Probably one of the least romanticized aspects of Martha’s Vineyard is the Steamship Authority‘s ferry service. It’s old. It’s stodgy. It’s even smelly on occasion. People may make disparaging comments about the boats or the service or the crowds, but I’ll have none of it. Think of me what you will, but I like the ferry. It’s the people’s option.
The best part about taking the ferry is the separation that it provides from the land-locked life. When I’m riding on the ferry, traversing Vineyard Sound to the Island, I can feel the anxiety and stress falling from me as if an oversized knapsack has been loosed from my back after a long, arduous hike. As I anticipate a stay on the Island, my shoulders seem to rise an inch or two from the sheer relief of burdens picked up on the mainland. I need that time of adjustment.
If there were a bridge or tunnel to the Vineyard, as some souvenir car stickers would have you believe, I would still take the boat. I like the physical and emotional transition that it affords. That’s why, when taking the car on the ferry, it’s best to get out and spend the crossing time topside. Getting into the car and not getting out until you are on the Island has the same effect as driving over a bridge. You just don’t get the break you need to start a real vacation.
Today there are two primary steamships making the voyage from Woods Hole, mypreferred point of departure: the three-year-old “M/V Island Home” and the venerable (by comparison) “M/V Martha’s Vineyard”. (There is also a set of freighter ships, but I prefer to stay with the passenger vessels. Even I have my limits!) My preference is for the bi-directional newer ship. It doesn’t need to turn around upon MV arrival as the older boat does. Thus, I can set my feet on Island soil that much sooner.
The Steamship is reliable and consistent. It runs year round and only the harshest of weather keeps it from its appointed rounds. Its persistence accounts for some exciting happenings. I recall a particularly rough crossing, during which one courageous soul insisted on sitting on the outside deck of the ferry. As he sat alone (no one else was foolhardy enough to venture outside on this passage) reading his newspaper, a rogue wave came over the front of the ship, engulfing him in bone-chilling salt water. He came back inside, humbled, wiser, and soaked to the marrow.
I don’t mean to disparage the obvious benefits of the alternative means of transport. The “Island Queen”, a passenger-only vessel that takes its patrons from Falmouth Harbor to Oak Bluffs Harbor, is fast and convenient, with far less hectic departures and arrivals. From the other side of Falmouth Harbor, the quaint “Pied Piper” will drop you off right in downtown Edgartown. (How cool is that?) I won’t touch on the relative merits of the air routes to the Vineyard. That discussion is left for the more affluent among us.
All things considered, however, I prefer the pace, tradition, and yes, the price of the Steamship Authority option. Truth be told, anything that gets me to the Vineyard is appreciated! In this case, because of the delights of the destination, getting there is not nearly half the fun!