From the April 30, 1926 edition of the Gazette:

Anyone who visits Vineyard Haven either by land or sea will gravitate toward the steamboat dock sooner or later and once there will notice the soda water establishment. They will notice also the quiet, unassuming young man who conducts the business, and who will talk of bottled water and carbonated beverages as though he had never known anything else. No doubt the stranger would be surprised to hear this man addressed as “Captain” and suspect that the title is purely honorary or perhaps a nickname. This is wide of the truth. Captain Ralph Packer is a captain, licensed for sail or steam on all oceans, and deserves his title if any man ever did.

He has crowded more into his 43 years of life than a dozen average men know in three score years and ten. Born at Noank, Conn., he heard the call of the sea at a very early age, the only member of his family who had a leaning in that direction, although some of them were owners of vessels.

There was no school for Packer after his 12th year. He was on a fishing vessel as much of the time as possible, and as soon as his age permitted he was a steady hand. In steam and sailing vessels he followed the fish or carried freight along the coast, meeting with all the adventures that are common to those who follow these callings, including one shipwreck off Montauk.

Studying during all his spare time he was ready to take his examination for first class coast pilot’s license long before he was 21, but was obliged to wait until he arrived at that age before he received his license.

At 22 he was captain of a towboat and for 12 years thereafter was employed by the Lehigh Valley Coal Co., towing coal barges for the most part. The details of this portion of Captain Packer’s life would fill a volume. There is little romance in the tug boat business, but plenty of danger and discomfort. The captain can tell thrilling tales of long trips in blizzards and fog, of hawsers parting on dark, windy nights, and barges foundering and going down in the darkness.

At the beginning of the war he received his ocean license and went to sea as senior bridge officer under Captain R. Del Hasbrook.

It was while serving in this capacity on the troop ship Covington that Capt. Packer had the experience of being torpedoed and sunk. Luckily the ship was light, being on the return trip, but her crew numbered 780, and there were 46 officers. Six men were killed by the explosion, but all the rest were safely taken from the ship.

Capt. Packer was cited for distinguished conduct in this affair and given full credit for the removal of the crew. In connection with this disaster occurred a most interesting incident in the captain’s career and his knowledge of maritime law and towboating undoubtedly saved Capt. Hasbrook from demotion or other punishment.

At the time of the torpedoing of the steamer, an English tug appeared after the crew had left her, and Packer was ordered aboard the wreck to make a survey and to make towing hawsers fast, which he did. During the attempt to tow the wreck to port, however, she sunk, and charges were later preferred against Capt. Hasbrook for “relinquishing his command.”

As the case of handling the wrecked steamer was strictly one of towing, Capt. Packer was thoroughly familiar with all laws and customs pertaining thereto and through his testimony, Capt. Hasbrook was “wholly and honorably acquitted.” In commanded of his own ship Capt. Packer remained in the government service transporting troops until the last of the expeditionary forces were back once more on their native soil. Then handling government ships for private owners he ran ocean freight until 1921. During this later period, his experiences were at times quite as exciting as in war time. There was an old mine field which he ran across at night, not knowing it was there. Also a Sinn Fein crew who may have entertained some idea of taking charge of the ship, but who were persuaded to change their minds.

On leaving his last command, the S. S. Mattole, Capt. Packer came to Vineyard Haven soon after taking over the positions of wharfinger and marine reporter. Later with a partner he purchased the Tashmoo Inn, which he owned and operated for about two years.

Between two and three years ago he established the Tashmoo Springs Water Company, Inc., which he now conducts, having sold the hotel about that time, and since then he has devoted all of his time to the business of bottling water and soda. This business is flourishing and promises to become a leading Island industry.

Many offers of splendid commands have been made since he left the sea, and his old towboat friends are dropping in to gam nearly every day. The talk naturally drifts to old times and the tales they tell are thrilling in the extreme. But do they tempt Packer to return to blue water? Not in the least.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox