Cruising into unknown waters

Local boat companies ready for an unpredictable season
Tue, 06/09/2020 - 11:30am

    Memorial Day has come and gone without one of Bill Campbell’s Balmy Days Cruises vessels: Balmy Days, Novelty, Bay Lady, or Miss Boothbay, on the water; without the graceful Schooners Eastwind or Lazy Jack gliding across the bay; or Cap ‘n Fish’s Pink Lady II or Harbor Princess. In mid-June, the Bennie Alice would have been transporting people to Cabbage Island for dinner, outdoor exploration and games.

    But this year is like no other for commercial ships with their homeport in Boothbay Harbor.

    Due to COVID-19 precautions set down by Gov. Janet Mills and most governors, these vessels cannot leave the dock until July 1 and cannot leave the dock with more than 50 passengers.

    Bill Campbell of Balmy Days Cruises begins his 39th year July 1, operating Balmy Days and Novelty, two of the four boats in the business.

    Cancellations started coming right off in March. “We’ve lost charters. For weddings this includes transportation to the ceremony or reception; rehearsal dinner parties, cocktail parties, sailing trips aboard Bay Lady; and an event on Damariscove Island.

    “We’ve already lost Memorial Day and in early June our trips to Monhegan begin and we start operating every day (June 6). Those are lost, but the Island Inn will be the only lodging open to start off with,” Campbell said. “We are still the Squirrel Island ferry, but I’ve heard many families will not be coming because of the two-week quarantine. Many of them would have already been back and forth getting their cottages open.”

    Due to the cancellations, still coming in, Campbell has decided not to operate Bay Lady or Miss Boothbay this year. Campbell said there was no way to observe the social distancing requirement – including from the crew – on these ships.

    Campbell captains every season and hires two other captains and four or five deck hands. Usually his ships carry “pretty good crowds,” he said. The Novelty can have up to 79 passengers and Balmy Days, 130. With six-foot social distancing required and no more than 50 passengers permitted on a trip, Campbell doesn’t know how it’s all going to shake out.

    “You can group families together, so we could seat a family on one or two benches ... We’re just playing it all by ear,” Campbell said. “The important thing is to keep the people safe.”

    Due to the later July 1 opening, Cabbage Island Clambakes’ season will run through Sept. 27 this year. Co-owner Wayne Moore said they already have 4,000-5,000 reservations, despite 10 bus tours that canceled. For now, Cabbage Island Clambakes will begin operating on July 1, Wednesday through Sunday, at a reduced capacity. The plan is to resume the seven-day a week schedule in August.

    Under Mills’ executive order, all passengers must wear face coverings when social distancing is difficult. All passengers must wear masking waiting in line, aboard the Bennie Alice, and anytime they are inside facilities on Cabbage Island.

    No one will be permitted onto the Bennie Alice without a mask. Boat captains and crew will be wearing face coverings as well as staff on the island.

    To check in, one person from each party Island-bound should go to the ticket booth to pick up tickets.

    The bars aboard M/V Bennie Alice and on Cabbage Island will be for wait-staff service only.

    “We can safely distance up to 100 people on the the Bennie Alice. And on the island – it’s no problem,” said Moore. “Our responsibility is to make people feel safe.”

    Editor’s note: At press time, neither Cap’n Fish’s Boat Trips or Schooners Eastwind and Lazy Jack were available for comment.