Killer ferry?

In August I had a confrontation with a Casco Bay Lines ferry here in Portland, Maine.

At the time, we had been under sail when we discovered that our dinghy’s centerboard cover had come off, filling it with seawater. So, we stopped in the lee of some islands, and my nephew and I commenced to bailing.

The ferry left the dock at one island, bound for another ½ mile away, and reached full speed just as she bore directly down on us. You’d think that a 36’ sloop, with a 12’ dinghy and a 50’ mast would stick out, but that didn’t appear to be the situation.

When he was about 50 yards from us, I calmly (not) ordered my wife to move the boat as quickly as she could out of the way. The ferry passed by at 15 knots to starboard about 25 yards away, throwing off a big wake, and showing no appreciable reduction in speed or change of course. Not to mention a lack of any audio signal, or call on the VHF.

The ferry company’s GM – to whom I wrote a complaint – told me that he had questioned the captain, and that he readily remembered the incident. He said the skipper stated that he simply did not see me – that he was on the intercom talking to the passengers, and that we were “in his blind spotâ€. He also said that the incident made a “lasting impression†on the young skipper (2 years in their employ), and that he would never make the mistake again. Lastly, he insisted that the ferry’s captain was not operating with an attitude against sailboats/smaller vessels (as my letter suggested), no matter how it may have looked.

I accepted the explanation at the time – in much the same way anyone might if, for instance, they were narrowly missed by someone who ran a stop sign by mistake. And, given the intervening weeks between the incident and the explanation, I guess I mellowed about it.

“Not good!†say my friends. They stress that it’s up to me to keep something like that from happening again. In the words of one: “If they have a blind spot that hides a 36’ sailboat, then kayakers are in deep s**t out there!â€

I agree, so I’ve shouldered the responsibility and sent a new letter, asking what the ferry company is doing to address their problem. But I have to say that sometimes it’s hard to maintain a properly righteous and angry indignation…

Categories: Ocean Voyaging