The Steamship Nobska & Islander Ferry
(Working for the Steamship Authority)


The Nobska received a lot of attention even back in 1971, due to her 46 years of service. Built in Bath Maine, her maiden voyage was in 1925 and served the New England ports and islands until 1973. (from 1928 to 1956 she was called "Nantucket"). There was a beauty to her lines that has escaped more modern vessels. It took an entire day for a round trip to Nantucket. Boarding of cars was done mid-ships, so the vessel needed to tie up to the outer dock in Woods Hole, rather than the slips that the newer vessels used, with front and aft loading capabilities. The Nobska had a huge winch in the stern, it must have stood three feet high, and with it the crew would muscle the aft end of the boat alongside the wharf. I remember standing there and watching as the enormous line was drawn in by the winch, inch by inch, the line becoming so tight that I feared it would snap at any moment. This maneuver was done each time the vessel docked. I'm not sure what the schedule was, but a few of the round trip runs included a stop off at Oak Bluffs. There we would see children in the water, calling for passengers to throw coins in, so that they could dive for them. This was a popular attraction. I did my own diving off of the Nobska, with other members of the crew in the evenings. Once docked, the group of teenagers that worked the boat would go to the top deck, and leap out into the water. This I did a number of times, until the Captain found out and forbade, as we were swimming close to the propellers, which could be started at any time. Fellow messman Bill Binger took the prize though, for jumping off one night, and then finding he had no way to get back aboard. He ended up having to swim over to the yacht club, and walk through the club in his skivvies, dripping wet. I never heard what the club members thought as he passed through their hallowed halls, leaving a trail of wet footprints behind him.

Morning started before sunrise, washing down the decks and preparing breakfast for the crew. We lived on board the vessel, in cabins aft of the Galley, below decks. We would depart from Nantucket in the morning, and arrive in Woods Hole by mid-day. Early afternoon we would depart with a vessel full of travelers and vehicles. We would see the sunset over Nantucket Sound, out of site of land, with Nantucket yet to be seen. We would arrive in Nantucket in the dark of evening. 

I would walk the streets, alone and in the quiet. It was quite a surprise when Memorial Day brought great crowds of people, I had become accustomed to a quiet island. 

The Nobska's cook was named was Dave. He was a mellow man, and I got along with him pretty well. It was a large crew, and dinner was always frantic. 

I also needed to bring meals down to the engineers in the engine room, which was across from the galley, mid-ships. I remember the metal ladder leading down some eight feet, covered in oil, with the engine pounding so loud I could not talk. One of the engineers always met me halfway on the ladder, which I was very grateful. Climbing down the ladder with a tray full of sandwiches and coffee at 10 PM was treacherous, with only one hand (at best) for the ladder.


In 1971 I signed on-board the SS Nobska as messman. After 46 years, it was to be one of the her last years of service, being retired a scant two years later. That summer we ran from Nantucket to Woods Hole, and back again, one round trip each day. This trip took a very full day; leaving the island early the island early in the morning, arriving at Woods Hole by mid-day, securing the vessel back in Nantucket well past dark. This image is of the sunset over the stern of the Nobska, as we head for Nantucket on a summer evening. Messman Bill Binger watches the sunset from the stern, where the crew could sit during the trip, i being off limits to passengers. His jacket reminds me of the nip in the air even on the summer evenings off the coast of Cape Cod as the sun set.


The Nobska departing Nantucket harbor for Woods Hole. One round trip was made each day, starting in Nantucket in the morning, arriving Woods Hole by mid-day, and having the sun set over Nantucket Sound before her return was complete.




The Islander

The Islander's last year was 2006. This double ended steamship sailed between Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven for many many years before I arrived for duty in May of 1971. Just out of high school, I set to work at a summer of service as messman aboard the Islander and Nobska.

The Islander was never a pretty boat, but with the passage of time comes nostalgia. Her replacement , the Island Home sits at dock in Fairhaven, waiting for it's first season of service in the summer of 2007. It is a very functional boat with little to admire in her lines.

For the 1971 season I spent equal time between Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. 


The Islander had a galley to feed the crew, but there were no cabins, so the crew stayed up on Main street in Vineyard Haven, in a large room above a business there were an array of bunks all spread out in a large room. It was far from luxurious, and each morning I needed to wake up without disturbing the sleeping crew. I was one of the first to awake, to get to the dock and prepare the galley for breakfast. Working on the Islander was very hard.

On the Islander I often did not even know what direction we were going. I remember being out when the storm flags were raised off Nobska Point. Fortunately the run from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole is quick. It was a rough trip, but we made it back fine.

The fleet for the summer of 1971 included four vessels, the Nobska and Nantucket, which crossed each other in service to Nantucket, so that there were two trips daily, and the Islander and Uncatena, which served the Vineyard. I believe the Sankaty also served as a cargo vessel that season.

At the end of the season I went up to the pilothouse of the Islander to sign off the vessel. I was a bit surprised that there was actually some formality to signing off a vessel. With papers signed I went off to my freshman year of college. I had earned enough hours to qualify for seaman's papers, but left that far behind.


The Islander berthed in Vineyard Haven, sometime in the 1970's




Last images of the Islander, as she is de-commissioned in Fairhaven, MA


More images of the steamships

A visit to the Islander 

Follow up on The Islander, 2009


The demise of the Nobska:

The Nobska Organization:

The Steamship Authority:

hear the Nobska's Whistle:    Cruising Grounds    Martha's Vineyard    Nantucket