Commuting By Ferry: A Photo Essay
We don't call it commuting. But most working Mainers, like people everywhere else, have to head out early each morning for the trip to the office or the school or the job site. Maine being what it is, these daily treks can be pretty colorful, down winding country roads or through snow-filled hollows or across icy watercourses. Still, it's just the drive to work. You get used to it.
But there's another sort of daily commute that is a different kettle of fish: traveling to and fro by boat. It's one thing to hustle from your cozy house to a car warming up in the driveway; quite another to stroll out onto a windy pier on a gray December morning, climb aboard a ferry or a work boat, and head out over tossing waters toward a dim far shore.
Commuting by boat is a part of everyday life for countless Mainers in communities large and small along the coast. The most typical case is probably that of the island resident going back and forth to a job on the mainland. But the traffic runs both ways: many Mainers, especially in the building and mechanical trades, head out each morning for the islands. My neighbor Dave is one of these, leaving home around 6:30 a.m. and strolling a few hundred yards downhill to catch Quicksilver, a small passenger-only ferry running between Lincolnville and Islesboro.
We have a bigger ferry, too: Margaret Chase Smith, run by the Maine State Ferry Service, capable of carrying large vehicles but also used, surprisingly, by schoolchildren whose yellow bus drops them off at the terminal. Another bus awaits them on the island side.
It's hard to estimate how many Mainers commute by water. "Oh Lord, it changes all the time," said the lady selling tickets for Margaret Chase Smith. We agreed on a rough count of "a couple hundred" every day, summer and winter. People go where the jobs are, and the economic tides in Maine are forever changing.
The state ferry service, part of the Department of Transportation, operates half a dozen vessels on scheduled runs in the Penobscot Bay region, out of terminals in Rockland, Bass Harbor, and Lincolnville. The Casco Bay Island Transit District provides daily service to six islands off the coast between Portland and Cumberland. Numerous private companies provide service to smaller island communities. And work boats run anywhere there's a need for them. This morning there were two such boats waiting at the Lincolnville pier to carry work crews to jobs somewhere in the islands.
"In the islands" — that sounds exotic, doesn't it? But we're not talking about Antigua here; these islands are windswept rocky places along a wintry coast. It takes a special kind of person to live there, and I imagine it requires a special kind of fortitude to sail off in semi-darkness to work (or go to school) there as well.
I hope these pictures offer a glimpse into the daily lives of some especially hardy Mainers. And something to think about while you're tooling down the highway in a well-heated car.