Your Boat Awaits
Captain Dick Smith (above) shows off the new engines on the "Quickwater," or as she is also known, the Patriot. Photos by Ralph Stewart
At 4:15 pm on a cold February day I pushed a cartful of goodies out of the Christmas Tree Shop in Falmouth. At 5:15 pm, exactly one hour later, my new purchases were scattered around my Vineyard Haven home. One hour, door to door. Impossible, you say. Not only is it possible, but it's fun too. Hop aboard the Patriot Boat.
If a 23-minute ride to Falmouth sounds good to you, than you won't mind giving up some amenities such as food. You can bring your own food, but why bother? The trip is so short you won't need to eat. Knitters beware. Those "Boat Scarves" we love to knit on the Steamship won't even make it out of your knitting bag on the Patriot.
Leaving Oak Bluffs on one of its eight daily trips, the "Quickwater" moves cargo and passengers to Falmouth and back.
Speed is just the beginning. After docking in Falmouth, you board the large white courtesy van for a free ride to Wal-Mart or the Christmas Tree Shop. On my inaugural trip, the van took me to Wal-Mart. Like any good off-Island shopper, I had planned to do both Wal-Mart and the Christmas Tree Shop, with a brief foray into CVS. The van driver knew exactly what was on my mind and asked if I wanted to be picked up in front of the Christmas Tree Shop instead of where he was dropping me off.
I asked, "You can do that?"
He laughed and said, "Of course." We arranged a time and I was off like a racehorse out of the gate.
At 4:15 pm, the big white van rolled up to the curb in front of the Christmas Tree Shop. It was easy to get all my bags into the van through the large doors. The driver, first mate Helayne Allen, offered to help with the bags. Then she asked if I wanted anything from 7 Eleven. Confused, I declined, but we stopped anyway. She explained that the captain wanted a Klondike Bar and she needed a refill on her soda. I felt like I was with a friend. This is exactly the kind of pit stop I often make on my way back to the ferry.
Kim Sears, owner of Our Market in Oak Bluffs, is a regular passenger in the off-season. He keeps his own boat in Oak Bluffs during the summer.
Dockside, I unloaded my bags and walked the few feet to the boat. Ms. Allen was waiting to help me get onboard and showed me where to stow the bags so they would safely make the trip.
The great service continued even after we docked. As you may have guessed, I had too many bags. Ms. Allen instructed me to disembark first, and then, with some additional help from passengers waiting to board, she handed me my bags. What did I buy?
The "Quickwater" is one of the Patriot Party Boat fleet. The "Patriot Too" is a fishing boat and the "Minuteman" is a sport fishing boat. The "Quickwater" has just been refurbished with new engines and a spruced-up cabin with new paint. In its previous life the "Quickwater" was known as the "Monique M" and ran support runs to and from oilrigs off Louisiana. Now, she makes 2,000 trips a year between Falmouth and Oak Bluffs, and with her new 330-horsepower, 8.1-liter, electric fuel injection engines, the trips are very fast and efficient. According to Capt. Alden Dickson "Dick" Smith of Woods Hole, the "Quickwater" has a top speed of 25 knots and her new engines save more than 4 gallons of fuel on each trip.
Helayne Allen, with her Big Gulp nearby, takes her place in the wheelhouse. She loves her job and it shows.
Capt. Smith proudly showed off the new engines while explaining that the boat is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a ride to the other side, no matter what side you find yourself stranded on, just call the Patriot. Capt. Smith said the weather doesn't usually keep them in port. Passenger safety is always their first concern, but the boat only misses two to four trips a year.
"If you can put it into a pick-up truck, it can go on here," said Ms. Allen, gesturing to a large pile of odd shaped boxes bound for Oak Bluffs. Mattresses, refrigerators, televisions, pets, crickets, lawn mowers and furniture are just some of the cargo the "Quickwater" has brought over. You never know what might be onboard. And, if you ride along with your big box, there is no freight charge.
Ms. Allen is so happy with her job as first mate that she quickly adds, "I'll retire from here." She is a former United States Coast Guard petty officer second class. While raising her family, she took landlubber jobs as a school secretary and preschool teacher in Falmouth. When this job opened, it was the perfect fit. "This is the best job and the best employer," said Ms. Allen.
The Patriot Party Boats are owned by Jim Tietje. His father, Bud, started the company and made the daily newspaper run to the Island. When the Steamship went on strike in the 60s, the Patriot Boats began to take passengers. Ms. Allen said, "Jim really cares about Island people. He makes it easier for them."
Each day you probably touch or read something that was brought here on the Patriot Boat. The passenger service, with the emphasis on service, is a secret kept by construction workers who use the "Quickwater" regularly. When other Islanders make the "find," they might not want to share the secret. Ms. Allen said, "Islanders are surprised to discover us, and they always come again." If you take a trip on the Patriot Boat, odds are you'll become a regular too. Don't forget Capt. Smith likes Klondike Bars.
For more information and schedule for Patriot Party Boats, call 508-548-2626 or 800-734-0088.