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Three decades of passages: Capt. Roni King makes final voyage on South Ferry

The ride was short and sweet from North Haven to Shelter Island, but the sight of Mabel’s Creek coming in to the dock was as glorious as ever, with a strong wind blowing, and the water all whitecaps and rolling waves.

It was the last crossing for a veteran captain after 31 years on the water.

Friday, April 30, South Ferry Capt. Roni King walked off the boat at the end of her last shift to congratulations from family, friends and a crew of current and former captains, retiring from the company.

Capt. Roni King and South Ferry President Cliff Clark.

Capt. King reported that her last day on the job was pretty typical. On one crossing a man holding a camera stepped onto the deck as the boat heaved.  Capt. King, who was at the wheel, asked him to please stand to the side.

Although she asked three times and used the loudspeaker, he ignored the request, protesting that he had never had to follow such a rule in the 10 years he’d been taking the ferry. The captain, trying to prevent an accident, said afterward, “It’s great that people have this sense of safety on the ferry, but really, I asked three times.”

Three decades of rain, cold, and the occasional obstinate passenger was always more than balanced out by the pleasure of working in the natural world. Capt. King said she will never forget, “that first blush of autumn in the trees and the first green of early spring in the marsh around Mabel’s Creek.”

Capt. Joe Clark, Chief Engineer of South Ferry and Capt. Roni King.

Glenn Waddington was one of the retired captains standing by on Friday to congratulate her as she stepped off the ferry, and into retirement. With 42 years of service to South Ferry, Capt. Waddington worked with Capt. King from the very beginning. “I trained her, and she learned quickly,” he said. “When she was on your team, you knew she was going to do it right.”

Phil Dunne, a 40-year veteran of the ferry and Joe Clark, retired chief engineer, joined the line-up of nautical excellence on hand to thank Capt. King for her service. Jason Green, with 40 years on South Ferry was there with his wife, Louise Tuthill Green. “Roni was a pleasure to work with,” he said, while Louise added by way of clarification, “she was fun to work with.” 

The captain first came to Shelter Island from Brooklyn with her partner, Pat King, who had been visiting Shelter Island for years. Her work as a caterer and chef meant she spent a lot of time in windowless kitchens. “She had been working in restaurant kitchens, like caves,” Pat said. “I said how would you like to work outdoors instead?  Maybe on the ferry?  That made sense to her.”

Roni King worked as a chef and caterer before she was a ferry captain, and hasn’t forgotten how to serve a large cake.

Shortly after she got the job, Capt. King noticed that a man came down almost every day to get the clams, oysters and mussels he gathered in a basket and left hanging off the dock in the water so they would be fresh for dinner. It was Bill Clark, Cliff Clark’s elderly father, and the idea of a lifetime of seafood gathered in your backyard impressed her deeply.

She called Pat to tell her about it and said, “I think I’m going to work here for a while.” 

Capt. Roni King.