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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ferries to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard

There is that look of expectation on the faces from the people on the wharf as your ferry pulls into the harbor. Something quite unlike the faces of people meeting you at the train station, or the airport terminal, or the bus depot. It might be a glimmer of amusement, of enjoying the novelty of meeting someone, and being met, at the wharf.

There are some places in New England where these meetings are not novelty, where they are commonplace because for so many years, a passage over the water -- of minutes or hours -- was the only way to get there.

Traveling by ferry makes one feel that one has traveled through time as well as many miles. Perhaps it is due to the leisurely aspect of taking a ferry ride that allows us to decompress.

You may travel 20 hours by air and cross several time zones, but only arrive jet-lagged and never have that same sense of time and space travel that you do by boat or ship. We've gone to Long Island by ferry (see here), but today we're off to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.

Here are some landings at Nantucket, and at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. You can fly to both places now, of course, but with the convenience of air travel you lose that enticing greeting at the dock, where all faces turn toward you, whether you know them or not, and suddenly they all belong to you, and you belong to all of them. You are both loved one and stranger, as they peered at you from behind sunglasses, or squint through the reflection of sunlight sparkles on the water to identify you.

The ferry pulls in very slowly, gives blasts, and your anticipation makes it seem that it takes a much longer time to moor up than you think possible. Walking down the gangplank is a silly, innocuous thrill you don’t get at the airport or the bus depot.

Below, an excerpt from New Yorker Walt Whitman’s poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.”

Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west -sun there half an hour high -I see you also face to face.
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are
more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and
more in my meditations, than you might suppose.

For more on how to get to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard by ferry, have a look at this website.


John Hayes said...

What a lovely & evocative piece of writing. It reminds me of the time in '97 I believe that BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) went on strike & I commuted from San Francisco to Oakland on the ferry for a few days. How relaxing!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you, John. The San Francisco to Oakland ferry is not one I've ridden on yet, but I hope to someday. I do recall the business commuters with their briefcases traveling by ferry across Syndey Harbour in Australia, though. Once the relaxing ride was over, they tumbled out onto the wharf with as much energy and single-minded purpose as any rush hour crowd climbing out of a New York subway. Maybe relaxation is easier for some people than others.

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