightly bizarre and uncomfortable forty five minutes while I got myself dressed in the spare clothes I had brought for the hospital and sat on the end of the bed waiting for a police car to turn up to take me through to Lochgilphead. Unfortunately, no ambulance was available for my transfer and they wouldn’t allow Karen to drive me. The police sergeant assigned to watch over me was kept busy managing his roving units through his radio and it was clear the police in Oban were having a busy time. It was mid-evening on a Friday night after all. I felt the need to make conversation with Karen, but this was desultory, and we ended up sitting together in intimate silence. From time to time a nurse would check on us and I was given a pair of hospital socks because my only pair of shoes were soaking. The policeman kept apologising and tried to engage me in conversation, at one point advising me life was worth living and not to give up. His words well meant, had no affect on me. I only nodded in response.

I was emotionally numb. I did not want to be where I was, and I felt some anger I had been rescued. It was a time of conflicting emotions. Despite the disappointment of failing in my attempt to kill myself, I was extremely grateful for the generous care I had received from the moment I was rescued. There had been no judgement directed at me, simply a warm response to the pain I was suffering which had driven me to my desperate act. I was embarrassed too. I felt vulnerable and exposed. I wanted the police transport to arrive as soon as possible to take me away.

Eventually the car arrived, and I was helped into the back. The door securely locked so I couldn’t open it from the inside. The driver did not say much but the police sergeant sat in the back with me and asked me a few questions about where I lived, what I did and other benign subjects. My responses were brief with an odd feeling of being disembodied – talking about somebody who wasn’t me. I was believing the true me was a complete failure, not fit to receive this unrequited care.

The police driver seemed not to worry about keeping the speed down. I sat in my own world, holding onto the handle above the door to steady myself, gazing at the luscious Argyll scenery passing by. There was an incredible warm orange glow on the hillsides as the setting sun lit the world around in one last flourish before it disappeared for the night. I barely registered the beauty. I found myself thinking of the inevitable. If I had died, I would never see this again. There was no sense of loss within me at this thought and again I found myself wishing for my suicide success. We arrived at a layby midpoint between Oban and Lochgilphead where I was handed over to another police car with another two policemen. The four of them stood chatting while I sat morosely in the new car, beginning to wonder about making a run for it. There was no possibility of me achieving this – this door was also locked.

Finally, we were on our way. Mercifully both policemen remained silent for the rest of the journey, no questions being asked. As the car pulled into the Mid-Argyll Community hospital, I experienced a sinking feeling. I felt a failure with no hope of ever regaining my health. The car pulled up outside the doors to the corridor leading to Succoth Ward, the psychiatric unit. My passenger door was opened and silently the three of us wandered inside. Miserably I walked down the all too familiar corridor until we were at the door. The entry bell was pressed, and the chime reminded me exactly where I was. With the two burly policemen standing behind me, the door opened, and a nurse welcomed me in. Without a word, the two policemen walked away. The door closed and locked with a loud clunk behind. Once more I experienced a curious mixture of sensations – feeling safe at last and a despairing hopelessness.

I was here again, my seventh psychiatric admission in twenty years. This had been my first serious attempt at suicide.

Karen’s Experience.

After two days talking to the locum GP and Nick’s CPN we were offered an appointment at the mental health unit in Lochgilphead. There was no guarantee of a bed, but I didn’t think they would drag us down there if the local staff didn’t think Nick was in need of care.

It had been a long journey getting to this stage and we were both exhausted. When Nick is this ill, I don’t sleep well; every sound and movement from him disturbs my night and I dread waking to find him gone. I carry on with life but am always wondering how he is and if I might come home to find him missing for good. He once told me that he wouldn’t kill himself when he had the dog in his care, and I try to leave Ziggy at home if I can. We spend evenings together but are somehow detached.

That day we got into the ferry queue and watched the Isle of Mull arrive. I was so relieved that Nick would finally be going into hospital. His safety would no longer be my sole responsibility. We took our usual seat on the boat and I logged on to the wifi. Nick did the same and then told me he was going to the toilet, ruffling my hair as he did so. What horrified me later was that I didn’t even look up.

I remember someone shouting  ‘man overboard’ and I must have ran up the stairs to the stern. One of the crew took me away as I was screaming and friends from the island came up to sit with me.

I have no idea how long we watched The Clansman and other sailing and commercial boats search for him. I heard the captain ask everyone on deck to scour the water to try and spot him. I veered from hysterical to silent, uncharacteristically not caring who saw me or what anyone thought. I slowly became more sure that he would die. Much of the journey is hazy but I do  remember wanting to deck a person who told me she had people all over the world praying for him. The locum on his way home came up to support me, correctly guessing that it was Nick in the water.

Then he was found. We watched them pull a body onto the rescue boat, and head for Oban and the hospital. Someone came to tell me he was alive. Tom drove our car to the hospital, and he and Marjory waited with me until my sister arrived. I was interviewed by the police and then allowed in to see Nick.

There was no ambulance to take him to Lochgilphead, so two police officers were assigned to drive him down. It felt as though I wasn’t to be trusted.

My recurring nightmare is what, if Nick had planned, no-one had seen him jump. When would I have realised what happened? How long before it dawned on me that he wasn’t coming back? Who would I have told? What would I say?

When he is suicidal, I try so hard to keep him alive but this time I failed. I often wonder if I am trying to keep him going for my own sake rather than for his. When Nick is at his lowest, I can understand him wanting to die. Depression is so awful and so constant that death is a release. He really didn’t have any other choice that day, and my regret is that I wasn’t able to prevent him reaching such a low state.

The loneliness of his death would have been the worst part of it. I want to die in the company of those I love, but he was forced to try and die alone.

The reality of life without Nick hit me so hard that day.