07/11/14 10:00am
07/11/2014 10:00 AM
ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO | A South Ferry boat crossing the Shelter Island Sound at sunset.

A South Ferry boat crossing the Shelter Island Sound at sunset. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

The Suffolk County Legislature voted unanimously to approve funding to dredge the South Ferry channel connecting Shelter Island with North Haven with work expected to be done between October 1 and January.

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08/23/13 11:00am
08/23/2013 11:00 AM

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Ruth Lapin took it upon herself to direct traffic last Thursday afternoon as vehicles which properly entered the ferry line from Wiggins Street were cut off by vehicles trying to enter the line from Third Street.

Drivers familiar with how the North Ferry operates in Greenport know that the route you follow to board a ship headed for Shelter Island takes you down Wiggins Street. Even some folks who don’t know that see the signs along Main Road directing them there.

But drivers using GPS systems to find the Greenport ferry terminal are being led in a different direction, causing confusion and tension as they cut the summer lines.

It’s a situation that’s played out frequently throughout the busy season, particularly on three days when major accidents in Southampton led drivers to use Shelter Island as a shortcut to the South Fork.

“People aren’t aware of the traffic patterns down there,” Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said in an interview last month, on a day when a fatal crash on Route 39 in Southampton led to delays of more than an hour to board the ferry. “[They] went right down Third Street and cut in front of those waiting and went right on the ferry — and that doesn’t go over well.”

Last Thursday, a day that saw yet another traffic slowdown due to a crash in Southampton, drivers could be seen getting out of their cars, parked in the line down Wiggins Street, to tell drivers along Third Street to turn around and access the line the proper way.

One former area resident, Ruth Lapin, began turning back motorists in a Third Street line that stretched to as many as 20 vehicles that day. “That’s not fair,” said one man she attempted to redirect after he’d already waited more than 20 minutes on the wrong line.

On weekends, both ferry personnel and Southold police man the area at anticipated times of key traffic movement to try to keep lines moving efficiently. But when an unanticipated incident disrupts normal traffic flow, creating a ferry line backup, it’s not always possible for personnel to respond, both ferry and police officials have said. Last Wednesday, for example, there was no indication a problem would occur when trailers carrying sunfish for a regatta in the Hamptons and horses bound for the Hamptons Classic jammed the Greenport access to the Greenport ferry unannounced, causing hour-long delays, said North Ferry general manager Bridg Hunt.

Mr. Hunt and public officials contacted for this story said no clear plan is currently in the works to help solve the problem, though Greenport Mayor David Nyce said at Monday’s village work session that a meeting has been scheduled with North Ferry to discuss the situation.

Mr. Nyce told The Suffolk Times last week that a proposal to create a viable transportation hub, which has been on the table for several years, might have helped with the issue. That proposal stalled due to a lack of service to the Long Island Rail Road station in Greenport, which is adjacent to the ferry terminal.

The mayor said that plan called for redirecting ferry traffic onto Fourth Street before ultimately leading drivers down a road that would have been paved on LIRR property behind the East End Seaport Museum.

In order for that plan to be implemented, the MTA would have to agree to allow its property to be used for such a purpose, Mr. Nyce said. Then there’s the issue of who would pay for paving the road and installing new signage — expenses Mr. Nyce said the village can’t afford.

When asked about that proposal this week, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Sal Arena said he isn’t even aware of such a plan.

Greenport trustees Mary Bess Phillips and George Hubbard told The Suffolk Times this week that they believe both the North Ferry and the Southold Town Police Department could play larger roles in helping to ease the problem by better directing traffic where the two lines often intersect.

Ms. Phillips said she believes North Ferry should be contributing money to help deal with increased ferry activity and not leave the cost of traffic control to be absorbed by taxpayers and the police department.

“And Southold police need to give Greenport a little more service than they [do],” she said.

Mr. Hubbard uses the North Ferry every day to reach his auto repair shop on Shelter Island. He echoed his colleague’s sentiment, saying the town and village are bearing the costs “for a private company that’s using public roads. [North Ferry is] supposed to be a good neighbor and sometimes it’s not.”

Mr. Hunt and Chief Flatley said there’s no easy answer to relieving congestion at the southern end of Third Street, where the ferries load and unload, and that blame shouldn’t be laid on them alone.

Mr. Hunt said there are times when his employees ask motorists trying to cut the line by entering from Third Street to turn around and go west on Front Street, then south on Sixth Street to Wiggins.

“We really are trying to help the neighborhood,” Mr. Hunt said.

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08/09/13 12:05pm
08/09/2013 12:05 PM

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Captain Jon Westervelt of South Ferry, at the controls during one of 30 round trips he makes in a nine hour shift.

When asked what a typical day working on the South Ferry entails, Captain Jon Westervelt summed it up in just a few words: “We go back and forth. That’s what we do.”

After 35 years on the job, it’s an easy summation for Captain Westervelt, but if you enquire further, you’ll discover his job is so much more than that.

Tuesday morning, with the sun shining but the air crisp, the Suffolk Times went along for the ride at South Ferry. All was calm out on the water, so the approximately five-minute trip from Shelter Island to North Haven was “just another day” for the captain.

