Aboard The Frenchboro Ferry

I’m a fan of the Maine State Ferry Service.  That’s because the MSFS provides regular ferry runs from points along the mainland to the islands found up and down the Maine coastline.  If you’re a landlubber like me and just want to get out on the water, you don’t need to charter a boat — you can just hop on a ferry and move from point A to point B the same way the locals do.


Yesterday morning Kish and I took a ride on the Bass Harbor to Frenchboro ferry. For a mere $10 a person, the ferry takes you away from the harbor, past islands and working lobster boats, to the tiny island town of Frenchboro.  If you’re just along for the ride, like we were, it’s a pleasant two-hour trip.  And if you see a porpoise, as we did, it’s an even better deal.


When the left the dock at 8 a.m. sharp, some morning fog was still hugging the islands, wrapping them like a moist gray blanket, as shown in the photo above.  On the open water, though, it was a brilliant, blue sky day, with lots of activity from the lobster-catching contingent.  


After we cruised into the snug harbor at Frenchboro, a gaggle of locals came on board.  For them, the ferry is routine stuff, and they sat up front, chatting away without a second glance at the no doubt familiar scenery.  Kish and I, on the other hand, sat in the back, the better to get unimpeded views of everything going on around us.  How often do flatlanders from the Midwest get a dockside view of a real working harbor and fishermen who think nothing of knocking back a can of beer at 9 a.m., the better to kick start their trip to the mainland?


When we looked into taking a ferry ride, the woman behind the desk at the ferry office recommended the Frenchboro ferry as more scenic than the Swan Island ferry, which uses a much bigger boat that also carries cars and trucks.  It was good advice.

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Working On The Water

Living in land-locked, lakeless Columbus, Ohio — with only the muddy, barely ankle-deep Olentangy and Scioto Rivers in the vicinity — Kish and I view every visit to a substantial body of water as an adventure.  So it was with great anticipation that we looked forward to a trip on one of the ferries that cart passengers and cars across Lake Champlain, to and from various locations in Vermont and New York.

One of the Lake Champlain ferries

Being Midwesterners, we were blissfully unaware that the rotten, wet weather of the spring was devastating for this region of the country.  There was massive flooding along Lake Champlain and its environs, the signs of damages were ever-present as we drove along the lakeside, and even now one of the ferry runs is not operating due to the damage caused by the flooding.  As a result, it took a while to find an operating ferry.

Our second surprise came when we boarded the ferry and realized that, for everyone else on board, a trip across Lake Champlain on a ferry is a ho-hum, everyday, no-big-deal affair.  Some people didn’t even leave their cars to admire the view on a beautiful, blue-sky afternoon, and we were the only “foot passengers” on board.  It turns out that the ferries really aren’t a tourist attraction so much as a basic, hard-working element of commerce.

The view from the bow of our ferry, looking back

The ferry ride we took was about 12 minutes in duration, and on our trip back and forth the ferry carried a tractor-trailer, a huge mobile home, and dozens of cars and motorcycles.  The ship had a captain and two young crew members — probably college students home from school for the summer — who directed traffic and lowered and raised the gangplank that allowed cars to enter and exit.  The passenger area was no-frills, with no snack bar or other amenities.  There were three ferries in operation so that no one on either side of the lake had to wait more than 15 minutes for a ride, and they stuck to their schedule.

In this part of the country, ferries and water-crossing jobs have been an important part of the economy for as long as people have lived here.  For the captain and crew members who make dozens of trips across the lake every day, and for the occupants of the cars and trucks who regularly use the ferry, the romance of water travel has long since disappeared.  What is exotic for us is just part of their daily routine.