First on; First off
Rather than write about how gobsmacked I was at 0500 on a freezing cold Monday morning before going to load a ferryboat after seeing an Oscars’ clip of a guy smacking a gobsmacked guy over an insult to a guy’s wife in front of millions of people worldwide, and upstaging what could’ve been a fun evening and a much needed distraction in our tumultuous world of war and pestilence; I’m not going to nod at this moment with any more nouns and verbs. (This moment has been chewed up enough in the media already.) However, what I will share with my readers is how this scribbler had the good fortune to ride
two ferries while recently visiting Marthas’s Vineyard where I had the good luck or fortune, or maybe I was simply fated to be the first car on both ferries, and the first car to roll off said ferries. For this grand
and delightful nod from the ferryboat gods I was supremely grateful. I know, I’m getting carried away—
someone please stop me!
In my decades of working at the Block Island Ferry I’ve heard myriad requests to be the last car on the ferry for just about every reason we can conjure in order to avoid being up in the bow - the pointy end of the boat - and being placed at the stern of the boat. Of course the end game of this request is that the last vehicle to be put on the boat will be the first one off the boat. It’s a hilarious position to be in when I hear this existential request; with all the horror in the world this is still an actual thing, where the last shall be first on the Block Island Ferry? One day about 25 years ago at least 15 people requested this placement on the boat. Being the wiseass that I have always been I announced in a solemn and professorial tone, “The M/V Anna C will not be going to Block Island today because no one wants to get on the boat and be near the pointy end.” It took a few seconds for folks to register how it is mathematically and physically impossible for everyone to be the last car on the ferry. They also got my wink and nod at the absurdity of their expectation. As for myself doing a long 12-hour trick in the hot July sun, I needed to get my yuks where I could find them, and had a good guffaw about the entire scene with the crew who had witnessed my monologue.
When people generally ride ferry boats they are traveling on a drive-on, and drive-off design. Examples
of this design are the Prudence Island Ferry and the old Jamestown Ferry. This type of ferryboat has never run out of Galilee Harbor. Subsequently, first-rodeo folks at the Block Island Ferry look baffled when I tell them the loading drill, and they ask with a strained and contorted visage, “I need to back my car up to get on this ferry?” When this question arises it is imperative that these customers need to pay close attention to their surroundings, and that I must spend some time making the drill as clear as Baccarat crystal. Yet, drivers are still wont to flub the drill because it’s a new deal for them to back a car up onto a ferryboat. Furthermore, these first-rodeo folks might be texting or taking a selfie to document this Hallmark moment for their friends. Subsequently, vigilance is the name of the game for all.
Most of the ferries that travel to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are a drive-on and drive-off type of
vessel. On this year’s Vineyard trip I left for Woods Hole a day early and figured I’d just go on standby - I
know, I’m a rebel - and get a jump on my slack time on the island as I was itching to ride my E-bike. I rolled
into Woods Hole ten minutes before a boat was about to leave and bingo bango, there was room and I drove right onto the M/V Katama. I was the last car on the ferry. A minute later the engine was put into gear and 40 minutes later I was the last car driving off the ferry in Vineyard Haven. The M/V Katama is a converted mud boat - an oil rig supply boat - and acts as a freight boat while also filling in as a winter boat for general traffic while other ferries are in drydock. This is the one Vineyard ferry where we need to drive forward and do a U-turn at the pointy end of the boat, and then drive off the stern. I was last on and last off and didn’t care. I was not working, had no schedule, and was going E-bike riding on a sunny day.
A writer bud of mine named Tom Dunlop from Edgartown and I were talking about the M/V Governor, which is an old Vineyard ferry with a storied past. “At 68 years of age, and having served four routes on
two coastlines 3,000 miles apart, she’s proven herself to be a miracle of adaptability and durability,” says
Tom. “Plus she looks so cool, sleek and fast, perfectly conceived and executed for San Diego Bay when
Ike was president.” Moreover, Tom Dunlop’s book The Chappy Ferry Book which he wrote about a very
unique ferry which he is very fond of, and the M/V Governor that he refers to in his quote are fun boats to ride. They are a wide-open design and we can enjoy the sea- going scenery. As stated earlier, on this year’s Vineyard trip I was first on and first off on both of the aforementioned ferryboats. It was not conjured nor planned; it just happened and I got a subtle yuk about it. I got a bigger yuk when I thought about the responses I would get if I requested not to be the first one on either of these ferries because I wanted to be the last car off the boat. I can only imagine the dialogue with the Chappy Ferry Captain, and the Mate of the M/V Governor. Nota Bene: the Chappy Ferry On Time III carries only three cars, and takes one minute to make the 595-foot crossing. It’s also a tight queue and I was first in line. The dialogue with the Chappy Ferry Captain might go like this:
“Hello Captain, I know this is perhaps an encumbrance but would it be possible for me to be the last car on
the ferry. You see, it’s my first time to this enchanted island and I really love the scenery of the harbor and
town and want to take some pictures, and perhaps a selfie! Please?”
“No, you can’t.”
This is how the compressed dialogue would go along with looks of laughable incredulity from the Captain. The First Mate of the M/V Governor’s response I will leave to the reader’s imagination in the privacy of his own chamber. Finally, I had some great slack time and great weather on my annual Vineyard trip, and was gobsmacked by my good ferryboat fortune and had fun. Win Win.
Sail on, kids!