Sunday, October 25, 2015

One Hundred Years and Counting

We watched with bated breath as the ferry Adirondack approached the dock in Burlington, Vermont.  It was in the late morning of Wednesday, August 20, 2014, and Miss Patty and I had just driven across two states in order to sail aboard this great ship.  As the vessel eased gently into her berth, we noticed the name board that identified her as the Adirondack mounted on the pilothouse just under the large windows.  Right below that, another inscription gave the date, 1913.  These two simple signs told the world proudly but quietly that the Adirondack was over one hundred years old!  Very few ships have become centenarians, but the Adirondack was one of them.   Furthermore, unlike most of her contemporaries, she remained in revenue service, crossing Lake Champlain every day.   On this day, it would be our great privilege to sail with her.

We had crossed Lake Champlain with our four children on ferries previously.  We sailed aboard the Champlain on July 2, 2001, and aboard the Valcour on July 31, 2002.  These were magnificent voyages on a large and beautiful lake surrounded by pristine mountains.   The crossing from Burlington to Port Kent, New York, just south of Plattsburgh, took an hour.  The return voyage took about the same time.  For us, though, it always seemed too short.  The dark blue water rushing past the hull, the verdant mountains rising majestically on both sides of the lake, and the light blue sky laced with billowing white altocumulus clouds all beckoned us to stay with them and not return home.  Well, we needed to go home, but we also needed to come back.  And when the Adirondack reached her one hundredth year, we decided we must take our next voyage with her.

We boarded the Adirondack eagerly and got comfortable on the upper deck where the views would be best.   At the appointed time, and after taking on a full load of vehicles and passengers, the Adirondack set sail.  Easing gently away from her berth, the great ship headed north and out of the harbor sheltered by the Burlington Breakwater.  On passing the small lighthouse that marks the northern point of this jetty, the vessel accelerated and set a more northwestward trans-lake course for the New York shore.  A peaceful, quiet, and restful voyage followed.  For an hour we imbibed the natural and unspoiled beauty of Lake Champlain and the surrounding mountain ranges as the ship rode smoothly and gracefully through the calm blue water.  That it was the fresh water of an inland lake and not the salt water of the open ocean made no difference; the voyage was still, in Shakespearean terms, “a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.”[1]

With the leisure time that such a voyage affords, I thought of the long career of the Adirondack.  She had come to life as the South Jacksonville of the Jacksonville Ferry and Land Company in 1913, and she served on the Saint Johns River between downtown Jacksonville and South Jacksonville, Florida.  In 1921, after only eight years in this trade, the ferry line was replaced by a bridge, and the South Jacksonville was sold north to the Tocony-Palmyra Ferry Company in Philadelphia.  She then plied the Delaware River as the Mount Holly until 1927.  At that point, she was sold north again, to the 34th Street Vehicular Ferry Company in New York.  With no change of name this time, she sailed on the East River between Long Island City and the foot of East 34th Street in Manhattan.  This arrangement lasted until 1936 when the company failed.  Two years later, however, the Mount Holly was sold south to the expanding Chesapeake Bay Ferry Company and renamed the Governor Emerson C. Harrington II.  Under this new identity and with a newly rebuilt superstructure, she linked the communities of Claiborne and Romancoke on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  In the early 1940s the State of Maryland assumed the operation of the ferries from the private owner, and the Governor Harrington ran until shortly after the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was opened in 1952.[2]

In 39 years, our Adirondack had served five owners, sailed on four routes, and had twice been replaced by bridges.  In addition, her original coal-fired steam engine had been replaced by twin diesels.  But she was not finished yet, I thought, as she glided past Schuyler Island and slowed for her approach to the dock in Port Kent, New York.  Easing up to the wharf on a northerly heading, she came to rest gently at a small facility in the lee of a large promontory just to the south and almost adjacent to the Amtrak line that connects New York City and Montreal.  We remained on the upper deck as the westbound traffic disembarked and eastbound traffic came aboard.  This did not take long, and soon the Adirondack got underway again.

The return voyage to Vermont was just as lovely as the initial crossing to New York had been.  Again I contemplated the Adirondack’s long life and marveled that a ship could keep going so far beyond the usual expected lifespan of thirty to forty years.  She had gotten her new lease on life in 1954, two years after the Chesapeake Bay Bridge had taken away her work.  Purchased by the Lake Champlain Transportation Company, the Governor Emerson C. Harrington II was brought north from Maryland and renamed the Adirondack.  Following the long trek through the Hudson River and Champlain Canal, the Adirondack has remained on Lake Champlain for the last sixty years, making the seasonal crossings between Burlington and Port Kent every spring, summer, and fall.[3]  Job security at last!

Few ships, few things in general, and certainly few people live to be one hundred years old.  But even those who do reach the century mark know they won’t last forever, at least not in their earthly form.  While we often stand in awe of someone who has lived so long, we also recognize the 100th birthday as something of a last hurrah.  For the end of necessity must come, and fairly soon.  Not even the grand old Adirondack can sail forever!  Her time shall come, as will ours.  It is inevitable.

In the long history of the world, even a life lasting one hundred years is a comparatively short time, a small window of opportunity that should be used wisely.  We are told many times and in many ways throughout the scriptures that one of the best uses of our time involves showing Christlike care and concern for others and helping them to feel the Lord’s love for them.  This thought calls to mind the famous remark of the great Quaker missionary Etienne de Grellet:

            I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or kindness I can
show to any human being; let me do it now.  Let me not defer or neglect it,
for I shall not pass this way again.[4]

Good advice to follow, no matter how long or short our lives.  Admittedly, this is not always easy, especially when it involves disagreeable people.  Annoying personalities can challenge the good intentions of even the most saintly.  But we must strive to overcome such petty differences.  Also, most of us will not be able to follow this counsel for one hundred years.  Our windows of opportunity to serve others will most likely not be as large as the Adirondack’s.  But there will be opportunities nonetheless. 

Carpe diem, then, as the ancient Romans commanded.  We must seize the day, for every day presents an opportunity to do good for and to show kindness to someone else.

[1] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, III:i:62-63.
[2] Information from Lake Champlain Transportation Co., posted at
The Adirondack’s history with photographs is located on pages 7 and 8 of a pdf file.
[3] Ibid.  See also Jack Shaum, “Former Romancoke-Claiborne Ferry still going strong at 100,”