A new state ferry, with enough capacity to carry 250 passengers and 23 vehicles, was launched late last week off the coast of Maine, marking the beginning of a new era in transportation service between Rockland and the Penobscot Bay island of Vinalhaven.

The Maine State Ferry Service named the vessel after Capt. Richard G. Spear, a Maine Maritime Academy graduate who in 1959 became the first employee of the ferry service. Spear was eventually appointed manager, a position he held for 30 years until he retired in 1989.

According to the Maine Department of Transportation, fabrication work on the 154-foot-long, 38-foot-wide ferry began in August 2018 by Washburn & Doughty Associates, a shipbuilder in East Boothbay. The ship was designed by Gilbert Associates of Braintree, Mass. The total cost including all design, engineering, and construction work, was $10.9 million.

The Richard Spear was launched Friday and will undergo several months of sea trials before being put into service this summer at its home port of Rockland. It takes a ferry about 75 minutes to make the crossing to the island community from the mainland.

Gov. Janet Mills and Maine DOT Commissioner Bruce A. Van Note each spoke at Friday’s christening ceremony.

“Maine ferries, along with fishing vessels, container ships, and other boats that make daily trips among our shores to feed our state, bring our goods to market, and transport residents and visitors alike, are an important part of our economy and an irreplaceable part of our history,” Mills said. ” I am honored to help christen another Maine-made ferry, the Capt. Richard G. Spear, named for a man with lifelong contributions to the Maine State Ferry Service and the city of Rockland. I wish the Capt. Richard G. Spear fair winds and following seas for many years to come.”


The Capt. Richard G. Spear ferry under construction at the Washburn & Doughty shipyard in East Boothbay. Maine Department of Transportation

“We are fortunate that we were able to award this contract to a Maine company and that the construction of the Capt. Richard G. Spear was able to happen right here in East Boothbay. Teams of carpenters, designers, electricians, engineers, mechanics, painters, pipefitters, and welders have logged thousands of hours to make this vessel seaworthy. We thank them for their dedication and hard work,” Van Note said.

Spear, who died in 2018, led a full and interesting life, Maine DOT said in a news release. Spear spent more than 60 years of his life working in the maritime industry.

After finishing high school in Rockland, he enrolled in the newly established Maine Maritime Academy. He graduated in 1942 as a member of the school’s second graduating class. During World War II, Spear served with the Merchant Marine in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean war zones.

He was a scuba diver, airplane pilot, and member of numerous civic and fraternal organizations. He served on the Port District in Rockland for close to 60 years, making him the city’s longest-serving elected official. He traveled to many parts of the world, including the North Pole, Antarctica, Cuba, and Australia.

“Capt. Richard G. Spear lived his life, and he lived it well,” Dr. William J. Brennan, president of Maine Maritime Academy, said Friday. “Generations of Maine Maritime Academy graduates, those who graduated yesterday and those who will graduate in the future, are the keepers of our heritage, a heritage that was forged by Capt. Richard G. Spear, Maine Maritime Academy Class of 1943-2, and there is no more fitting way to memorialize what he has done for his State of Maine than to honor him as we are today with the launch of the Capt. Richard G. Spear.”

Linda Spear, Spear’s daughter, added: “My father was a true gentleman. He had a dry sense of humor and made friends easily as he traveled the world. He loved his family and the sea. We are proud to see his name on this ferry.”

Richard Spear died on May 3, 2018, in Rockport at the age of 96. Soon after his death, the members of the Maine State Ferry Service Advisory Board voted unanimously to name a vessel in his honor.

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