The Working Waterfront

Strained relations with the ferry service


By Phil Crossman
Posted 2020-07-27
Last Modified 2020-10-04

On a late spring morning in 1920, the steamboat Governor Bodwell was docked at Tillson’s Wharf in Rockland and preparing to depart for Vinalhaven. Shoveling coal below decks was my grandfather, Edwin Maddox. His eleventh great grandparents, William and Mary Brewster, had arrived on the Mayflower 300 years earlier.

Unbeknownst to him, he was close to meeting the love of his life, a beautiful 16-year-old Phyllis Shields, soon my grandmother, sunning herself on a nearby rock wall as the Bodwell docked at the island. And remarkably, her eleventh great grandparents, Richard and Elizabeth Warren, were the Brewster’s companions there in Plymouth Colony, Richard having also made that perilous journey across the Atlantic three centuries earlier.

Ultimately, William Brewster was the fourth signer of the Mayflower Compact, Richard Warren was the twelfth.

There at the Rockland dock, after crisply attired deckhands helped passengers with their luggage, the purser emerged from his stateroom just aft of the ladies port side salon to begin collecting tickets while dispersing unrelenting goodwill to everyone. Before long they were underway, and as they moved out onto open water, the sweet smell of Indian Pudding cooking in the galley wafted through the men’s and women’s cabins. About halfway across, it would be offered to all after a main course of baked haddock and slaw.

Forty years later, when I was in high school, a highly regarded local fellow, our town clerk and a World War II veteran, began to make a case for replacing the old 65-foot Vinalhaven II, the boat that had served as transportation between Vinalhaven and the mainland since that last world war, after the Bodwell was retired. Everett Libby ran a successful downtown insurance business on the island, and thought a state-owned ferry that could carry more than one vehicle and make more frequent trips to and from the mainland was appropriate and would have a big and positive impact on our island economy.

As he persisted, more and more islanders got on board, including my aforementioned Grandfather Maddox, who, no longer shoveling coal, was by then a state legislator representing Cushing, Friendship, Owls Head, South Thomaston, St. George, Isle au Haut, Matinicus, North Haven, and Vinalhaven. He and Everett partnered in the effort to create the Maine State Ferry Service and were ultimately successful. Everett has been rightfully recognized as “Father of the Ferry Service,” and accordingly, in 1960, the Everett Libby was launched. When it docked in Vinalhaven the first time, Grandpa Maddox was invited by the townsfolk and, to considerable fanfare and applause, to be the first to disembark.

In 1963 he was named and sworn in by Gov. John Reed as a member of the newly formed Maine State Ferry Service Advisory Committee. In 1967 he sponsored a bill to add a fifth ferry to the fleet and, ironically, the bill was favorably reported out of committee moments after the Governor Muskie blew two pistons, stranding a boatload of passengers and vehicles about a mile off Lincolnville Beach.

Today, a half century later, I have not been elected to serve in Augusta, but I am a member of the Ferry Service Advisory Board and I wish Everett and Gramp were back here with me.

The deteriorating relationship between the ferry service and Vinalhaven began several years ago, reached what we thought was a peak three years ago with the demotion to deckhand of one of our most capable and devoted captains—a huge mistake, as evidenced by the consequences and terms of his re-instatement—and continued, most recently, with the egregious disregard for an agreement reached earlier this year between ferry service management and the Vinalhaven Select Board. So egregious, that the town chose to file a complaint with the Maine Office of Program Evaluation and Program Accountability, having found little or no accountability farther up the Department of Transportation chain of command.

It’s come to this: the town feels the traveling public is being treated contemptuously by ferry service management. Management has, in turn, and repeatedly, expressed the opinion that we regard ourselves as a privileged population, deserving of special treatment.

The bottom line is that the resulting hostility is negatively and hugely affecting the bottom line; the ferry service’s bottom line and Vinalhaven’s bottom line.  There has to be a way out of this. We are not looking for middle ground.  Rather we want the common ground that was, for decades, mutually ours.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven where he serves on the town select board.