He skillfully maneuvered the ferryboat across his pilot-in-training, Liam Schulz, performed routine safety checks and closely observed his mentor. “Once a month, we service the boat, change the oil, and make sure everything — the radars, radios, devices, and man overboard rescue equipment — is all working properly,” the captain was saying.

Down below, two young deck hands loaded cars, trucks and people onto the boat, carefully balancing the vessel. Captain Westervelt is one of three instructor captains who teach newly licensed operators how to safely drive the boats.

What exactly does it take to drive one of these things? “Some instruction. But mostly common sense,” the captain said, with Mr. Schulz nodding in agreement. “It’s nerve-wracking, definitely, but also a rewarding experience.”

It’s drummed into trainees that timing is crucial, especially while docking adjusting constantly on the fly to wind, tides, and speed.

There’s a mandate of 60 hours of driving newly licensed operators must complete before they are able to go it alone, but Captain Westervelt said that everyone he’s trained has had “much more experience” on the boats than the required minimum.

The ferryboat he was driving Tuesday morning was commissioned in 1997 and was South Ferry’s first “big” boat. “The day it arrived, we put it right to work,” the captain recalled. “It was a game changer,” he added, referring to immediately helping alleviate an increase in ferry traffic.

Formerly known as the M/V Southern Cross, it was recommissioned by the company in 2010 to honor the memory and sacrifice made by 1st Lieutenant Joseph Theinert, a Shelter Island native killed on active duty in Afghanistan. Joey worked summers at the South Ferry as a deck hand from 2007 to 2009.

The Lt. Joseph Theinert can hold up to 18 vehicles, compared to the smaller boats that transport about 10. It’s one of three big boats the company operates, in addition to a fourth smaller boat. On busy days, or on days like last week when traffic was higher than usual due to road closures on Route 39 on the South Fork, all four boats are put out, transporting hundreds of people across the narrow channel.

The traffic, though, isn’t close to being the hardest part of the job. “It’s the elements,” explained Captain Westervelt. He takes a stoic approach. “Each winter seems to be getting a little bit longer, but it comes with the job.”

With so many years on the job, the man does have stories. One that he won’t ever forget is an emergency evacuation during Hurricane Sandy. Sandy’s record tides flooded roadways and the water between the ramp and boat deck was too much for an ambulance to navigate. So when an elderly woman had to be taken to Southampton Hospital, a Good Samaritan with a pickup truck, along with Island first responders and Captain Westervelt braved the storm to help safely transport the patient. It was at the height of the hurricane’s fury, but despite winds up to 90 mph and rising water, there was no question what had to be done.

“Getting everyone across safely was the only option,” Captain Westervelt said. “These challenges test your knowledge of the water.” But that day howling winds and record high tides weren’t the biggest dangers. It was all the debris — some of it massive — floating and surging in the wicked swells.

His stoicism is a method he uses approaching the future. “Sandy wasn’t the first hurricane, and it won’t be the last,” he said, not forgetting to add that he couldn’t have brought the woman safely across without the combined efforts of police and fire department personnel, EMTs, and his coworkers.

The Clark family’s connection to the South Ferry Company dates back to 1714. “This is a family-run business,” said President Cliff Clark. His nephew, Bill Clark, is the family historian, having researched everything from family lineage to the details of every boat ever used by the company.

Mr. Clark explained that in the 18th century, the method of crossing was a sailboat. In 1832 Samuel G. Clark introduced the first barge ferry and in the early 1900s Clifford Youngs Clark incorporated the company and brought in motorboat and “double-enders,” similar to today’s boats.

A native of New Jersey but graduate of Shelter Island High School, Captain. Westervelt started working for South Ferry after graduation, when Cliff Clark’s father was still the boss. “So I feel like I’m a part of the family here,” he said,

The captain recalled coming to Shelter Island on a whim, courtesy of his father. A family friend had a house here on the Island and suggested to his father, then a tugboat captain in New York City, that he “should come out here and drive the ferries,” he said. “It’s kind of funny where people end up.”

And so each day, Captain Westervelt and his crew set out to do more than go back and forth, but to safely get people to where they need to be. In one nine-hour shift, they make around 30 round trips. With 15-18 cars on a boat, and the tendency to fill them to capacity especially during the summer, they are always kept busy.

As Captain Westervelt joked, “You do the math.”

06/20/12 8:00am
06/20/2012 8:00 AM

PETER BOODY PHOTO | A South Ferry boat in the race between Shelter Island and North Haven on the South Fork.

It was smooth sailing for South Ferry Tuesday afternoon as the Suffolk County Legislature voted 17-0 to allow an average 12.2-percent rate increase.

A 10-round trip book for residents will cost $60 instead of $52. For non-residents, a round-trip ticket will rise from $15 to $17.

The increase, which the ferry company intends to implement as soon as possible, is intended to stop operating losses that have plagued the company in the past two years and will provide $1.5 million for infrastructure improvements, according to the company’s president, Cliff Clark.

