Sheltered Islander: Shelter Island Ferry Tales – A Wild Ride

Shelter Island's South Ferry
Shelter Island's South Ferry, Photo: Oliver Peterson

I try not to watch the news anymore because it just seems to be the same thing over and over—a murder, a rape, a fire, a flood, and occasionally a ferry ferrying 200 people over its limit tips over somewhere.

When ferries tip over, it irritates me. It seems to be the same story. A ferry limited to 100 people sinks when it’s forced to carry triple capacity, and it can no longer displace more water than it weighs. There’s always a big investigation. The captain gets blamed, the operators get blamed, but nobody blames the real guilty person—the ticket seller. If he can sell tickets, he can count money. If he can count money, he can count people. Let them on the boat and when you reach capacity say something like, “stop.”

The ferries here are very vigilant about weight and capacity limits. I’ll bet half the men on Shelter Island have the entry “ferry worker” somewhere on their résumé. You can always tell who they are in line. They are in the cars that stop way back in the line when they see a cement mixer up ahead. They know exactly how many cars will fit. Most drivers don’t want to get on the ferry with those mixers or big trucks. I hate it. It’s very scary.

“There’s room for your car, Ms. Flynn. Don’t let the Mack truck scare you.”

“That’s okay, take the person behind me. I’ll wait for the next boat. That way I’ll be first on board and I can park up front and steer the boat.”

“Being the first car aboard has nothing to do with steering the boat, Ms. Flynn.”

“I know, but I like to pretend.”

(20 minutes later)

“Hey, Ms. Flynn, how come you let all those cars ahead of you? Now you’re stuck behind a truck again.”

“Yes, but it’s the Entenmann’s truck.”

“What’s the difference between being behind a Mack truck and a pastry truck?”

“It’s just a safety precaution. If the water gets too choppy, I’ll open the back of the truck and grab crumb cakes for flotation devices, and I can leave a trail of cookies in the water for the Coast Guard to find us.”

“You’d never get into that truck in time. It has a lock on the latch. What are you going to do, pick the lock?”

“Don’t be so silly, I have bolt cutters under the passenger’s seat for just such emergencies.”

Everyone on the Island has a ferry story. My mother was coming home from her night shift at Eastern Long Island Hospital once and was the only car on the boat. The ferry men were fishing over the sides and yanked up a big bass. They gave it to Mom and we had bass for brunch the following day.

My worst story happened when a jar of honey opened in my handbag. I struggled to get the money out of a wallet that was dripping honey all over me, my steering wheel and everywhere that honey could possibly drip. It was a mess I’ll never forget.

Once on the North Ferry, my brother Joe Beaudry, who cooked at the Ram’s Head Inn at the time, saw a big black bird land on the railing. The ferrymen fed him some bread crumbs and told Joe that this bird rode the ferry back and forth between ports all the time rather than fly. The guys then gave the bird a ferry token which he held in his beak for the whole trip. As they pulled into Greenport, Joe watched in amazement as the ferrymen came and got the token and the black bird flew away.

Hey, nobody rides for free.

More from Our Sister Sites