Ah, the slow boat. This was the traditional method for traveling to Nantucket during my childhood, before the fast ferries arrived on the scene. It was always important to prepare yourself for the very long trip across Nantucket Sound. My sister and I were always armed with items to keep us busy like Archie comics, candy (Twizzlers and Jujyfruits), decks of cards, and of course the ultimate 1980’s gadget—a Sony Walkman probably ready to play a cassette of either Huey Lewis and the News or The Monkees Greatest Hits.
I can remember many a crack of dawn in Hyannis where it was always unbearably hot as we prepared to load our 1982 Volvo station wagon onto the boat for our annual Nantucket vacation. The exhaust pipe lightly scraped the ground as the car inched forward to board the Nantucket ferry. It was crammed Beverly Hillbillies-style with bicycles, hamsters, Cabbage Patch Kids, inflatable rafts, enough craft supplies to open an art school, beach umbrellas and other critical paraphernalia that would clearly enhance our Nantucket experience.
At the time, the two ferries that ran from Hyannis and sometimes Woods Hole were called The Nantucket and The Uncatena. The Uncatena was so ancient we referred to it as The Junkatena. It ended its Steamship Authority run in 1993 and was retired to Florida where it was renamed Entertainer and became a gambling ship. How un-Nantucket-y is that? As a sidebar, check out this interesting article from Martha’s Vineyard Magazine to find out what became of The Uncatena as well as the other ships that have served Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard over the years. The Uncatena was replaced by The Eagle, which still serves the Hyannis/Nantucket route today.
If you want to compare The Steamship Authority with The Hyline experience, I might offer this analogy: The Steamship Authority is a government run organization. Dealing with them is not completely unlike dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles or perhaps The Post Office. The Hyline is a privately held group, and over the years their level of customer service has certainly rated better in my book. In recent times, though, I have had perfectly pleasant experiences with The Steamship Authority. And of course, if you want to bring your car to Nantucket, they are your only hope.
In any case, once the car was loaded we always headed upstairs to find a “good” table. The size of these boats combined with their slow speed makes for a very calm journey. I can remember eating sweet, sticky, glazed doughnuts and canned orange juice on those early morning jaunts. My parents would have steaming cups of coffee in white, Styrofoam cups, and after finding some seats, we would head outside to check out the water and other boats.
In a world where everything changes, and not always for the better, I think it is fair to say that today these boats and this trip remain very much as they were 30 years ago. To a kid, the two and half hour ride across felt like an eternity. According to the current schedules, the ride is two hours and fifteen minutes. I’m not sure if that was always the case or if it was once 15 minutes longer, but no matter. As an adult, I am happy to kick back with my iPad or a good book and enjoy the rare chance to leisurely relax.
Stay tuned for more on The Steamship Authority’s Nantucket ferry options.