The Boat

People who’ve got some relationship with Martha’s Vineyard love to go on, often at great length, about why Martha’s Vineyard is different from anywhere else: its beauty, its beaches, etc., etc., etc. Having dwelt on the cherished isle for 26 years (and counting), I’ve come to believe that the more you know about Martha’s Vineyard, the better you’ll understand the rest of the world, and the more you know about other places in the world, the better you’ll understand Martha’s Vineyard.

This tends to undermine the notion that Martha’s Vineyard is unique.

Nevertheless, I am right this moment pondering what makes my life — not unique, but different from that of my off-island friends. I am pondering this because I am currently off-island. Travvy and I are competing in a Rally Obedience trial in Westford, Mass. (As I write this, we’re at a Motel 6 in Nashua, N.H.)* I am pondering this because the highway miles from home to Westford can be covered in two hours, but Saturday morning I got up at 5 a.m. in order to get to Westford by 10:30 or so.

The highway miles from home to Westford could be covered in two hours if Martha’s Vineyard weren’t surrounded by water. This doesn’t make Martha’s Vineyard unique, but it does make my life different from the lives of my off-island friends. To get to Westford by 10:30 a.m. or so, I had to be on the 7 a.m. boat. To get on the 7 a.m. boat, you’re supposed to be in line at the Steamship Authority dock by 6:30. Getting dressed, packing my stuff and Travvy’s stuff, loading the car (usually I do this the night before, but last night was pouring buckets), and taking Trav for a brief walk? Maybe I could do it all in an hour, but the absolute necessity of being on that boat makes me set one alarm for 5:00 and another for 5:05.

I made it.

I paid $59 to get Malvina Forester, Travvy, me, and our gear on that 7 a.m. boat and was properly grateful that this was $29 less than it cost us to get off in June. Knowing I was going off-island, of course I let Malvina’s gas gauge slide as close toward empty as I could so I could fill up on the other side. The price differential for gas here and away is 75 cents and up a gallon. Put 10 gallons in your tank on the far side and you’ve saved $7.50, which is (I just did the math) like getting almost 13% off the cost of your off-season boat ticket, 8.5% in summer when the fare for vehicle less than 17 feet long and 6 feet high is $88. Not bad.

The Bourne Bridge

My return reservation for Sunday night was on the 7:30 p.m. We usually make return reservations for later than we think we’ll need, on the theory that you can often, especially in the off-season, get on an earlier boat, but if you miss the boat you’re booked on you’re SOL, especially in high summer: you’re in the back of beyond with all the other reservation-less standbys. Having made good time from Westford, I rounded the curve on Route 25 to see the Bourne Bridge rising ahead — it always makes my heart skip a beat or two. Four o’clock: another half hour to Woods Hole, not much chance of getting on the 5:00, so I stopped for gas in Falmouth.

When I rolled into Woods Hole at 4:35, the Nantucket was discharging its vehicular passengers. I sized up the lines of cars with reservations, then all the standbys ahead of me. Would we make it onto the Nantucket? Prognosis looked poor to doubtful. The freight boat looked likely, if it was making a return trip to Vineyard Haven, but this was a mixed blessing: the freight boats are boats, whereas the big ferries are more like parlor cars that float. The only beverages served on the freight boats come from vending machines, and I really wanted a beer. Only a Vineyarder will understand the thrill I felt when the SSA employee waved me forward and Malvina rattled onto the freight deck of the Nantucket. My rez was for 7:30, I rolled off in Oak Bluffs at 5:45, and I got my beer.

Here’s how to tell someone who knows Martha’s Vineyard from someone who doesn’t: Ask her what SSA stands for. If she says Social Security Administration, she flunks. If she says Steamship Authority, she’s one of us.

*As I write this, I’m sitting in my little apartment in West Tisbury. Writing on the road plays havoc with your verb tenses. Sorry.


About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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6 Responses to The Boat

  1. Love the picture of the button…simply classic! IMO, coffee isn’t the only thing to be wary of on the SSA ferries. Sometimes I wonder how many of those so-called culinary delights that are being passed off as edible sustenance are, in reality, left-overs from the previous season. There’s nothing quite like the taste of one of those mystery-meat hot dogs, a soggy sandwich, picked-over pastry, or an old, stale bag of Cape Cod potato chips to soothe one’s hunger pangs. Personally, I would rather brown-bag it or grab a pizza on the mainland and bring it aboard to consume while the other passengers try to figure out a way to talk you out of a slice, or two.

    I’ve been spending summers on the Island for 57 years. To me, it is without question a unique place. Even at this stage in my life, from my perspective, I occasionally discover something I did not notice or know about the place…that might be one of the many things that keeps me coming back.

    As one who has made so many trips to the Vineyard throughout my life, I possess a special appreciation for your observations. In fact, I have several of my own that I could share.

    Perhaps that’s a discussion for another post.



  2. Hal Davis says:

    Liz and I vacationed last year in Victoria, B.C., accessible from the mainland by ferry — a monstrous several-storey-high floating device. Arriving at the ferry slip by bus from the mainland airport, we saw several folks asleep in their cars, awaiting the next boat.

    Once in Victoria, as we pondered a trip to Vancouver, across the strait, we realized that seaplane was faster, but the ferry was definitely more fun — a sort-of enforced leisure pace. Liz would enjoy all the book-reading and bird-watching time. But clearly the islanders are required to be careful planners.


    • In season there’s a fast ferry from New Bedford and (I think) one from Long Island, but they don’t take cars. Neither does Cape Air. πŸ˜‰ You can only get directly from MV to Nantucket in summer, and that’s a passenger ferry only. The rest of the time you have to take the ferry to Woods Hole, the bus to Hyannis, then another ferry to Nantucket. It’s an all-day trip. This is why I’ve only been to Nantucket once. (Looks close on a map, but . . .) If you have to go to Nantucket in the off-season, flying is worth the expense.

      The newest ferry in the SSA fleet, the abominably named Island Home, looks like the control tower from the county airport slipped its mooring and drifted out to sea. U-G-L-Y.


  3. Betty says:

    Should have proofread that one!. Anyway, yes, the ferry is the one thing that connects us!


    • I threw in a few spaces and commas free of charge. πŸ˜‰ During my detached retina adventures in 2004, I did a lot of back-and-forthing, this after not having been off-island at all for 2 1/2 years. My trip was like yours except that after I got to South Station I had to take the T to North Station (IIRC) and walk to the ophthalmologist’s office. The upside was that there was a Burger King on the way. πŸ™‚


  4. Betty says:

    Last week I had a Dr. app’t. in Boston. Since it was for 9 am, I had to take the 6 am boat so I could get on the 7 am bus and arrive at South Station at 8:50 am and scoot to my app’t that was at Tufts right down the street.
    If that wasn’t bad enough (no coffee available ex. Cumby’s or SSA), I had to take the 8 pm bus to get in in time for the 9:45 boat. My afternoon app’t. for 1 pm got messed up and they couldn’t take me until 4:30 pm. Once you’ve paid for the bus ticket and ferry and left the house early, I wasn’t going to make that app’t. Since I was on the subway, there was no way I was going to make it in time for the 6 pm bus. So I sat and read in SS for an hour.
    So let’s see … I left the house at 5:30 am and got home at 10:45 pm. The phone was ringing as I walked in and yes, I let it ring.
    If I lived off Island, most likely i wouldn’t have left my house at 5:30 am and I would have probably skipped the afternoon app’t and hopefully, I wouldn’t have arrived home at 10:45 pm. Then again, I wouldn’t have finished my book and read 3 magazines to boot.


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