Falmouth-based Patriot Party Boats (PPB) knows how to party, aquatically speaking: Their chartered fishing boats and pleasure cruise boats show people a great time every summer. But their bread-and-butter boating, and the way the family business got started, is the Patriot, the boat known for delivering papers every day, all year round.
Patriot Party Boats, a 40-year-old, second-generation, family-owned and -operated business, is run by Jim Tiejte, otherwise known as Captain Jim. The business was started by his father, Emil Tiejte Jr., who came to Falmouth from Montclair, N.J., after college to try his hand at fishing. While he may have had the soul of a fisherman, he had the business acumen and nerve of an entrepreneur. In fairly short order he bought a spec house, sold it, bought three lots, turned them into Green Pond boatyard, sold that, and bought the lot where PPB is now. Captain Jim’s father also ran a fish market on the same site, and has said that at one time most of the fish he sold were caught within sight of the building.
The fish market is gone, but that property still has the dock and the PPB office on Falmouth inner harbor. The Patriot, lovingly known as “the Work Boat,” comes and goes from this Falmouth dock to Oak Bluffs and back. In addition, the business owns 13 slips a short walk away, and a van that shuttles customers between the PPB parking lot and shops and restaurants in Falmouth.
Captain Jim, who grew up waiting to get off the Cape, did in fact work for six years as a media planner in New York City, but the Cape beckoned, and he returned home to help in the family business, which he now heads. Technically, he and his four siblings own the business, but Captain Jim is the only one actively involved. Brother Chris runs a sunset cruise schooner, the Liberté, out of Falmouth in July and August. Captain Jim’s brother Emil III is a marine engineer in Seattle. Sister Marion Bushcer is a retired teacher living on the Big Island in Hawaii. “Frank has nothing to do with boats,” Captain Jim says of the third brother. At the risk of starting a family feud, I quote Captain Jim, who grinned and continued, “Frank’s the smart brother.”
PPB is multifaceted. The Patriot runs eight scheduled water shuttle round-trips a day, Monday through Friday, beginning at 4 am and ending at 4:30 pm, with a limited run at 12:30 pm on Saturday and a 2:30 pm run on Sunday. It takes passengers and delivers the papers daily. At first, the Boston Globe exerted leverage and wouldn’t allow the Patriot to deliver any other local Vineyard publications, but as print media sales have diminished, the Globe no longer dictates what goes on the Work Boat. The boat holds 40 people with two crew members, a captain, and a mate, both of whom are Coast Guard–approved and drug-tested. At times when the boat is completely booked, another boat is added to accommodate demand. For nonscheduled times, PPB offers its 24/7 water taxi service, which is on demand.
The Patriot’s rates are competitive, with individual one-way tickets at $12, and $90 for a discounted book of 10. Freight goes by tonnage and distance, and the 24/7 taxi service charges by the person.
Patriot Party Boats will often sail in conditions that sometimes keep the larger ferries in port, the exception being when all sailing is canceled by the Coast Guard due to excessive wind and seas. Captain Jim explains, “We can handle anything from the west, but from the east we are more exposed to waves coming all the way from the Atlantic Ocean, and we have to be careful. When I was young, I would go in any weather, but now I’m a little more cautious; newspapers can’t sue, but people can.”
PPB has a regular set of customers who commute to work. The day I rode the boat, I met an attorney, baby in tow, who goes from Oak Bluffs to Falmouth for her full-time job. Off-hour clients regularly include musicians after late-night gigs, sports teams coming to and from the Island, assorted folks who have missed the last Steamship boat, and people who are in a hurry to get off or on the Island. Baseball teams cause some scheduling excitement, as no one can predict when a game will end. But Patriot Party Boats are intrepid, and happy to get people where they need to be when they need to be there.
Rob Higgins, the captain on the day I sailed, is a seven-year veteran with PPB. His mate, Adam Bancroft, has been with the company for two years. They both love being out on the water, and take pride in making their passengers comfortable. Over the years they’ve had some pretty strange cargo, favorites being four pygmy goats (in crates), and a boatload of presidential Secret Service types, none of whom spoke. Not a word.
PPB has a fleet of five boats, and along with the shuttle and taxi services, they offer bottom fishing, sport fishing, freight service, and cruising. One of the most striking things about the business was the pleasant demeanor of everyone working at PPB, from the boss on down. “I think of us as a sort of Ben & Jerry’s, where the company isn’t just for the owners,” Tiejte said. Unfortunately, PPB employees do not get three pints of ice cream free, per day. Everyone I spoke to talked about working in a business where customer service (even when the customer might be behaving in a questionable manner) is their goal, just as it was when Captain Jim’s father ran the show. The fact that PPB has so many repeat customers says they are doing plenty right. The entire gang loves the Cape and Islands and the water, which is reflected in their company mission: “Our greatest joy is to share the beauty and grandeur of the waters surrounding Cape Cod.”