The first crossing of a new ferry boat is a big deal, and with a health emergency underway, President of South Ferry Cliff Clark decided to mark the maiden voyage of Southern Cross, the company’s newest vessel, with heart and soul, if not with a crowd.
In operation for over two hundred years, South Ferry may be the Island’s oldest family business, and on Sunday, May 24, Mr. Clark presided over a gathering of current and former captains, friends and relatives aboard the brand new, 101-foot-long ferry. With enough wind for some picturesque whitecaps, the sun shone as bright as the eyes of the assembled; eyes that were just visible above their masks.
Maurice “Tut” Tuttle and Jacqueline “Jackie” Tuttle made it back to Shelter Island from their winter sojourn in Florida in time to attend. Mr. Tuttle, 87, worked for South Ferry from 1956 to 1966. “I was a captain on the Sunrise, one of the wooden ferries with diesel engines,” he recalled.
Cars were smaller then. “It held six or seven, but we’d always try to squeeze in another one,” Mr. Tuttle said.
“Yes, you loved those VW bugs,” Ms. Tuttle said. Her relationship with South Ferry is almost as long as her husband’s; the result of 40 years of near-daily passages, “I was a teacher in Southampton and Sag Harbor and I commuted on the ferry,” she said.
The Tuttles said in those days the neighborhoods of Silver Beach and Ram Island were not developed, Hay Beach was just woods and there was little ferry traffic compared with today.
To accommodate the increased demand, South Ferry has built boats that are wide enough to fit in the slips, but much longer than before.
Mr. Clark began his remarks by recognizing the hands of men in building the new ferry, starting with South Ferry’s Chief Engineer Capt. Joe Clark. “I don’t know anybody in my life who can fix things better than you,” he said. Mr. Clark also thanked Project Supervisor Capt. Michael Early for “overseeing every piece of this from painting to electrical to welding,” as well as Maintenance Foreman Capt. Liam Schultz, Chief Operation Officer, Capt. Nicholas Morehead and Safety Officer, Capt. Nick Merville.
“This boat was built by the South Ferry crew,” Mr. Clark said.
Known for his love of the Bible, Mr. Clark concluded his remarks by recognizing “the hand of God” in building the new ferry. “The following words from Psalm 127 have been welded into the keel, the foundation of the boat, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders’ work is in vain.’ I hope and pray that dependence on God continues in the next generations. I know they feel it now, and I hope they continue it.”
Southern Cross was the original name of the Lt. Joseph Theinert until June 2010, when it was renamed in memory of the Shelter Island native who was killed while serving in Afghanistan. With the Theinert and Kestler family at his side, Mr. Clark spoke of the deep connections between the South Ferry family and theirs.
A little after 1:15 p.m., the Southern Cross, with Capt. Michael Early at the helm, pulled away from the slip on the Shelter Island side, and crossed the channel to North Haven with a boatload of guests who knew a thing or two about guiding a ferry.
The passengers disembarked, and boarded the Lt. Joseph Theinert for the return trip, during which the Sag Harbor VFW placed a Memorial Day wreath on the vessel as they do every year to honor the memory of Joe Theinert, and his sacrifice.
Two religious officiants came to bless the first voyage of the Southern Cross, John Moore, the minister at the East End Church of Christ, and Father Peter DeSanctis, pastor of Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church. Rev. Moore asked God’s blessings on Southern Cross and all who travel on her.
Father DeSanctis noted the extraordinary circumstances of this particular Memorial Day weekend when so many people are held apart from each other, and how a ferry can be part of the solution, saying, “To gather those who were scattered, whatever brings us together, is part of God’s plan.”