BELFAST, Maine — Leaning against the window of the 19th century replica steam ferry Patience and playing his vintage banjo on Thursday morning, Wes Cotton looked like a vision from the past as the boat steadily chugged out of Belfast Harbor.
“Isn’t this the life?” the musician from Unity said. “It’s a great way to be on the water.”
Steve Pagels, who owns the Patience and also Downeast Windjammer Cruises, is hoping that lots of people will feel that way. For the first time, the ferry is being run out of Belfast Harbor as well as Bangor, where it has carried passengers on excursion cruises since 2007.
The Patience was constructed in Stonington in 1982 and for years was used as an excursion boat in Hyannisport, Mass. Other than the fact that it is powered with a diesel engine instead of a steam plant, the boat wouldn’t have been out of place 100 years ago, he said.
In addition to scenic trips around Belfast Harbor, Pagels also is offering cruises up and down the Penobscot River from Belfast to Bangor and back again. Coastal steam ferries used to be a common sight along the river as well as the coast, he said, but that stopped when travel by train and car became more usual.
“It’s a pretty run,” he said of the trip, which takes four hours one way and makes a stop in Bucksport.
He wanted to come to Belfast because it is busier mid-week than Bangor, which has most passengers coming out on the weekends.
“Even though Bangor’s a good location, it was pretty much struggling with the recession,” Pagels said. “The idea was to combine Bangor and Belfast. Take two smaller businesses and make one stronger business.”
Greg Dorr, the first mate aboard the Patience, said the journey along the river provides a different experience than that of travelers zipping up Route 1A in their vehicles.
On its northward journey, the steam ferry replica goes under the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, past Fort Knox and then heads upriver. When it does, it’s like traveling into another time, Dorr said. Its banks are heavily forested, there are hardly any houses to see and passengers can catch sight of eagles, osprey and more.
“It’s really remarkably wild,” he said. “It’s really pretty. It’s surprising, how wild it is.”
Captain Melissa Welch stood in the wheelhouse of the Patience, steering the 72-foot-long wooden boat clear of other coastal traffic.
Her black dog snoozed behind her as various pint-sized visitors popped their heads in to see what was happening behind the wheel. That morning, the Patience was carrying aboard 27 children from the Starrett Children’s Center in Belfast.
“It’s good to get them out, because so many kids don’t have the opportunity to get out on the bay, and it’s their backyard,” Welch said.
Along the shore, the brightly painted Victorians of the village of Bayside rolled by, looking like rows of intricate dollhouses from the water.
Allison Hamm, 7, of Northport, said that it was her first time aboard a “real boat.”
“I like it,” she said, adding that her favorite thing to look at was the harbor itself. “It’s kind of pretty, actually, and I like the waves.”
The Patience will run 11 2-hour cruises in both Belfast Harbor and Bangor at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and sunset. Belfast trips will happen on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and the Bangor excursions will occur on Friday night and Saturday. Those trips are $29.50 for adults, $25 for seniors, $23 for children ages 4-12 and free for children younger than 4.
The upriver trip from Belfast to Bangor, with a stop in Bucksport, takes place on Friday. The downriver trip will run on Sunday. Tickets are $35 for adults, $30 for seniors, $20 for children 4-12, and free for those under four.
For information, to verify trips and for times for the river runs, call 941-0952 or visit the website MaineCoastalFerry.com.