Ferry Afficianados

How many of us think about the ferries that we take?  I just recently took a ferry from mainland Canada to British Vancouver Island.  Even though I slept on the ferry, I totally ignored the fact that this was a part of the trip, and I’m now upset that I didn’t get out and really take in the ride and the scenery.  I’ve been thinking about it more and more, and I even did a bit of research on the topic.  Turns out there are some people that really take ferries seriously – the ferry ride is actually the destination rather than a means to an end.

I found this interesting and quaint article all about one man’s interest in ferry rides:

the Islander ferryboat moves from the shores of Cape Cod at Woods Hole to one of two small towns on Martha’s Vineyard in about 40 minutes. While it doesn’t seem much of a voyage, the rhythm of the sea casts a quick spell on passengers, most of whom are here for a holiday on one of America’s famous coastal islands. By the time they reach Martha’s Vineyard’s shores, these boaters have listened to and watched the everyday work of the sailors who load the boat with their cars, trucks, bikes, and pets. They have tasted the sea breeze and know they are finished with the irritations of driving and waiting in line. Though most ferry passengers, especially those among the big crowds of summer, reserve space months in advance, some take their chances with standby, and the waits to catch a ferry without a reservation can run into several hours on weekends. The Woods Hole Steamship Authority parking lots on the Woods Hole side are often filled with cars holding sleepy, grumpy passengers, camped out here and inching toward the front of the standby line.

The Steamship Authority owns seven ferries, including three boats that once carried supplies to the oil-drilling rigs off the Gulf Coast of the United States. Two of its boats ordinarily run a route between Hyannis, 30 miles east of Woods Hole on the Cape, and Nantucket Island. But the winter of 1993-1994 brought such cold weather that, for the first time in 14 years, Hyannis was iced in and the Steamship Authority had to run all of its trips out of Woods Hole. A typical winter day holds nine round-trips between Woods Hole and Martha’s Vineyard. The winter boats are filled with cargo moving onto the island and commuters moving off the island and back at rush hours. During the summer season, 15 round-trip boat runs occur between Woods Hole and the Vineyard.

In the summer months, the ice has faded into distant memory, and the ferry runs are tight with families and picnic baskets all dazzled up for holiday. On the decks of the boat, the members of a string quartet headed for some engagement in one of the island’s tiny, cultivated communities might pull out instruments and practice, or perhaps a bunch of country fiddlers will call out some dance songs. The dogs can fairly choke the aisles, and children rush among celebrities, politicians, island natives, rich folk bound for luxurious accommodations in Edgartown, and scientists on a little break from their diligent work back at one of the research facilities of Woods Hole.

If you don’t come by ferry, you must travel by one of the small planes that make a few scheduled stops from Boston or by private plane as did the President and his family in late summer 1993. If you need to get to the Cape, the only logical way is through Woods Hole. And if you ride the ferry, like as not you’ll be on one of the big, strong boats owned by the Steamship Authority, the only serious local business rival to Woods Hole’s science machine. Guys like Berney and Barney will be taking your tickets, tying up at the dock and pointing the way as you ease your bike or heft your pack on board. The captain will probably be someone who has worked here most of his life, though perhaps he fantasizes of shepherding cruise ships to Bermuda. He probably was born on the Cape, or maybe on Martha’s Vineyard where the ferries begin and end their travel each day, and where the crew member of any 24-hour shift will sleep on the boat.

for a month I traveled with the Woods Hole Steamship Authority every day, taking photographs, talking, eating with the crew members, trying to stay out of their way, and at the same time trying to freeze on film the feel of their work. I think of myself as a ferry aficionado. I like collecting routes, and I see Seattle’s harbor as one engaging field trip. Most of all, I appreciate the free ferries, like the one from the tip of Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke Island or the boat out from Anastasia Island to Fort Matanzas in Florida. One of the big attractions that ferry travel holds for me: I get the thrill of shipping out to sea–salt air, excitement, hollering birds, eager companions–but I’m safely near the steady soil.

-Sutter, Peter. “Boating to Martha’s Vineyard.” Sea Frontiers 40.2 (1994)


Perhaps I shall look at ferries now as more of a part of the trip, maybe even a destination unto themselves.

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