Islands of The Maritimes

Ferry & Lifeline

Shunpiking, December-January, 2000, No. 31

Cirrocumulous Clouds: High-altitude, heaped-tufted, or grainy clouds arranged together with others in sheets of dappled, rippled, or ribbed patterns. Along with altocumulous clouds, they are also associated with the term "mackerel sky" and are an ice crystal clouds. Cirrocumulous clouds are transient formations and often develop from cirrus or cirrostratus clouds.

Beaufort Scale of Wind Force -- Strong gale: Sea criterion, high waves. Dense streaks of foam along the direction of the wind. Crests of waves begin to topple, tumble and roll over. Spray may affect visibility. Land criterion, slight structural damage to buildings occur.

On one of the last shopping days before Christmas I have to travel to the mainland to make last minute gift purchases. The weather report of the night before is grim and the weather of the day promises to make the journey difficult to negotiate given that I have to eventually drive some distance on wet, slick roads.

I arise early and look out the window toward the Cove. Apart from the bright lights glowing on the wharf, the sky and the Island are couched in darkness. I hear the wind screaming round the house; I feel the occasional, stronger gusts shake the building ever so slightly. It's about 7 am, an hour or so until the ferry leaves. Right now, it is just leaving the mainland on its return from the first trip from the Island for the day. Intuitively I feel thankful, this particular morning, that I'm not a member of the ferry's crew.

About 7:30 am I again look out the window on to the Cove. The sky is dynamic, with massive, dark cumulonimbus clouds moving quickly overhead from the south. ("It's a rare winter storm that blows from the south," I recollect one of my neighbours, a retired fisherman, remarking recently -- and I take some comfort in his words.) Close by, in the lee of the island shore, the sea is only slightly choppy; the waves are small and angular yet flattened by the wind's eddies which swirl over the water. Fan shaped patterns from the turbulent wind swarm erratically over the sea's surface between the shore immediately before me and the government wharf on the other side of the Cove.

I look out the kitchen window to the south, and then upward again, and note the gray, menacing turbulence of the clouds; great heaving, rolling, dark-hearted clouds jostle across the sky in long rope-like masses. They are moving at high speed and I estimate that the wind is howling at about 50 or more kilometres per hour. I can barely see the tattered flag on the Island Post Office pole, some 100 metres away. It blows full. The garden furniture -- a light chair -- normally located just outside the backdoor is upturned against the house. The wind pushes at the eaves and presses around the small courtyard-like alcove in the back of the house. The old standard rose bush is bent low. The bare branched black locust tree near the door has its south side branches bent back on themselves. The tall, thin juniper bush near the gallery door and window is brushing heavily against the wall of the house, scratching and crawling at the weather-beaten shingles in unison with heaving rhythmic gusts. I hear the wind buffeting the steel stove chimney and whining around its cap. The noises of the daytime wind are very different from the dark gusts of night-time. And, when the wind drives in wildly from the south it has a different voice than the north wind.

I go about my business of getting ready for my trip to the mainland. As usual, no matter what time I arise, I always seem to be rushing at the last moment. Having watched for the ferry's approach from the mainland I see it move out of view behind the northern point of the Island and know that in another 15 minutes it will be at the government wharf. I get on my jacket and hat although, from the outside thermometer at the kitchen window, I know that it is not particularly cold for this time of the year. But I also know that the temperature is predicted to plunge today, with rain and sleet and even snow in the closing hours of the day. Outside, the wind immediately buffets me hard against the wall of the house. It whines at the power and telephone wires which usually sag from pole to house; this morning they bounce, twist, and twirl with the gusts. I hear the roar of waves on the rocky beaches on the far, southeast side of the Island. An ominous sound, I fear.