“I am so happy” to be able to concentrate on needs that have been on hold in the past two years, he commented in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. In addition to the infrastructure changes, employees haven’t had raises in two years, Mr. Clark said. “We’re going to fix that,” he promised.

Before the vote, Mr. Clark expressed optimism, saying that at both a June 4 Shelter Island Ferry Advisory Committee meeting and a June 5 county hearing in Hauppauge, there had been no opposition. Even South Ferry regulars have been “gracious” about the need to raise rates for the first time since 2008, he said.

The legislature’s Budget Review Office gave the request unqualified support, calling it “reasonable, especially given rising costs for fuel, personnel and health insurance expenses, attrition in ridership and the need for capital improvements to the vessels and landings.”

The BRO supported the rate structure’s continuing discounts for Island residents and workers. ,which are supported by the full rates paid by commercial traffic and non-residents.

03/23/12 9:00am
03/23/2012 9:00 AM

GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | South Ferry President Cliff Clark with the 60-ton boulder on Tuesday.

When South Ferry Company owner Cliff Clark went to work full-time on the family business 36 years ago, he never imagined the day would come when he’d carry a 120,000 pound boulder to Shelter Island.

The 65-foot-long boats were simply too small back then, and they were designed in such a way that putting too much weight on the very back end of the boat would have surely flooded the deck.

“It was so far beyond anything we might have done back then,” he said.

Welcome to the future, Mr. Clark.

A crew of nearly a dozen South Ferry workers carried a 60-ton rock from North Haven to Shelter Island Tuesday, completing delivery on what Mr. Clark called the single largest item ever shipped by the nearly 300-year-old company.

The boulder came from the pit at Wainscott Sand & Gravel in Bridgehampton and was brought via police escort to a house at 179 Ram Island Drive. Property records show the home is owned by Wall Street professionals Kathleen Tait and Ian Rosenthal, who according to laborers working at the home Tuesday plan to build a 45-foot long concrete bridge connecting the second floor of their home to the rock.

Wainscott Sand & Gravel employee Janine Astorr said the couple shopped there for the rock for the better part of three years. The bridge is expected to take three weeks to complete.

Transporting the rock 13.7 miles from the gravel pit to the 2-acre property overlooking Gardiner’s Bay was no easy task. First the boulder had to be dug up and loaded by a crane onto a flatbed truck. The boulder was then transported in a caravan that included another truck with more than 40 tons of construction equipment on it.

For the South Ferry crew that meant three stressful trips across Shelter Island Sound, two of which were carrying loads weighing more than 115,000 pounds.

“It was a lot of hours of planning,” Mr. Clark said. “We had to make sure we had all the right equipment and all the right people.”

The company’s newest ship, The Southside, a 101-foot-long vessel built in 2008 and capable of carrying 18 carloads, made all three trips. Mr. Clark oversaw the operation and Capt. John Westervelt, the company’s training pilot, steered the ship. While one crew continued to make passenger runs on the Sunrise boat, the rest of South Ferry Company was onboard the Southside, which the property owners chartered by the hour.

The original gameplan was to receive the boulder at the dock in North Haven at 9:30 a.m., which would have meant it would cross at high tide. But the transportation of the rock was delayed more than two hours.

The most challenging part of the delivery across water was actually the final step of driving the flatbed off the vessel after the tide had already begun to fall, Mr. Clark said. The truck cleared with only inches to spare before the boat would have submerged, he said. The boulder finally reached The Rock about 1 p.m.

“Another hour and they would have had to turn around,” Mr. Clark said.

For as serious as Tuesday’s mission was, the South Ferry crew got to enjoy a few minutes of fun with the boulder as it made its way across Shelter Island Sound.

Cliff Clark said he felt like a “rock star” as he posed for pictures next to the 60-ton talk of the town. Capt. Billy Clark III climbed on top of the rock and rode it while the boat was moving, his arms stretched out toward the sky.

After the truck headed north up Route 114 to begin its trip to Ram Island, Cliff Clark looked over at Capt. Phil Dunne and smiled.

“Now that’s a pretty good testament to what these vessels can do,” he said.

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03/20/12 9:00am
03/20/2012 9:00 AM

If you saw a giant boulder balanced on a flatbed truck on a South Ferry boat today, don’t worry, you haven’t lost your mind.

The humongous rock — which officially weighed in at 120,000 pounds — was delivered to 179 Ram Island Drive on Ram Island. The home is owned by Kathleen Tait and Ian Rosenthal, according to town records.

“It’s the biggest single item [South Ferry has] ever brought to Shelter Island,” said South Ferry owner Cliff Clark.

The rock, which is shaped like a potato, arrived on Shelter Island about 1 p.m.

The ferry boat, which Mr. Clark said can hold about 125 tons, was chartered by the hour.

The homeowners plan to build a 45-foot long concrete bridge connecting the second floor of their home to the rock, according to workers at the house Tuesday. The job is expected to be completed within the next three weeks.

Read more in Thursday’s issue of the Shelter Island Reporter.

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GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | A giant boulder is being delivered to a Ram Island home owner today.