Two Forks Perspective From A Ferry Boat

Sag Harbor is giving careful consideration to a proposal by some prominent citizens of this area hoping to start a summertime ferry service between Long Wharf and Greenport. The service would connect these two waterfront villages, the only two waterfront villages on the two Forks, by taking people from a slip in Greenport to a slip in Sag Harbor with seven or eight roundtrips a day.

As I understand it, the service would be accomplished by a 53-foot catamaran with seats on board for about 54 passengers. Each passage across the bay would take about 20 minutes. The service would begin on Memorial Day weekend. The project is to be called the Peconic Bay Water Jitney, and it will be run as a partnership between Jim Ryan, principal of Response Marine, and Geoff Lynch, the president of the Hampton Jitney. A Jitney will circle around through Sag Harbor picking up people who might want to use the service. One Jitney stop will be, if this is approved, at the Pierson High School, which has a huge empty parking lot in the summertime. People could park there and get picked up, or walk to the ferry.

There have been at least three hearings at the Village Board about this proposal since the beginning of February. It’s been looked at from every angle. Will the tourists in Sag Harbor flee to Greenport leaving downtown Sag Harbor empty? Will those arriving from Greenport to the sights in Sag Harbor make up for it? (Probably.) Will Sag Harbor be overwhelmed with the need for more parking? (A good question.) Will this pollute the bay? (It will be one more boat in the bay.) Why would we want to help some outsiders, not even from Sag Harbor, to make money from us? (Geoff Lynch lives in Sag Harbor.)

Probably the most vocal person opposing the ferry is Pierce Hance, a former mayor of the Village. He directed his comments at the most recent meeting to the present Mayor of the Village Brian Gilbride, who indicated he is leaning toward voting for the plan. Hanse spoke as a former mayor might to a new Mayor, saying he thought Mayor Gilbride should want to know a hell of a lot more before going ahead with this.

It’s probably good that the Village is looking at this six ways to Sunday. It’s already resulted in a decision that this application should be amended to be just for a one-year trial to see how it goes. It’s been pointed out, particularly by Hance, that to have this go forward would require a change in the Village code.

This newspaper is in favor of seeing this ferry service happen. It will be great fun to take the ferry. It will bring the two Forks closer together. It will benefit business on both sides and might draw people to come to each community because of the idea of broadening their experiences. Also, to a certain degree, it will relieve traffic on Shelter Island for cases where foot traffic would do just as well as car traffic. It will thus be a plus for the environment.

There is a whole lot of water that flows through, around and up against the long shoreline of the two Forks. Except for Montauk, whose downtown was built one block from the ocean in the 1920’s, all of the downtowns on the East End were either built inland or with their backs to the water, with the waterfront industries blocking access to the residents. As industry in America died in the 1960s, many of these waterfront areas became eyesores.

Anyone who has been out on a boat knows that when you are on the harbor, bay or sea, you get an entirely different perspective of what the world is all about. It’s an exhilarating and wonderful experience. A person’s cares and worries seem to float away during that time.

I think it fair to say that our waterways are very under-utilized in this regard. This newspaper, in the past, supported almost all proposed water borne services for the public. One summer about 10 years ago, the town of Southampton tried doing a shuttle service between the Bridgehampton School and the beach. It was discontinued for lack of passengers.

That same year, the village of East Hampton created a shuttle service that circled the town and picked up foot traffic heading for either the beach, downtown or to a big underused parking lot in back of Reutershan Park. That service was also discontinued but this past year, it was revived again by an enterprising group of young men who created a free beach shuttle called Hamptons Free Ride that took people through downtown to the ocean beach and back. They made it pay by selling advertising for the sides of the shuttle and handing out leaflets for other retail services on the shuttle. This summer, they are expanding this service to downtown Montauk and we wish them luck.

Ferry services are nothing new to the world. Just think New York Water Taxi in and around Manhattan, which was founded around 1990.

There was a time, back in the 1880s and 1890s that paddlewheel ferryboats from Manhattan took passengers out through Long Island Sound to Shelter Island and Sag Harbor. They’d come Friday and leave Sunday. And they were known as the “daddy boats.” They were carrying white collar executives from Wall Street and other places to visit their wives and children for the weekend at their summer homes here. I’ve seen wonderful pictures of daddy boats filled with men in brown fedoras, waving hello to the crowd of women and children on the docks at Shelter Island waving happily back to them.

The Trustees are going to meet again about the current application on Tuesday, May 8 at 6 p.m. If they still don’t approve the application at that time, the ferry service will not operate this summer season.

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