An old-time ferry ride

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 8:15pm
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Ed. note: Paul Cotter sent in these photos of two ferries, the Lizzie Ann and the Rocket, that ran from Block Island during World War II. The photos sparked memories from some of those who rode both boats.

I was very young, you have to remember. I don’t think I was more than 7 or 8… I may have been younger. This was during the war. We left Block Island and we had to go into Newport. We had to go through this net. They made torpedoes in Jamestown and they did not want (German) submarines to get into the bay. It wasn’t a pleasant ride, a lot longer than to Pt. Judith. It was about 90 minutes. I don’t remember any chairs, but you can see the stack and there was a compartment and seats around that and that was what kept you warm during the winter. Everybody could sit there and put your feet up. — Marcelline Mazzur

I took trips on the Rocket and the Ranger and the Randall D. Palmer. She had a little coop for the skipper to steer the boat. It was a good ride unless it was bad weather. She could hardly get going. Barbara Hall and I were going to take the civic service test for the post office job and the engine quit in the sunset. We said, ‘Do you think they’ll get the engine started?’ (Edie was asked if it felt dangerous to be traveling during wartime.) My instinct was if it was meant to be, it was meant to be. If the skipper was risking his own life, then so be it. What’s the sense in worrying? — Edie Blane

I was on both of them. My first trip was on the Lizzie Ann. Capt. Boyce was the captain. An ample man, I thought, how could he get into the cabin? The door was so small and he was so big. That was in the early 40s. It would go into Old Harbor. The Rocket was in New Harbor; that was a very fast boat for the time... I was there through the war. I thought they’re not going to sink a little passenger ship and lose a sub for that. There was a cabin, as I recall. The cabin would hold 15 people sitting around on the Lizzie Ann. The Rocket only ran the summer and the Lizzie Ann year-round. I’ll tell you this: in the winter we would be the only ones on the boat. I never remember a crowd ever; there was always plenty of room. The Lizzie could take one car, across the bow, just one, of course. She was tough as nails. I think she was a World War I sub chaser. She could go about seven knots and the trip would take two or two-and-a-half hours. My first summer on the island was 1940. My folks were from Worcester and they didn’t know each other from Worcester and met on Block Island. My aunt Eleanor married Earl Dodge in 1939 — that was probably our introduction to Block Island, through Earl and Eleanor. — Peter Cotter

I’m sure it was the Rocket — an open boat. The seats were on the outer edge of the cockpit. It was during the war and we were coming from Pt. Judith after a visit to my grandmother, Mariana Clark, and we were half way across. It was a foggy day, not terribly foggy, but foggy, and all of a sudden a big tugboat loomed off to the left. The tug was supposed to blow when you’re in a boat the size of the Rocket. It was a pretty big thing coming up. The captain immediately stopped the boat and everybody was saying, ‘Oh, gosh, thank God we were saved.’ The tug went past us and he started it up again. I believe it was Mel Rose who yelled, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ He got up to the pilot house and yelled, ‘Stop! Stop!’ I remember it like it was yesterday. The tug was pulling a barge with scrap metal and we would have been squashed. I can still remember sitting there, the big rope from the boat to the barge was submerged. My uncle was waiting for us on the island and he said, ‘You’re lucky to be here.’ It was wartime. It was sort of scary going back and forth at that time. It wasn’t like today. I think maybe I was 17. That probably would have been 1944. It was so different then. Where the Twin Maples is there were loads of coal there. After the war, the islanders took it away one handful at a time. — Jean Napier

Stories compiled and edited by Lars Trodson.