As the dawn breaks the colours of the early morning are vibrant despite the darkness of parts of the sky. The blueness of the upper atmosphere penetrates the scattered, fast paced clouds. Illuminated patches race across the land and the sea. There are tinges of bright orange in the clouds to the southeast, away on the horizon, above the houses on the Cove. As I look out on the Bay, towards the west, I note the great contrast in the water's surface. Out there, beyond the shelter of the Cove and the rocky point to the west, the surface of the ocean looks angry. Waves are whipped by the gale force winds, white foam pluming atop the waves like the feathers of great gulls spread out horizontally on the water's surface. It looks very rough and I note that all of the boats in the Island fishing fleet are moored safely at the pier.

The walk to the ferry affords an opportunity to look around and to think about the growing storm and the affairs of the day. I enjoy being outside in strong winds. I walk briskly -- although, in my mind, I amble -- down the gravel, pot-holed road to the Cove shore and beyond. My thoughts are far away, well, mostly. The wind is flattening the remaining decayed herb and grass stalks at the side of the road and the brush is waving madly. No one else is on foot. The road is clear. I have it to myself. I search the sky.

A long dense bank of stratocumulous cloud blankets the southeastern sixth of the sky. Its upper edge silver white, glowing from within, but with patches ominously dark; like a huge three or four coil hemp rope, the graduations of shade and light highlighting the texture and form of individual strands of fibre within both the coils and the rope.

As I walk my mind wanders. Ropes. Knots. I thought of the ropes and knots I'd used in constructing elaborate outdoor and experiential education activities -- rope ladders, high and low rope walks strung between trees, and rope -- based group initiative problems -- at various school, forest, and island sites. I thought about the braided climbing ropes I'd used at different times in my outdoor educator career: on the snow and ice covered volcanic peaks and glaciated mountains of Aotearoa, on the waterside cliffs of the Goldie River in Papua New Guinea, and on the Rocky Mountains of Utah, for instance. (Climbing, particularly general mountaineering, had been a passion in the early years of my teaching career.) Then, I thought about the fishers and their reliance on ropes and twines of various weights, circumferences, and strengths. I wondered whether or not old-time rope-work skills -- such as eye and back splicing, or shroud knotting -- have any relevance for modern fishers. I imagine these skills were literally and figuratively part of the life lines of the Island schooner sailing fishers six or seven decades earlier. Ropes were, it suddenly seemed, an important part of my personal history and, there they were, portrayed in the stratocumulous roped sky before me.

I return to being in the storm. As I move along the road, close to the wild water, I watch the ferry appear to the northwest of me. It will be at the wharf just shortly after I arrive there I estimate. About this time, as I reach the highest point in the road and can look out on the water, I get a better sense of the power of the wind and the height of the waves out in the Bay where the fetch is greatest. From here I see the full force of the gale buffeting the ferry as it ploughs head on into the waves and the wind. Two to three metre waves are breaking over the bow of the vessel and, on several occasions, it is momentarily lost in the spuming spray which reaches high over the wheelhouse and passenger compartment and flies to the stern. By the time I get to the mooring place on the wharf the ferry is out of view behind the breakwater then appears, again, rolling and yawing around the end of the breakwater and the wharf. Because of the length of time it takes for the ferry captain to bring the vessel about, and swivel into the pier as if on a dime (a big one this day), I know that he is battling the force of the wind and the wash of the waves.

Finally, the vessel is tied up -- secured by mooring ropes at bow and stern -- and the unfolding gangway is lowered to the wharf. After a longer than normal time, passengers begin to disembark. There are only three people; an inordinately small number. A young woman emerges first -- she is an Islander who often stays on the mainland -- proclaiming "Never again!" and then, as if to review her thinking, "I don't want to do that again in a hurry," and moves on, looking for family members waiting for her at the wharf. The teacher, too, emerges looking decidedly pale and stressed. No doubt she has a great deal on her mind for today is the last day to practice for the Christmas concert which is to be held tonight. She proclaims something about the trip which I don't catch. The third passenger gets off mentioning something about feeling sick. She was sick, so the deck-hand later proclaimed.

