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Farmer Maggot and Frodo both expect the hobbits to be able to cross the Brandywine river from their side of the bank, and Meriadoc is able to cross the river from his side, he does so to search for the trio.

How does the ferry work? Is it on a pulley system if it is, what's to stop the Nazgûl from using it, if it's not how does Frodo expect to be able to call it over, there doesn't seem to be a ferryman.

Note I am not interested in the film adaptation

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The principle seems to be that there's a single ferryboat. You pole the ferryboat across the river at an especially slow point, then moor it at the opposite side and disembark. At some point, another user (from the other side) will use the boat to return to the western shore making the boat ready for use once again. There doesn't seem to be a pulley system to return the boat single-handedly, or at least there's none mentioned.

They turned down the Ferry lane, which was straight and well-kept and edged with large white-washed stones. In a hundred yards or so it brought them to the river-bank, where there was a broad wooden landing-stage. A large flat ferry-boat was moored beside it. The white bollards near the water's edge glimmered in the light of two lamps on high posts. Behind them the mists in the flat fields were now above the hedges; but the water before them was dark, with only a few curling wisps like steam among the reeds by the bank. There seemed to be less fog on the further side.

Merry led the pony over a gangway on to the ferry, and the others followed. Merry then pushed slowly off with a long pole. The Brandywine flowed slow and broad before them. On the other side the bank was steep, and up it a winding path climbed from the further landing. Lamps were twinkling there. Behind loomed up the Buck Hill; and out of it, through stray shrouds of mist, shone many round windows, yellow and red. They were the windows of Brandy Hall, the ancient home of the Brandybucks.

This system works best when there is regular traffic (which there seems to be, given the proximity of Brandy Hall and the town of Brandybuck) and obviously Farmer Maggot would have a good idea on which side the ferry was likely to be moored at that time of day, given his obvious interest in the passing traffic and the presence of Merry.

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    It's perhaps relevant that these types of crossing often would have a rope strung from one side to the river to the other to guide the ferry. Also that there would be a rope attached to the ferry to pull it back from the other side if required. snippetandink.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/…
    – Paulie_D
    Jul 2 '17 at 16:16
  • @Paulie_D - I recall reading in "The Oregon Trail" that one of the first pieces of adversity that settlers had to face was waiting around for the (uncrewed) ferry to return. Because more people were heading out than back, there were often queues.
    – Valorum
    Jul 2 '17 at 16:18
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    Historically such ferries run the gamut from simple pole boats left at the edge of the river through boats on guides to those with return lines (which might be looped on pulleys and provide and additional or alternative means of propulsion). If there was traffic on the waterway a guide would have to be installed too high to pull on so the boat would still be poled: the guide just prevents it from loosing its place on the river through mischance or negligent operation. Guides are, of course, more difficult and expensive to install over large waterways than small ones. Jul 2 '17 at 18:16

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