Even on his days off, Gene Willard can’t help but get up at 4 a.m. His body has been trained for 28 years.

Willard, the most tenured boat captain at Casco Bay Lines, makes the first ferry run of the morning to the islands off the coast of Portland. He’s handled that shift his entire career.

Before most folks roll out of bed and while the usually bustling Commercial Street is still quiet, Willard is powering up the twin diesel engines of the Aucocisco III for the 5:05 a.m. run and making coffee for the first bleary-eyed passengers of the day.

Willard navigates the 110-foot, 56-ton vessel through marine traffic in Casco Bay like it’s a Mini Cooper on a busy city street.

“We don’t think about it,” Willard says of his early hours. “For me and the guys I work with, my deckhands, it’s just what we do. I don’t have a problem getting going.”

Willard also runs an on-call water taxi service. Often, he’ll already have made a run or two to one of the islands before hopping aboard the Aucocisco III.

“Sometimes it’s hard to explain to people why I’m eating lunch at 8 o’clock in the morning,” Willard said. “They want to know why I’m craving a sandwich instead of a bagel.”


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