SWAN’S ISLAND—Imagine being stranded on the island, not knowing when you could leave again. Or worse, being stranded on the mainland with a car full of groceries and no way to get home. A series of recent events have left us guessing about whether or not the ferry, or which ferry, would be running.

Between the recent bad weather, multiple mechanical issues, make-up trips for Frenchboro, and propane issues, coming and going has been a logistical challenge for residents and visitors. 

On Thursday, Nov. 20, the Captain Henry Lee, our regular ferry boat, broke down on the last run of the day as it was approaching Swan’s Island. The captain and crew managed to dock the boat and unload the vehicles and passengers, but were unable to fix the problem and get the ferry up and running by morning. A problem with an engine shaft on the vessel forced Capt. Bob Morehouse to limp the ferry towards Rockland the following morning with only one engine operating.

Capt. Morehouse exchanged the Captain Henry Lee for the relief ferry, Everett Libby, in North Haven. The smaller Everett Libby, built in 1960, is one of two back up ferries in the fleet, and was formerly on the Swan’s Island run for years.

Ironically, Emmie Sawyer called the Libby Ol’ Reliable in a post on the Swan’s Island Facebook page. Just two days later, on Sunday, Nov. 23, the 54-year-old Ol’ Reliable ferry broke down part way across the bay heading towards Swan’s Island. The Libby was on the second to last run of the day, but it turned out to be the last run of the day.

With only six vehicles aboard, including one belonging to yours truly, the vessel drifted aimlessly for a period of time after being underway for about 10 minutes. No forward motion was detected from the passengers, and the ferry swung around at the whim of the ocean.

Luckily for those of us onboard, the ocean was calm—not the case a day earlier when screeching winds and high seas were the weather of the day.

After some time spent drifting aimlessly, I decided to get out of my car and investigate the reason for the stalled progress toward home. The crew told me they were rigging up for manual steering. Hmm”¦ the ferry had lost its steering.

I climbed the stairs to the second level to watch this action take place. A vehicle parked on the stern of the vessel had to be moved forward revealing a hatch that was accessed by the crew to rig up the manual steering. Engineer Howard Dine, with assistance from able-bodied seamen Bob and Jeff, worked on getting the manual steering in place.

I climbed further up the ship’s stairway and entered the wheelhouse, where Capt. Bob Morehouse greeted me and said, “Most days anybody could run this boat, but it’s days like this that take experience.”

Capt. Morehouse was able to get the ferry underway once the steerage was secure at midships using a series of rope pulleys and good radio communication with his crew down on the deck. Using the two engines, he was able to control the Libby and head toward Swan’s Island.

As we approached the island, Capt. Morehouse directed one of the ABs to move the cars on deck while underway, so that they were spaced at least a foot apart in anticipation of a hard landing. I went down to my car and fastened my seatbelt and waited for the impact.

Jeanne Hoyle got out of her car and left her husband behind. The Hoyle’s Prius was parked on the bow and Jeanne feared a hard hit might force the car off the ferry and into the ocean. Her husband Gary, a brave soul, stayed in the car, but Jeanne went into the cabin.

The normal 30-minute crossing took the captain 90 minutes to complete. As we approached the ferry dock, Capt. Morehouse was able to gently land the ferry, “One of my best landings ever,” he exclaimed once we were tied to the dock.

Passengers cheered, clapped and honked their horns to show their appreciation for a job well done. In a true community-minded act, lobsterman Chris Sawyer aboard his fishing vessel Peyton Charlotte travelled to Bass Harbor to pick up the ferry passengers waiting for the last run of the day, which of course was cancelled. Chris traveled back in the dark to Swan’s Island with about a dozen people, including three small children and an elderly passenger who uses a walker. All were grateful for Chris’ kindness in bringing them home and they made the best of their unexpected evening ride on a lobster boat with all of their belongings.

Ferry service was cancelled the following morning, as the crew waited for the arrival of parts from Rockland to fix the steering problem. The Everett Libby was back in operation by the afternoon once repairs were completed. High winds on Thanksgiving morning caused the morning run to Bass Harbor to be cancelled, but the ferry was able to complete the afternoon passage.%u2028It felt like we were on a day-by-day, or trip-by-trip schedule.

Many residents and visitors had to change their plans without much notice. The Everett Libby is still operating on the Swan’s Island run with no communications from the Maine State Ferry Service as to the expected return of our regular ferry, Captain Henry Lee, which has been in Rockland for more than two weeks now.

The moral of this tale is you’ve got to be flexible to live on an island. At times you are at the mercy of the wind, tide, weather, captain, ferry—all things that are out of your control.  

An update from Dec. 2: Today, the relief ferry Governor Curtis arrived to relieve the relief ferry, the Everett Libby. Still no word on when the vessel Captain Henry Lee, our regular ferry, will be returning to us. I guess the issues were much bigger than first expected. The Henry Lee has been gone for almost three weeks now.

Such is the life of tides, weather, and the Maine State Ferry Service. 

Donna Wiegle lives on Swan’s Island and is director of services at the Mill Pond Health Center.