The Working Waterfront

Ferry watching on Frenchboro

Ritual of coming and going creates community bonds

Natalie Hyde-Petersen
Posted 2019-04-03
Last Modified 2019-04-03

Reflections is written by Island Fellows, recent college grads who do community service work on Maine islands and in remote coastal communities through the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront.

By Natalie Hyde-Peterson

The first time I visited Frenchboro, I got off the passenger ferry onto the town dock where there were 20 or so people standing in the morning sun, apparently waiting to take the ferry off island. After brief hellos and goodbyes with people getting on the boat to Gott’s Island, the little retrofitted lobster boat left the dock with perhaps half of the islanders still standing on land.

After chatting briefly with one another, they hopped into their island trucks (which are their own cultural institution) or walked down the shore road back toward their homes. At 8:45 on a cool and sunny Friday morning in May, a handful of islanders had come to the center of town, not to take the ferry to the mainland, but to talk to their neighbors as they watched it come and go.

I was told that meeting at the ferry landing was a common pastime on island, especially for the old timers, and I immediately knew that this was a tradition I would be happy to participate in when I moved to the island.

Anyone who lives on an unbridged island can tell you that their ferry/mailboat/plane is a lifeline. For many islanders, the boat or plane that comes a few times a day or a few times a week is what they rely on for access to everything that the mainland has to offer—grocery stores and doctors, movie theaters and sushi restaurants—things that we literally would not be able to live without, and some that we just like.

I knew how essential the ferry was before I moved to Frenchboro, but what I didn’t expect was that here, the ferry is more than a practical necessity; it can be a social hub, and a source of entertainment. 

On Frenchboro there are somewhere between three and six boats each week, depending on season and weather, and because of the relative rarity of ferry trips, each trip becomes important. And when something is important to a community, people tend to show up for it.

Though this time of year there are rarely enough people on island to make space an issue for a given trip, people still arrive early at the ferry ramp, waiting and chatting with neighbors as the boat comes in. Meeting friends at the ferry terminal is a common way to get in a bit of much-needed social interaction, and it’s always a bit of a guilty pleasure to take wild guesses as to the identity of strangers on the incoming boat.

There are islanders who have been here for decades who walk or drive to the ferry terminal multiple times a week to spend time with neighbors and see the boat come and go. Life on the island is oriented around the schedule of the boat; its regularity and what it represents in terms of connection to other people make the ferry a central feature of island living, very often at the forefront of people’s minds.

Integration into island communities is a major piece of the work of Island Fellows, and there are many facets of it that can be challenging. Participating in Frenchboro’s ferry watching habit, however, has been a simple pleasure that I am happy to take part in. 

Natalie Hyde-Petersen is working on the island of Frenchboro to support educational efforts with an after-school and summer learning program. She also works with the Maine Coast Heritage Trust to support community programs. She graduated from Gordon College with a degree in linguistics.