A View from the Hill: Ferry to another land

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The Vinalhaven ferry twists and turns among the navigational buoys on its way home to Rockland. From time to time one group of passengers or another wave toward a house on shore, where tiny figures on a lawn or porch wave back.

When I see the house where I spent the previous night with my brother and his family, I too wave, although we are too far away for anyone to see me.

Andrew MarstersBut I’m sure of one thing: my brother’s young grandchildren, seeing the ferry from the lawn, are yelling and pointing at the distant ship. 

“FERRY!!! FERRY!!!” they would be yelling, as they do every time they see a ferry pass by, which is probably 10 times a day, and which they have done since arriving on the island for vacation a week ago.

The frequent lobster boats going about their business among the rocks and islands don’t get the same treatment, although the occasional sailboat will be acknowledged, without the enthusiasm they save for the ferries. 

Perhaps it’s their honorific for the ship that brought them to the magical island, which is set with its smaller sister island, North Haven, in the middle of Penobscot Bay, along with smaller islands and many, many humped, rose-tinted rocks. Collectively, these are known as the Fox Islands.

To the bird’s eye, the Fox Islands look as if they were given one last giant clockwise stir by the retreating glaciers some 17,000 years ago. North Haven artist Eric Hopkins trademarked that aerial point of view in the wonderful, colorful paintings of these and other islands in the area.

Everything about these islands – the trees, the rocks, the Camden Hills in the distance – seems entirely different from my home waters of Casco Bay. Not better, just different. Though my visit lasted little more than 30 hours, I felt I had traveled to a different land on a different sea, although home was only 75 miles away.

Like all of you, I have a lot on my mind these days, and it can quickly wear me down. It’s nice to know that even a single night away can offer a joyful retreat from all that worry. 

We don’t have to go far. We just have to go. 

And if you can share that time of wonder with children who are amazed by everything they see, so much the better.

But the kids weren’t there when my brother and his wife and I explored the spectacular 45-acre Lane’s Island Preserve, which is connected to Vinalhaven by a short causeway. A lacework of gentle grassy paths eventually leads to the bold bluffs on the seaside of Lane’s.

As my sister-in-law looked on with amusement, my brother and I fell into a rock-throwing spree at various targets along the shore. For a moment, we were the kids. The problems of the world were far, far away. We only left because I had a ferry to catch.

Heading back to Rockland, with the Fox Islands fading in the distance, I stood at the rail near a young family on the stern of the ship. The sea was mesmerizing under a darkening sky, the frothy wake stretching far astern.

“DOLPHINS!” shouted the father of two little kids, who shivered in the afternoon sea breeze. He raised his binoculars and pointed. “Do you see them?” the kids’ mother asked me. “Over there by the red buoys.”

“Oh yeah,” I lied. I could barely see the buoy, never mind a few dolphins cutting through the sea.

A while later, the dad sent out another alert. “OSPREY! And he’s caught a fish!” We all rushed to the rail.

Back to staring at the sea. 

As I studied the ship’s wake, it was my turn. Four dolphins played in the waves left by the ferry. “THERE THEY ARE!” I yelled, pointing. “Right there!”

The family joined in yet another explosion of enthusiasm.

Then, 75 or so minutes after leaving Vinalhaven, we were at the ferry terminal in Rockland. It was the last run of the day. In the morning, it would start all over again. 

For some passengers, it would be just more of the routine of Island life. 

But for the lucky, it would be a respite, however brief. A time of wonder.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.