On Monday morning the ferry Martha's Vineyard will arrive at the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority terminal. The landing will be without fanfare, although it marks a milestone on the path to a new Island summer.
When the Oak Bluffs dock workers and crew of the vessel exchange lines for the first time, the season of summer can be said to begin. The Steamship Authority's new summer schedule opens, and with it come seasonal fare hikes for travelers to and from the Island.
Oak Bluffs becomes a destination on Monday, and nine of the SSA's fleet of 10 boats will be in service.
The MV Islander returns to service Monday after two months under repair. The vessel was hauled out at Thames Shipyard in New London, where she was scraped and painted. She was reinspected by the U.S. Coast Guard. Finish work was done at the authority's service facilities in Fairhaven.
The MV Governor will be back on line. She, too, underwent service, receiving a new main alarm panel in the engine room. The passenger ferry Schamonchi, which runs from Oak Bluffs to New Bedford, won't begin service until closer to Memorial Day weekend. The freight boat Sankaty comes offline next week for her annual maintenance.
For Peter J. Duart, Oak Bluffs terminal agent, preparations for the busy season go back months. There was work to do behind the scenes. Plumbing was fixed. Equipment needed repair. "Water was turned on yesterday," Mr. Duart said on Wednesday, in a conversation at his office.
The last few days have been like reopening a summer home; the air inside was still musty from a winter of shut windows and no heat. Computers that print tickets had yet to be reinstalled.
Opening day brings change to the sleepy place. The dock will be swept of all the broken conch and bay scallop shells. Throughout the fall, winter and early spring, herring gulls have used this dock to prepare meals. They fly over and drop shellfish from high above, then feast on the broken remains.
In a few days the dock will be a highway used by hundreds of cars and trucks. On the busiest of days, there will be seven round trips to Oak Bluffs.
Visitors to the terminal will see familiar faces. Manny Somoano and Arthur Pye, dockworkers, will greet the public. Behind the counter will be Kendall Harris, Tony Alleyne and Angela Deltorto. "We are so different from Vineyard Haven," Mr. Duart said. "There is a fraternity. We are the Oak Bluffs guys."
The Oak Bluffs terminal is a scenic place. There is Ocean Park on one side and the entrance to the harbor on the other. "We don't have the Five Corners pile-up here. When people come and get in the standby line, some facing a long wait, they'll take their kids to the Flying Horses," Mr. Duart said. "I tell you, we look forward to this every year."
People come to the terminal just to watch the boats load and offload. "In Vineyard Haven, it's all business," said Mr. Duart.
There is kidding, too. Humor prevails. Years ago a lady parked her cream-colored Mercedes Benz at the wrong place on the dock. She kept calling Mr. Duart the "Dock Master" and a number of the employees overheard the conversation. The nickname stuck.
Whether Mr. Duart is the "Dock Master" or the terminal agent, it is no surprise to this Cottage City that Mr. Duart remains here on the waterfront.
He grew up on the Oak Bluffs waterfront. As a child, he was a swimmer at the dock. Years ago, children gathered with their snorkel masks under the shadow of the Steamship Authority fleet. "How about a coin?" they yelled up at the passengers. People tossed coins into the water and the swimmers dove for them. Mr. Duart was one of those swimmers.
The youthful practice isn't allowed today for safety reasons, but Mr. Duart cherishes the memory.
Mr. Duart recalls when he was a boy of seven or eight, sneaking onboard the ferries with his uncles Dick Furtado and Donald King. They both worked on the boats. He remembers riding to New Bedford for the day and his mother disapproving.
Today all those memories are in residence. There is a strong feeling of family at the terminal. People in Oak Bluffs will stop by just to visit with Mr. Duart, who keeps a picture of his seven grandchildren on his locker.
"This is a dream job," he said.