Patiently, the mainland-bound passengers line up at the gangway and then board the ferry. I notice quite a few of the fishers at the gangway. As they move onboard, the freight within the closed pallet boxes is hoisted on to the after deck. A few moments earlier as I had walked down the length of the wharf I noticed that all of the fishing boats were still tied up -- just as I had observed earlier from the kitchen window. Clearly today isn't a day for raising lobster traps. On a couple of the boats fishers were checking mooring lines and bilges.

Onboard the ferry. The passenger compartment is nearly filled by the time everyone finds a seat. Quickly, commuters settle in, and before the ferry leaves the wharf a card game is already underway. Card playing is a favourite way for some of the Islanders to pass the time of the crossing. Today, a group of four, two men and two women, huddle around a makeshift card table -- a red, white, and blue plastic "Real Estate For Sale" sign -- and cards fly as they are dealt and played. The well-used table is covered in scores written in ballpoint pen, a sign of the seriousness of these games.

Other groups of people sit together. Six fishermen, apart from their families or travelling alone, sit together and immediately engage in talk and banter about the weather conditions, lobster prices ("$5.80 right now," I hear one say), technical stuff about engines and running gear, and the successes and failures of professional hockey teams. Apart from the weather I know little about the other topics of their talk and, besides, since I'm not part of the group nor the conversations and I don't specifically try to overhear. Their conversation only becomes apparent when they talk excitedly or loudly above the rhythmic noise of the ferry's engines.

On normal school days older Island students travel to the mainland junior and senior high schools and, while some of them also play cards, others read or do homework. Today, though, only a few of them are on the ferry and they are accompanying their parents. These family groups seem excited and especially upbeat, after all, Christmas Day is only five days away. As a newcomer these crossings seem to always witness a cross section of the Islanders: there are a smattering of elderly men and women; active and retired fishers; parents with young children and older ones too; and people like me, those who are newcomers. All are casually dressed, some with rain gear, others with lighter jackets and coats, and all seem comfortable in the warm cabin.

I look around further. There is an elderly woman sitting by herself with knitting needles at the ready on her lap. I often see older women knitting or crocheting, or doing some other kind of craft activity. There is also an older man sitting by himself near the port side door to the after deck. Often the more reclusive of the older Island men are found sitting there, perhaps because of the privacy afforded by the seating arrangements of the vessel since there are two isolated seats either side of the cabin by the doors. Another person, a young man, goes immediately to the notice board -- a small cork one -- on which announcements are attached and items made available for sale. (This particular notice board, the one in the Island post office, and the door of the general store are the main places where Island events are posted.) Another person, a middle-aged man opens his morning newspaper which was brought to the Island by the ferry and hand delivered to him only minutes earlier. I notice the pastor talking quietly with a lone fisherman in the far corner. Like the other passengers who occupy themselves quietly, I usually read, prepare for seminars, grade papers or assignments, write to family, or make notes of writing or work that I wish to do. Ordinarily I quickly begin whatever I want to accomplish although, sometimes, I engage in conversations with other passengers for the length of the crossing. On this trip everyone quickly settles down for the 40-minute direct trip "to the shore."

Our calm and comfort in the compartment is soon broken as the ferry moves out beyond the lee of the Island and the scant shelter of the small grassed, sand and gravel, ancient drumlin island just offshore; within a few minutes the ferry begins to roll and yaw with just a hint of pitching, the port side of the vessel pounded by waves and sheeted by horizontal, driving spray. I see, through the large port side windows of the compartment, the pluming spray spitting violently at the side of the ferry. Beside me, at chest height when standing, are the starboard side windows and through them I can look directly down on to the bow wake as the ferry ploughs on through the choppy, vigorous seas and lateral winds. I wonder about the extent of the ferry's roll; as we progress it seems to become more and more severe. But since I'm the newcomer, the supposed "landlubber" on board, or so I imagine the Island fishermen to think of me, I keep my thoughts to myself. (In reality, though, the fishers know little of my experience on water. Nor do they know of my island heritage. To them I am probably inexperienced on and around the ocean.) From time to time, though, others excitedly comment on our rolling passage.

