On a recent calm Saturday afternoon docking was a piece of cake. Captain Bob Boden brought the Quickwater ferry boat into the mouth of Oak Bluffs Harbor under clear skies, light wind, and a calm sea.
Mr. Boden spun the 45-foot former Gulf of Mexico oil rig crew boat on her axis and slid her into her berth at the foot of Seaview Avenue. Captain Bob, as he is known to Patriot regulars and to a group of newspaper delivery contractors who depend on him for their livings, has done the maneuver several thousand times over the past 12 years.
The Patriot, as it’s called here, is part of a fleet operated by Patriot Party Boats, a company with an old-timey feel to it, established more than 40 years ago for fishing charters. “We began to deliver the newspapers, and then people started to figure it out, and the passenger business grew from there,” Mr. Boden said.
Your fresh morning bagel likely arrived on the Patriot, and local shellfishermen use the Patriot to ship their catch to the mainland.
The Patriot has a straightforward business model: move passengers and freight year-round from Point A (Falmouth) to Point B (Oak Bluffs) in 25 minutes. In the summer months, the company offers fishing trips and party cruises in Vineyard waters on its three charter boats.
For Island residents, businesses, and work commuters, the Patriot is what you use when you absolutely, positively have to be there, particularly when bad weather grounds Cape Air and keeps Steamship Authority ferries at the dock.
“Yeah, the joke is that we run when submarines don’t run,” Mr. Boden remarked as he helped a bevy of delivery people unload pre-printed editions of Sunday newspapers. Mr. Boden would return at 2:30 am on Sunday morning to deliver the fresh news sections to be paired with the pre-print edition for Sunday morning newspaper junkies.
In fact, the Patriot has an eight-trip daily schedule beginning at 4 am, but is literally available 24/7/365.
“Lots of performers, bands and such, charter us at 2 am after they’ve finished playing and want to get home that night,” Mr. Boden said.
A regular roundtrip fare is $24, which includes a roundtrip shuttle service to downtown Falmouth for shopping or errands. Five roundtrip packs cost $90. Freight charges begin at $10, unless you can carry it on yourself — then it’s free. The honor system is occasionally in place when required.
Mostly, we can count on the Patriot running. When it doesn’t, as happened recently, we only notice because there are no daily newspapers for sale.
“We use good judgment, safety first. It’s our call,” Mr. Boden said. “The Coast Guard will shut us down in the event of a weather emergency, like a hurricane, but other than that, it’s our call.”
Captain Boden discounted a rumor that the Patriot did not run one day recently because a customer complained to the Coast Guard about a rough ride.
“That’s news to me. Haven’t heard that one before,” the laconic captain said.
The ride can be rough. Captain Boden hasn’t lost a customer, but he has lost a windshield.
“On the return trip to Falmouth, we had just made the mouth of the harbor when a wave broke over the bow and flattened the windshield. I was able to prop it up and finish the run,” he recalled.
“An east wind is when we have the trouble. It’s a long clear, fetch, really from Chatham, so the waves have a chance to build,” he said. (Fetch, a nautical term, is the distance over water that the wind travels unimpeded.)
Mr. Boden’s matter-of-fact style may come from the seven generations of seafaring Cape Cod Nickersons, from which he descends.
“My grandmother found her grandmother’s diary covering several years in the 1840s and 1850s waiting for her husband, a whaling captain, to return. My grandmother turned it into a book called “The Cut of Her Jib.” It’s still around.”
Amazon markets the story of Faith Bassett’s two-year wait for her husband, Captain Seth Nickerson. The book, by Clara Nickerson Boden, was published in 1953.
Mr. Boden, a 1971 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, has been a professional mariner for 42 years, with more than 35 years on Vineyard and Nantucket Sound waters. He shares 60-odd weekly trips with three other Patriot Party Boat captains.
Patriot Party Boats, now owned by Jim Tietje, was launched by his father, Captain Bud Tietje, as a fishing charter business in the 1950s. He started Green Pond boatyard in the 1950s.
“We got the contract to deliver newspapers in late 1960s and designed the Patriot Too in 1978 so we could run in all-weather,” Mr. Tietje said this week. “About 15 years ago, we bought the Quickwater and use that for the newspapers because it’s a little faster than the Patriot Too.
“We do a 24/7 taxi service. I like to help people out and we give them a reasonable deal, depending on their situation.”
The Patriot is a no-frills, satisfying experience, provided by people who know what they are doing and aren’t worried about having anyone like them on Facebook or tweet about them.
And they get me to Falmouth for less money than I pay for an on-Island cheeseburger.