Best Ferry Ride in Maine
It is such a lovely day to go to the dump.
I write on the ferry vessel North Haven, sliding out past the Rockland Breakwater, headed for Matinicus. It is November 18. They have added an extra boat to our schedule; normally this time of year, there is one ferry a month for us. I’m serious: We speak of “the November ferry,” “the December ferry,” and this single trip will have to do, for lumberyard trucks and propane, for the recycling truck, for defunct vehicles headed for a mechanic or a junkyard, for contractor and resident and delivery driver alike. The little North Haven is the smallest boat in the state’s fleet, carrying about seven vehicles as a rule. The big ferries don’t fit into our harbor (quite literally).
There is nobody on this boat but me, aside from the crew, of course: a captain, two AB’s, an engineer. This morning there are no grinning tourists asking unanswerably broad questions (“so, have things calmed down out on the island?”). There are no neighbors gossiping or trying to squeeze in impromptu board meetings about some bits of island business, no nervous dogs or restless children. The deck of the ferry is quiet if you can tune out the engine noise.
The wind is nearly still, and the sun is shining. Rockland Harbor is twinkling.
It was barely daylight as I was out scraping the frost off the windshield of the Budget rental truck in Rockland earlier this morning, glad for my mittens for the first time this year, glad for one of those long extension-handle ice scrapers. The heavy frost looked like snowfall on the bushes behind Dorman’s ice cream store on Route 1, now buttoned up for the winter. The brightening sky was changing color minute by minute, hardly the soggy monochromatic gray I associate with November.
Unlike those that serve the other islands, our ferries do not leave at the same time each day. Instead, our trips are scheduled around the tide calendar. The ferry can only dock at Matinicus with the tide relatively high (and ideally still rising, in case of trouble). Today, it has been decided that we load vehicles in Rockland at 7:30 a.m. We will have plenty of time to pack the truck once I get it to Matinicus, because this time there is no lube oil or lumber or anything to unload first. With only an hour at Matinicus before the ferry heads back to Rockland, unloading and re-loading of the truck is usually at breakneck pace; there’s no time to drive from house to house sorting out who had the plywood and who had the root beer and who had the washing machine. This ain’t UPS. Today, there will be no sheetrock in the rain, no split-open bags of flour or birdseed or manure or cement, no windows that need to be carefully tied in, nothing in the back at all to shift and jostle and break as the swells toss the ferry deck and all the trucks around. There are no swells. There is no outbound freight. There is no rush. We’ll have the whole hour to load the truck, and we won’t even need it.
Tom was at the recycling shed by the time I got there; Lana and Lisa and John arrived soon. I’d been worrying for several months about how to get several eight-foot burnt-out fluorescent tubes to the mainland without risking them getting broken in the truck; a mercury spill, even if small, might not endear me to the Rockland transfer station crew. Paul has rounded up a box that was eight feet long, and has packed the dead bulbs securely. Now, I just have to remember not to step on the box as the truck fills.
We loaded well over a hundred dollars’ worth of returnable beverage containers, this time the proceeds going to the church for renovation of the parsonage — surely just a drop in the bucket, but it might make all the beer drinkers feel good to know they helped buy a storm window or a can of paint. We loaded big bags of #2 plastic and other recyclable plastic containers and cans and Styrofoam. We loaded a kitchen stove and, without a doubt, the moosiest gas grill I have ever hefted. We loaded banana boxes full of glass jars and newspapers and junk mail (our recycling system runs on banana boxes, I swear). We loaded busted telephones and empty paint cans and lithium batteries and a defunct satellite dish. We loaded cardboard—there’s always nearly half a truckload of cardboard.
I drove back to the harbor and watched as another neighbor with a Bobcat skid-steer loader maneuvered a dead vehicle onto the ferry, this one headed for a Rockland garage. Next aboard was the insulation truck (the crew had already flown to the mainland; they’ll be happy to get their truck back). Next aboard was me — or so I thought. I drove the heavily loaded truck over the arch of the ramp and into place behind the other truck. “Oh, no, we have another junker to load first.” I had to back my truck off the ferry and onto the wharf, making room for the guy with the Bobcat to push a completely helpless pickup truck aboard, turn around, and drive the loader back off the boat. I drove aboard again, with the usual disconcerting clunk (you should see our ramp…first you go up, then you go down. “Ramp” is probably not the best word.)
Once again I was the only passenger. I gave Al the deck guy the other half of my ticket, $175.50 for the truck fare, plus the $33.00 for my own passage. This time of year you can’t really say the sun was high in the sky, but it was 10:45 a.m., winds still light, sun still brilliant, and ever so slightly warmer. The weatherman on the radio says the “winds are mercifully gentle.” Indeed. It’s a perfect day for a Penobscot Bay cruise. When I reserved for this ferry a while back, I truly expected to be miserable, because that is the way of November seas, but we had to get the recycling trucked off. The sheds were full, and the next ferry that I could get on would be two months away.
Every lobsterman in the area was out, of course, but not a sailboat in sight. The recreational boaters have all hauled out by now, and were well advised to do so. These conditions are not normal. A day like this is a bonus for the regulars, an unexpected day off from the chop and the gale and the darkness. Only those who have thrown themselves in for the long haul, who have reconciled themselves to the cold and the gray, who would have been on the water anyway are out here enjoying this uncommon day. I’ve had ferry rides where there was two feet of green water on the deck, so much ice on the trucks we couldn’t get the doors open, and people sick all over the place. Flat calm and sunny in the middle of November? I’ll take it.
When I got to Rockland after my perfectly comfortable ferry ride, I went immediately to the truck scales and called up Norene at Steel-Pro, who is the weighmaster. Another 2,900 pounds of trash and junk off Matinicus — there’s a good feeling.
Eva Murray is one of a growing group of volunteers who make the Matinicus Island recycling system work.