As we progress across the Bay the rolling of the ferry increases. I had tried to read, but the muffled howling of the wind and the erratic rolling of the vessel assured my lack of focus on the book in my hands. I'm also drawn to the fact that the card playing foursome repeatedly lose their cards from the makeshift table to the sloping floor. I notice them holding tight to the seats and, at some point soon after, one of them rushes for the aft cabin door and into the brisk freshness of the wind and spray whipped after deck. The game is broken up. The remaining players hold fast to their seats.

Some of the other passengers reposition themselves on the bright orange, brown, and off-white, upright (and uncomfortable) fibreglass seats; the more experienced rough water ferry commuters, perhaps, selecting seats along the keel line of the vessel where the effect of the roll is least felt. The rolling increases, and on two occasions we enter into a fairly intense roll, and I hear one of the fishermen say "We're going over . . . [a] shoal." (I didn't catch its name. Within the Bay there are many "ghosts" of previous drumlin islands -- drumlins being the unique streamlined, half egg shell shaped, alluvial, topographical features left behind after the retreat of glaciers during the Ice Age -- and these are only evident by their presence beneath the water's surface, having been eroded away by wind and water over ions. It is one of these that I believe we have just travelled over; waves increase in height as they pass over the shallower waters.) The ferry rolls even more vigorously. The sheets of spray continue to pound the vessel at right angles; the waves, too, continue to hit broadside.

About this time some of the passengers whose legs, while seated on the high seats, are too short to touch the floor, begin sliding across the bench-like seats as the ferry rolls. One way then the other. I have long legs and am firmly planted in my seat. I look out the far window into the ongoing wind and waves and, as the ferry rolls hard to port, I see what seems to be the water just meters away from the gunwale; in the sky, dark strings of knotted clouds -- dense cumulonimbus ones -- stream north and south, the earlier roped clouds having passed rapidly over to the north. The sky reflects dynamic shifts in the positioning of clouds, even over the space of a few minutes. Out of the window the horizon, alternately, dips and rises; one second I see only violent foam crested waves, the next only knotted fast flying clouds. I estimate that the ferry is rolling about 66 degrees at least. The wind, so a crew member told me later, "was gusting at up to 50 or more knots" (about 90 kilometres per hour or more and was, as the Beaufort Scale of wind force classifies, a "strong gale", perhaps even a "storm"). I tend to think that it was much stronger. Several other people, mostly women, quickly but cautiously exit the cabin to the after deck. I imagine them, also, to be sea sick and in need of fresh air. I look over to the pastor in the corner. He remains in deep conversation with the fisherman; or, rather, he is listening intently most of the time. Other passengers make comment about the passage; clearly this trip is far from normal.

I feel the steady vibrations and rhythm of the twin diesel engines, their crank- and propeller shafts revolving steadily in the engine room below the passenger compartment. The rolling continues. As we pass over, perhaps, another one of the drumlim ghosts, the vessel enters into a particularly excessive roll; as the wave passes underneath the ferry the vessel leans into the wind so that the water line appears, momentarily, at the bottom of the port side passenger compartment window. Nothing but dark steel coloured, foaming, white topped two metre high waves can be seen out that window. I quickly stand up, holding tight to the seat, and look out the starboard window and see nothing but sky; angry dark clouds strung along to the north but with bright blue patches shining through. To the east the sky is tinted light salmon pink as the sun begins its rise above a dark horizon hugging band of clouds. Then, the horizon moves quickly upward; all I see is the dark, raging, turbulent, foaming water a meter or so from my eyes.

The wind continues raging in squalls throughout the trip, only abating a little as we near the mainland wharf and the shelter of the peninsula and surrounding islands. Meanwhile, though, the ferry has changed course, turned to starboard, the wind now driving in over the stern providing extra forward motive power. After a few minutes the ferry is several hundred metres from the mainland wharf and both the wind and waves are quieted some. The ferry slows as it moves through the constricted passage. The intense rolling is no longer evident and only a slight pitching is felt. Cautiously the ferry approaches the wharf, turns broadside to the wind and waves again and, after some manoeuvring, the bow line is tied to a capstan, the ferry reversed to tension the bow line, and then the stern is firmly tied as well.

When the gangway is lowered it refuses to remain still. Instead, with the wind and waves still jostling the ferry broadside, it bucks and rolls, mirroring the wild sea's movements in its unsteadiness on the surface of the slick concrete wharf. Some of the passengers, especially the elderly, have difficulty getting off. They gingerly search out their foot grip on the ridged surface of the gangway, holding tight to the hand rails. As I have no personal baggage or accompanying goods I don't wait until the freight pallets are unloaded but, rather, head quickly for my motor vehicle, leaning into the wind. Other passengers are doing the same but most wait for the pallets to be hoisted ashore then they, too, will quickly disperse from the wharf.

As usual, and despite the very heavy seas, the trip allowed me to think about a number of things, including planning my day; on this particular day, though, I also enjoyed the opportunity to record my thoughts. Yet, what I accomplished was little different from other such passages.

The notion that the ferry is the lifeline of the Island is very powerful. To make use of hyperbole and metaphor, the ferry is the link with another civilization. Populated islands, wherever they are, have links with the outside world.

I think about several small populated islands around New Zealand: for the Chatham Islands there is a regular boat from Wellington which makes the nearly 1000 kilometre trip every week or so; for Stewart Island, the southern-most island in Aotearoa there are also regular boat services from the Bluff as well as regular, seasonal visits by fishing vessels of various kinds; for the Great Barrier Island, a large island in the outer Hauraki Gulf off of Auckland there was for years a regular flying boat service to the island which, now, has been replaced by regular ferry boat service and, I think, a hydroplane (although there has always been a water service). In these communities I know that there are great expectations attached to the arrival of shipping.

Being on an island only six or so kilometres directly off the continental coast (although the ferry makes a much longer, nearly ten-kilometre trip because of the point of departure in relation to the position of the Island in the Bay) presents a certain degree of safety. On the one hand it is not a great undertaking to get to the Island; the closeness of the mainland and the frequency of the non-vehicular ferry service means that movement to and from is, relatively speaking, fairly easy. There is safety in this. Outsiders cannot easily come to the Island except for day visits; there is only one rooming house at present -- a private B&B -- and, apart from a small restaurant and the general store, there are no services available. While we are isolated, we are not that isolated. On the other hand, getting to and from the Island is not a trivial pursuit. It takes at least an hour's worth of physical energy to bridge the waters of the Bay to travel to and from the Island. And besides that, it takes a degree of mental energy to make the journey, especially if the weather is cold, the seas high, the winds strong, and the rain heavy and driving, as just a few days ago.

The ferry, though, is the life blood of the Island. It is the umbilical cord which ensures, at this point in time at least, the survival of the Island. In the future, though, the ferry service may well spell the death of the Island culture especially if changes occur in the form in which it now exists -- say from a non-vehicular to a vehicular ferry. Some Islanders wish for a different kind of ferry service, a roll-on roll-off vehicular ferry perhaps, one on which they can drive their vehicles with loads of various sorts to and from the mainland, for example. (I imagine, though, that such a ferry service would mean certain death to at least two island institutions -- the school and the small, struggling general store and, perhaps, even the Community Recreation Centre and the Island's sense of community. I imagine, too, that it might present some difficulties for the very elderly.) To get any sort of freight -- from small parcels or bags of groceries, to luggage, to household appliances, to building supplies, to fishing equipment or machinery -- to the Island is a time-consuming business and requires at least four handlings. Take for example the purchase of a new washing machine: the machine is first either loaded on to a personal vehicle, a vendor's vehicle, or a hired vehicle at the point of purchase and is delivered to the government wharf where the ferry berths on the mainland. It is then unloaded from the vehicle and loaded directly on to and secured to a pallet (there are several different pallets for carrying various kinds of goods). The pallet is then hoisted on to the aft deck of the ferry. At the point of arrival on the Island, the government wharf in the Cove, the pallet is unloaded from the ferry on to the wharf and then handled, again, on to a vehicle of sorts and carried to the final destination where it is again unloaded, carried inside, and manoeuvred into position at the point of usage. Double the handling. Double the energy. Double the time required, at least. When I first came here this involved process was a novelty but it soon wore off. Some of the Islanders see, then, that a new and alternative ferry service would bring some relief to this kind of tedious repetition.

