Getting to Oak Bluffs: The race to the Martha's Vineyard Ferry

The Martha's Vineyard Ferry
(That's the actual name of the boat)
If there is one event that almost every single person who visits Martha's Vineyard experiences, it's The Ferry.  In most cases, the adventure to the Ferry is the best part, and is the source of hundreds, probably thousands of nerve-racking stories just trying to catch the boat. And all to often, missing the boat. 

Let's back up and explain "the process" for those who may not be familiar with how to actually get to the island of Martha's Vineyard. The Ferries to Martha's Vineyard leave from multiple locations in the northeast, but one of the most well known docks is Woods Hole, MA. 

Just departed Woods Hole headed to Oak Bluffs, whew we made it!

The Ferry from Woods Hole will take you straight to Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven (about 4 miles from Oak Bluffs). If you come by car, you will have to park at one of the many lots within a few miles of Woods Hole, take a shuttle bus to the ferry terminal, purchase a ticket for $17 round trip. Then you are off to your adventures in MV! 

OB bound, sitting front and center on the Island Home Ferry

This is the first blog in our series of guest bloggers sharing their experiences surrounding Oak Bluffs and Martha's Vineyard.  We want to share a story from someone who we know very well...okay it's Jon's mom. She writes about the stress of the adventure from DC to MV a few years ago. 

The Ferry

By Leigh Hamilton

It’s May and time for the 8 ½ hour pilgrimage to Martha’s Vineyard.  Three months earlier I purchased the most important item, a ticket from the Steamship Authority for the last boat at 9:45pm.  The ferry ride is my favorite part of the trip. Once the car is settled in the belly of the boat, I can wander on deck with a warm cup of clam chowder and enjoy the breeze from Nantucket sound. It’s the reward for driving 470 miles to Cape Cod from Silver Spring.

The trip started on a Friday and armed with an iPod, cell phone and an EZ pass, my miniature schnauzer and I left home at 10:40 am, plenty of time to make the Ferry.  The day was perfect, clear skies and dry roads.  We drove north on I95, went through the Baltimore tunnel and crossed the Susquehanna River.  It was a wonderful start to a very long drive.

 With Garfield by my side and Bob Marley singing “One Love” life was good. We passed familiar markers at the cruising speed of 80 mph; Delaware Bridge, check, NJ Turnpike, check, the split at exit 8, check.  It’s 1:15 and there’s still New York to travel through, no problem, the boat doesn’t leave until 9:45.

Just past Newark Airport, the traffic came to a crawl.  Shit.  It’s 2:30 on a Friday afternoon, New York rush hour has begun and I’m still in Jersey.  I tuned to 1010 WINS and WCBS 880 for traffic reports. NJ Turnpike, jammed, GW Bridge, jammed, Cross Bronx Expressway, jammed, even the alternate route was JAMMED!  7 hours and 15 minutes until the boat sails and I’m inching through Jersey.  A sea of red lights stretched out before me with no relief in sight.

In 30 minutes I moved 10 feet and panic set in.  I tried a Zen exercise, take three deep breaths and relax the hands. Garfield was panting too, was he in a Zen space?  The digital clock read 3:00 and I returned to the radio frantically searching for traffic updates.  The reports didn’t change, bumper to bumper through the Bronx and Connecticut. Take three deep breathes and relax the fucking hands, it’s not working.  Missing the ferry is not an option.

I finally crossed the George Washington Bridge at 4 pm, still hopeful that I will make the last boat.  With Euro Club music playing I navigated traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway like a true New Yorker, cutting people off, changing lanes and giving hand gestures.  I took alternate routes to avoid traffic on the Connecticut Turnpike and stopped once to walk the dog and gas up.  I was a woman on a mission and determined to make that boat.  

 It was 7:30 when I reached Mystic Connecticut, plenty of time if I do 90 mph and the police don’t stop me.  I danced from lane to lane with Digital Underground as my partner. Providence, check, New Bedford, check, the Bourne Bridge, check.  I did it!  I crossed the bridge to Cape Cod at 9:20.  Home free with 20 miles and 25 minutes to spare.   

Route 28 was the final stretch, and I could taste the boat’s clam chowder.  With the goal close at hand I chanced driving 75 mph in a 55 mph zone.  Went through the first rotary and then the second. 


When I was a few short miles away flashing blue lights appeared in my rearview mirror.  Shit, the cops!  As the state trooper sauntered to the car I blurted out, “I’m trying to catch the last boat!”  He checked the Maryland tags, asked for my license and tried to surmise if I was drunk.  I don’t know if it was the crazed look in my eyes or empathy for possibly missing the last ferry but he let me go.  With fingers crossed I proceeded to the destination that was 3 minutes away.

As I rounded the bend in Woods Hole the ferry’s horn announced its departure.  When I got to the dock the ticket office was dark, the crew was leaving and the boat was sailing to Martha’s Vineyard. After driving 470 miles like Danica Patrick, I MISSED the damn boat. Garfield sensing my anguish, crawled in my lap and licked my cheek, I smiled.  Well, at least I’ll make the 6am boat tomorrow and the clam chowder will taste just as good.
I recently found some old pictures of me and my son on our Vineyard trips. Take a look!
1982 Jon and his mom on the Ferry after a long trip


Old school Ferry benches circa 1994

New school ferry benches circa May 2015

1 comment

Nice story! I know many who can relate. And, when the kids were younger, you are right, “the Ferry” aspect of the trip was truly part of the adventure. Thanks for sharing. In reverse 8/15, after spending many a summer in MV, we acted “brand new” and got to our Vineyard Haven ferry 9:45 am, not 30 min. ahead, not 20 or 10, but…5 before departure! The attendants barely spoke to us and said “drive on”—We nodded thank you and then thanked God above! WHAT were we thinking! Sometimes, we stay “on Vineyard time” too long.

Lisa Spear Ethridge August 26, 2015

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