It’s another “high season” for the Frye Island Ferry. June 25 kicked off the 42nd year of a busy summer ferrying residents to and from Maine’s newest town. Located in Sebago Lake, Frye Island seceded from Standish in 1998.

For 20 years, Captain Ross Graham has been piloting the two nearly identical 64-foot-long ferries across “The Notch,” a half-mile stretch of deep water between Frye’s Leap and Frye Island.

At just under 1,000 acres, Frye Island is a full-fledged community of about 500 homes and camps, including a nine-hole golf course, a chapel and a general store and restaurant. Anyone can take the seven-minute ferry ride with a car or on foot. You’ll find the landing nearly at the end of Cape Road, which joins Route 302 at The Cry of the Loon gift shop in South Casco. From there it’s a five-mile drive down Raymond Cape to the ferry landing.

Like many on the Casco Bay islands, it’s the ferries that make modern life possible for Frye Islanders. The first ferry, the “Leisure Lady,” arrived in 1968 (since renamed the Ellie Corliss in memoriam of the longtime island resident). The second, the Leisure Lady II,” came in 1970. Both boats were built by Blount Marine in Rhode Island and cruised up the Atlantic before being put on trucks for an overland journey up Route 302 from Portland. The 26-foot-wide vessels were then launched in Sebago Lake at Raymond Beach.

“On the weekends and ‘high season,’ one boat can’t keep up with the traffic,” said Ross Graham, lead captain. “We have two going every 15 minutes; one is on the island, one is on the mainland. Every 15 minutes they pass.”

Graham recalls one season when a ferry was down for a short time. “We had to have the sheriff come to direct traffic; cars were really backed up onto the Cape Road,” he said.

Graham grew up in the Lakes Region and lives in Naples. In 1968 he began a 22-year stint with the Coast Guard in Southwest Harbor. He started as a mate with Frye Island in 1991, becoming a captain shortly afterward.

“It’s the same license as needed to drive the Songo River Queen,” said Graham. “You have to take a 50-question test from the state.”

Graham says the freshwater licensing process is not as stringent as one for a saltwater operator.

There’s a lot of on-the-job training before one can become proficient in a particular ferry. “It’s being able to drive whatever boat you’re assigned to,” he said. “It’s not as easy as some people think.”

At Frye Island, Graham said some newly licensed captains soon realize they can’t quite get the gist of it. One individual who had only piloted expensive yachts – quite different from a car ferry that has to bump (at times less gracefully) into a landing for tying up – never felt comfortable brushing and grazing the landing piers.

“The trick is when the weather gets bad,” Graham says. “That’s when you need to be at your best.”

Because of the nature of the prevailing winds on Sebago, Graham says landing on the island side is typically more challenging. The ferry can hold nine passenger cars, but takes everything from tractor-trailers to dump trucks hauling excavators. Trailers and box trucks with their wide surfaces can act like sails in the wind.

“When it’s blowing from the north right off Mount Washington, we’ll sometimes take waves over the bow,” said Graham. “It’s just like the ocean and can be tricky when you have to back in on the island side. You can lose your steering when the bow gets caught in that wind.”

Islanders have become somewhat proficient in reading the different hand signals from the ferry crews. Vehicles of all types line up as they arrive for loading. Graham and his mate must organize the different sizes and weights of each vehicle to ensure a stable voyage. Because the propellers are in the rear of the ferry, Graham likes to put large, heavy vehicles in the stern for traction.

“I guess we all have our own way of directing people on,” Graham said, chuckling. “It’s probably a bit of a challenge for the islanders.” One year, Graham tried to get a car to pull out around a truck for loading and come toward the head of the line. He made a large circling gesture that apparently was misinterpreted by the driver who got irritated, broke line, turned around and left.

But for the most part, the small island community knows Graham and the other captains well. Because the ferries run from 7 a.m. to as late as 1 a.m. in the high season, there are 9 captains, including 2 women: Lynn Gagnon of Windham and Karen Spring, an islander. They run a tight ship so the many vacationers can enjoy a bit of the good life away from the mainland.

For more on the ferry, including schedules and prices, visit www.fryeisland.com.

 

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]