The provincial ferry transportation service, even with its regular trips and its limited weekend schedules, contributed to the fact that the house we purchased came with some furniture (some of it that dates back over more than 100 years -- furniture that was made both within the particular Island household and on the Island). To remove the contents of a house from the Island is no mean feat. The elderly owners from whom we purchased the property simply didn't want to go to the trouble and expense of moving much of their belongings from the Island. They were tired and quickly needed the safety that a large town or city afforded the elderly and those who have medical conditions requiring constant monitoring. The house, therefore, came well equipped and was sold with virtually all of its contents. The relative isolation has preserved the heritage of household furnishings and dampened the spirit and speed by which the trappings of modern society and all its conveniences have become commonplace on the Island. Change has come slowly. No wonder the antique dealer from the northern county often spends several Summer days on the Island every year, combing it for relics and heirlooms. Even so, it is the ferry service and the travel required which constantly reinforces the soundness of my decision to remain on the Island. It is a conducive place for reflecting. It is also a very productive place for writing.

The death of two women on the same cold night toward the end of February, 1935, prompted the establishment of the ferry service to the Island. One of the women was the wife of the infamous rum runner (of the illicit trade, we're told in hushed tones) who owned the house from which I write. I understood she had appendicitis. The other died, coincidentally of the very same medical condition so I'm told. Their deaths brought about a demand for access to emergency services and, some time soon after, the first ferry service was brought into being.

I ask around the Island for any photographs of the early ferries and a crinkled and cracked, black and white photograph of the very first one is quietly presented to me. The vessel, a fine-looking two-masted schooner, was charted by the Federal Government from one of the Islanders and it served in the years immediately prior to World War Two. The Gerald L.C. operated from the Island until war broke out. The service was initiated by the Minister of Fisheries who came from the Bay and it was, no doubt, in part a recognition of the substantial economic contribution made by the Islanders to the fishing industry within the province and to the local economy. During weekdays only there was a regular trip out in the morning and one back in the afternoon, and the service was only available from December to March, the time of the year, I imagine, when the many family vessels may not have been readily available for emergency and regular passage to the mainland.

On one of my visits to my old ferry captain neighbour, his wife arms me with a large envelope of old photographs. These are images of the ferry, or more correctly, images of several of the ferries. These are the images I turn to in an effort to understand a little more about the place of the ferry in the lives of the Islanders. From the tattered envelope I draw out a large photograph of the second ferry. The S.G. Mason came into service about 1939. It was, originally, constructed as a small, motorized coastal freighter. In the well preserved black and white photograph, showing little effects of its age, the vessel is tied up to the wharf in the Cove but it is iced in. The thick ice is piled up around the bow. A father of one of the present captains is looking on. The narrow sleek boat with a high cabin was probably capable of taking on board only limited amounts of cargo and, I imagine, few passengers -- ten maximum according to one of the elderly residents who skippered the craft on its occasional freight runs to Halifax -- but even that seems too many to me.

My mind wanders to the previous Winter I spent on the Island. There was hardly any evidence of sea ice and not more than a thin sheet of ice immediately around the shore line in a very protected part of the Cove. What was it like in the Winters when the Cove froze over as in the photograph of the ferry? The parents of another one of my older neighbours, a former fisherman, apparently eloped to the mainland around the turn of the century by walking across the ice. There on the mainland they were married but, in the meantime, the ice broke up and their immediate way back to the island by ice was thwarted. (The climate seems to have moderated since then. Apparently the Bay hasn't frozen over for many years -- at least 50, several people tell me.) Their son, tells me again of their marital adventures, at the same time both lamenting and rejoicing the moderation of the winter season's effect; he does, though, enjoy his frequent winter travels to the mainland.

I take out another image. This one, a large, white-bordered photograph, is in almost perfect condition. I like the look of this boat; it has very pleasing lines. The T. I. Service, though, looks more like a converted, motor fishing boat -- a small inshore trawler, perhaps -- than a ferry. It isn't, but it reflects the influence of the fishing industry on local boat design. It is a dark-hulled vessel with a white cabin and wheel house, and more than 20 people crowd the deck as it comes into the jetty at the neighbouring island. There are small stacks of cargo on the deck and, I imagine, it has a small hold since there are two mast hoists. Built at the end of World War Two this was the first of the three most recent ferries that was especially constructed with the needs of the Islanders in mind. (It was actually designed by an Islander and built in his large boat shop, the biggest on the Island.) About the same time a petition from Islanders who worked ashore finally brought weekend service to the Island.

The Shoreham, the next ferry and an ungainly-looking one at that, came into service some decade and a half later. This is the wooden ferry on which my elderly neighbour was one of the captains and he frequently reminisces about his work on it. Knowing, though, that he built many large, sleek motor boats, I wonder at his liking of this vessel, a relatively low-bowed, high-cabined vessel. The small picture in front of me suggests that it is top heavy. "Cranky" was one term my elderly neighbour used in reference to its handling. She had memories of the vessel nearly capsizing in strong waves and winds only minutes from the Cove; from her kitchen window she had watched the event with her captain husband onboard.

The present ferry, a high-bowed, steel-hulled vessel was put into service in 1981. It is named after the Minister of Fisheries who initiated the very first ferry service to the Island. With a gray band around the hull, just above the water line, this sleek yet stubby, white, red-trimmed boat looks more like a short version of an ocean-going tug boat than any other ferry I've ever seen. And, despite the fact that it can carry over 150 people -- it has 172 life jackets on board -- it is clearly a working boat, and the large extending arm crane on the stern and the flat open after deck exemplifies that point.

When I talk to Islanders about the ferries, and specifically mention a vessel's name, the elderly talk of them with great fondness and respect. The ferries represented to them new opportunities of a kind and made their lives a little less isolated and dependent on family resources. My sense is that they have, over the years, seen the ferry to be an essential link with the mainland and an important way in which they have distinguished themselves from the rest of the inhabitants of the province. On the other hand, some saw the ferry trip as something to be endured and, even now, they travel on it only when it is absolutely necessary.

oGary Knowles, together with Ardra Cole, operate Backalong Books/Northwest Cove Publishing on Big Tancook Island. This is his third article for shunpiking on Island life.


Built at the end of World War Two, the T.I. Service was the first of the three most recent ferries that was especially constructed with the needs of Tancook Islanders in mind. (It was actually designed by an Islander and built in his large boat shop.) About the same time a petition from Islanders who worked ashore finally brought weekend service to the Island.


"The S.G. Mason came into service about 1939 … In the well-preserved photograph, showing little effects of its age, the vessel is tied up to the wharf in the Cove but it is iced in. The thick ice is piled up around the bow. A father of one of the present captains is looking on…"

"The ferry, though, is the life blood of the Island. It is the umbilical cord which ensures, at this point in time at least, the survival of the Island."

A festive atmosphere prevails when the William G. Ernst first arrived.

The Shoreham was "cranky" to handle. It nearly capsized in strong waves and winds only minutes from the Cove.

"Change has come slowly. No wonder the antique dealer from the northern county often spends several Summer days on the Island every year, combing it for relics and heirlooms."

William G.Ernst and the Shoreham, Chester harbour

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