ROCKLAND, Maine — Islanders from near and far gathered Friday morning under blue skies and fair winds to celebrate the christening of the newest ferry to serve Maine’s islands.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, was one of those islanders and noted the importance of ferries to the lives of Maine island residents.
“It’s a lifeline, it’s a necessity,” said Pingree, a North Haven resident. She said the lives of residents on the islands revolve around the ferry.
Pingree pointed out that $5 million — about half the money for the new ferry Captain E. Frank Thompson — came from the federal stimulus money approved by Congress and President Obama three years ago.
Rockland Mayor Brian Harden emphasized the close ties between Rockland and the islands that date back to the early 1800s and that will continue with the new ferry.
Bruce Van Note, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation, cited the importance of ferries to the lives and commerce of the islands. He also pointed out the work that has gone on since the late 1990s in planning and securing money for the new ferry.
Dennis Damon, former chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee and a member of the ferry advisory board, called for planning to begin now for the next new ferry to serve the islands of Penobscot Bay, since it took 15 years after the first legislative vote on this vessel to reach the christening stage.
Than Hopkins, daughter of the late Frank Thompson, broke the ceremonial bottle of champagne over the bow of the new ferry. The red, white and blue covering for the bottle was handcrafted by former longtime Maine State Ferry Service Manager Capt. Richard Spear of Rockland.
Pingree joked that it looked like a Thompson family reunion with the many members of the family in attendance. Thompson, who served as a captain for the ferry service for 22 years, retired in 1990. He died in 2003. His grandson Kevin Hopkins served as ceremonial captain for the inaugural voyage held after the christening. Thompson’s great-grandson Mitchell Hopkins played in the community band that provided music for Friday’s festivities.
More than 100 people attended the event.
The ferry will begin regular runs Saturday, according to Maine Ferry Service Manager James MacLeod. The ferry’s regular runs had been delayed for three weeks by some glitches.
MacLeod said Friday afternoon those problems have been fixed. The Thompson is much taller than the ferry it replaces — the 1968-built Governor Curtis. The fender panels at the Vinalhaven dock needed to be adjusted so they will conform to the height of the new ferry. Another adjustment is that drivers of large pickup trucks and larger trucks that use the new ferry will have to push in their side mirrors in order to fit into the three traffic lanes on the vessel.