EASTPORT, Maine — On one of the hottest days of the year Friday, the deck of the Quoddy Dam ferry linking Eastport and Lubec was probably one of the coolest spots Downeast — at 64 degrees.
Don White, a retired education administrator for Columbia, Md., sat back on deck and enjoyed the cool air. Fog rolled in behind him but he still enjoyed an up-close view of a massive eagle’s nest on a nearby island, watched a harbor seal poke its face out of the sea and saw an eagle soar majestically.
White had been vacationing in Lubec for a week, and when he saw the advertisement for the ferry, he was in. “I wanted to go to Eastport, I love to be on the water — it makes perfect sense,” he said. The many purchases he made while in Eastport were clustered in gift bags at his feet.
“This is a wonderful service and well worth the money,” White said. White was so taken with the ferry service and the Lubec and Eastport areas that he is considering moving here. “I’ll definitely be back,” he said.
The Quoddy Dam, a 35-passenger ferry that makes eight trips daily between Eastport and Lubec, was launched just a month ago by owner Steve Pagels.
“I’ve had an interest in a ferry service there for years,” Pagels said recently. He said he at first considered running a car ferry between the two communities but after researching the cost of equipment — up to $500,000 — he decided to stick with a passenger ferry.
Pagels also operates ferries from Bar Harbor to Winter Harbor and Southwest Harbor to the Cranberry Islands.
Eastport boat builder Butch Harris sold Pagels the 45-year-old Quoddy Dam, which had originally been outfitted as a dragger for scallops and urchins. It was painted and modified, fitted with rows of benches and seats and put into service in late May.
“I think the timing was right,” Pagels said. “I’m not only pleased with the local reception but with the initial ridership. The numbers are good. We have a good skipper and it has been a fun project.”
Roberta Ziemba of Kingston, N.Y., rode the ferry last week with her two young children in tow — Waverly, 1, and August, 5. The Ziemba family was vacationing in Lubec, and except for Waverly’s objection to a life preserver, the round-trip was a hit. “We saw a fledgling eagle, loons, a harbor seal,” Roberta Ziemba said.
“It seemed like a natural choice to take the ferry,” she said. “It was wonderful. We shopped and ate at Eastport and didn’t have to worry about the long drive back. This was perfect.”
The land drive from Lubec to Eastport is over an hour long, but the ferry ride is just 30 minutes and includes an oral history of the area and the possibility of viewing local sea and wildlife.
Captain Marshall Frye, 25, of Eastport, said the ferry serves about 60 percent locals and 40 percent tourists. “We’ve had people from Eastport say they hadn’t been to Lubec in 20 years,” Frye said.
He said that oftentimes a party atmosphere spontaneously breaks out on board. “This ferry seems to be the most social I have ever been on,” he said. Passengers have come from as far away as Greece or as near as just up the street from the ferry dock.
“Everyone seems excited about the service,” Frye said. “We are getting great responses.” Frye said he would love to see the service expanded so that many local residents can use it as daily transportation to work and appointments. “But I also know that tourism is the backbone of the economy around here and what better way to help these communities that offer a service that adds another layer to tourism.”
Pagels said the success of the Quoddy Dam has sparked several other ideas for next season but he preferred to keep them under his hat. “I’m very excited about the possibilities there,” he said.
Jeanne Smith-Cripps of New Hampshire, who had rented a home in Lubec with eight other artists, recently took the ferry to Eastport to spend the afternoon in the more than a dozen galleries there. Only one other visiting artist opted to take the ride with here.
Upon returning to the Lubec dock, Smith-Cripps said “I can’t wait to tell everyone else what a fabulous adventure they missed.”
The Eastport Ferry operates Tuesday through Sunday, leaving Eastport at 10 a.m., noon, 2 and 4 p.m. It departs Lubec at 11 a.m., 1,3, and 5 p.m. Round trip tickets are $19.50, half price for residents of Lubec and Eastport. Bikes are $6; dogs are free. For more information, call 853-2635, or go to www.EastportFerry.com.