From the May 24, 1957 edition of the Gazette:

Capt. Walter Zelski of the ferry Nantucket won the admiration of a sea-wise gallery on Monday night when he floated his craft after she had grounded on Canal Flats in Vineyard Haven harbor as she was making her 7:45 trip into that Island port.

Literally “walking” his unwieldy command along an estimated three hundred yards of shoal by working his propellers alternately port and starboard, and occasionally reversing, he managed to free the vessel from the grip of the sands before the falling tide had dropped sufficiently to hold her. He then docked her at the ferry slip without further mishap.

The Nantucket had slowed for the buoy off the harbor breakwater, and in the process of turning, had cut down her speed. At this particular minute the wind which had breezed stiff from an easterly quarter all day, hauled slightly, the force coming on the starboard quarter of the steamer. As described by an onlooker, “she was literally swept sidewise on the flat,” probably two hundred yards from the buoy.

When the Nantucket finally made it into the slip, after her grounding episode, with quite a bit of bumping about before she was made secure, the passengers, more than ready to debark, hurried off, mostly in vehicles. Although the crisis was officially over, a large number of people still milled around the dock, coats flapping and eyes squinted in the cold, wet wind, as they watched the cars rolling down the ramp. Their talk with each other was strangely subdued, as if they were looking at the arrival of a ghost ship in the semi-darkness.

Most of them had witnessed the grounding of the boat, and the tenor of their conversation as they watched the unloading amounted to a mass declaration that they would not ride the Nantucket if they could help it.

The commentary of the passengers amounted to the same thing, only their language was much stronger. “I’ll never ride on that thing again,” said Dr. LeRoy A. Erickson of Edgartown, just after he drove his car down the ramp and was waiting for the cars ahead to go forward. “If it weren’t for the efficiency of the captain, we’d still be sitting out there.”

Mrs. Theodore Meinelt of Chilmark, who was also aboard, said that the passenger list consisted almost entirely of Islanders, many of whom knew the nature of the harbor and knew that the Nantucket was stuck on a sandy bottom, and therefore there was no fear among them. “No one was afraid,” she said, but if there had been a lot of summer people aboard there probably would have been terrific panic.”

Although there was no real fear, Mrs. Meinelt continued, there was a moment of misgiving when the Nantucket got off the shoal and was heading toward the slip. The treacherous wind, she said, appeared to be taking the vessel crashing into the pier. “I can’t say enough good for the captain and the men in charge for the way they handled it . . . the captain knows what he is talking about.”

As for the Nantucket, Mrs. Meinelt said, “I sure don’t want to ride on it again.”

John R. Painter of Vineyard Haven emerged from the incident with a profound respect for the seafaring abilities of Captain Zelski. “The skipper was great! Quote!” he said enthusiastically while he was telling about standing on the deck just below the captain’s bridge, where he watched Captain Zelski, cool as a cucumber, direct the Nantucket off the sand bar.

After loosening the vessel by maneuvering back and forth for a while, Mr. Painter said, the captain ordered full speed ahead, “and she just slogged her way across the bar.” Mr. Painter expressed further admiration at the way the captain got the boat back to the dock after releasing her from the shoal, working her sidewise across the harbor “just like a crab,” in a forty mile an hour wind.

Declaring that he made no pretensions to being a marine architect, Mr. Painter said that it was his layman’s opinion, after his experience, that the Nantucket has suffered somewhat in its design. “It seems to me that it’s a little bit pot-bellied and a little bit high for its length.” He said that the boat performed very well in the rough water coming over from Woods Hole, with not much of a roll at all, and it was not until she slowed down that the trouble began. “It’s quite obvious that she was out of control there for a while, but there was nothing the captain could do about that,” he said, referring once more to the vessel’s being carried by the wind to the sand bar. Frank B. Look, general manager of the Authority, was one of those who praised Captain Zelski’s seamanship. He said that when he heard at his home in Marion that the Nantucket was aground, he did not think, in view of the strong winds, that she would come off right away or by her own power. And he quoted the old axiom that any shipmaster can get a vessel aground but it takes a good one to get a vessel off.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox