2010-07-29 / Front Page

Ferry across the Bay

Step back in time: Travel to Newport in relaxed fashion
By Dara Chadwick

Katherine, one of two vessels serving as the Jamestown-Newport Ferry, departs Conanicut Marina on Wednesday. Photo by Jeff McDonough Katherine, one of two vessels serving as the Jamestown-Newport Ferry, departs Conanicut Marina on Wednesday. Photo by Jeff McDonough I’m about to confess a semi-shameful secret for any self-respecting Jamestowner: I’m a little scared of boats.

So when I was asked to write a story about the Jamestown Newport Ferry – complete with the experience of actually taking a boat ride over to Newport – I smiled and said, “Sure.”

Inside, I cringed. But last Saturday, I gathered up my family – and my courage – and we headed down to Conanicut Marina, where we soon boarded the 45-passenger Ferry Jamestown. Depending on when you travel, the ferry offers stops at Rose Island, Ft. Adams, Bowen’s Wharf in Newport and Perrotti Park in Newport.

We timed our trip so that we’d hit almost all the stops.

As we stepped on to the boat, we were welcomed by Captain Jack, one of seven captains in the ferry’s regular schedule, according to May Munger, who co-owns Conanicut Marina – which operates the Jamestown Newport Ferry service – with her husband, Bill.

Captain Jack soon took the helm and steered us gently out of the harbor.

It was, as they say, smooth sailing.

My stomach flipped a little as we picked up speed, but soon we arrived at our first stop: Rose Island.

If you’re used to seeing Rose Island from across the harbor or from the Newport Pell Bridge, pulling up to it on the ferry offers a perspective unlike any other. For a small landing fee – $5 for adults; $4 for children 6-12 and seniors; $1 off with your ferry ticket – you can hop off the ferry and tour Rose Island, including the lighthouse, and even swim if you want to.

I was fascinated as the deckhand quickly tied up the boat so that passengers could exit and enter. But I had to look away and fight the urge to scream, “Be careful!” as she balanced skillfully on the side of the boat, effortlessly handling lines even as the ferry began to pull away.

The ferry service employs seven deckhands, according to Munger. A deckhand rides along on each ferry trip; his or her role is to take instruction from the captain, tie the boat up at each stop, sell and collect tickets, and sell beverages – beer, wine, cocktails and soda – on board.

Deckhands also chat with passengers and offer general information on the Rose Island Lighthouse and Ft. Adams, which was our next stop. Ft. Adams, according to the Jamestown Newport Ferry brochure, is one of the “largest seacoast fortifications in the U.S.” and provides a “visual record of military history for the 1820s to the end of WWII.”

The Ft. Adams stop is also where you’ll find the Museum of Yachting – open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; $5 adults, $4 seniors and children; $1 off with ferry ticket – and Sail Newport, where you can rent a sailboat or kayak, and even take a sailing lesson.

We were also treated to an extra bit of scenery during our ferry trip – the massive cruise ship “Dawn Princess,” which was anchored in Newport Harbor that day.

We stayed on for the next stop – Perrotti Park, where we departed to spend the afternoon in Newport.

By mid-afternoon, we’d had enough of the heat and the crowds, so we headed back to Perrotti Park, where we soon found the ferry – right on schedule.

Staying on schedule is important, said Munger, adding that the ferry service operates with a Public Utilities Commission license.

Munger said that ticket sales for bulk tickets – a set of 10 roundtrip tickets – are up this year, an increase she attributes to more “locals” using the ferry service. A round-trip all-day pass, which allows visitors to hop on and hop off throughout the day, is $16.50 (bulk tickets reduce the cost to around $11, she said). One-way cross-Bay passage is also available for $9 and bicycles can be brought along for an extra $2.

Extra ferry runs are added during special events, such as this weekend’s George Wein’s Newport Folk Festival. The 49-passenger Katherine is available to provide extra service and is also available for charter at a cost of $600 for two hours, according to Munger.

Captain Brian Moore, who has worked for the Jamestown Newport Ferry for the last five years, said that traveling by ferry can’t be beat, especially during busy Newport events.

“I tell passengers to look up at the traffic on the bridge,” he said.

Moore said he enjoys chatting with passengers and telling them about the history of what they’re seeing, as well as pointing out special sights, such as NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon’s yacht and the Athena, the world’s largest privately owned sailing yacht.

“It’s a fun job,” he said. “We meet great people.”

For information about the Jamestown Newport Ferry, as well as rates and a schedule, visit www. conanicutmarina.com.

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