PORTLAND, Maine — Not just any ferry boat can visit Matinicus Isle, located 22 miles off the Knox County coast. The harbor is just too small and full of rocks.
Among the Maine Department of Transportation’s fleet of vessels serving Penobscot Bay islands and beyond, only the M/V Everett Libby has the diminutive measurements required to wriggle up to the Matinicus dock in safety.
However, the Libby has been in service for 63 years — since 1960, when John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon for president. It will be replaced in 2024. But before the new ferry takes its maiden voyage to the island, it needs a name.
Island residents don’t necessarily want your help though. They’ve got ideas of their own, thank you.
Island resident Eva Murray represents Matinicus on the Maine State Ferry Service Advisory Board and has been tasked with collecting suggestions. To that end, Murray, who is also the island’s municipal clerk, solid waste coordinator and garbage truck driver, has hung fliers at the island post office and inside the ferry terminal in Rockland soliciting ideas. She’s also monitoring a couple of social media pages where the discussion ranges from sincere to absurd. It’s a casual endeavor so the number of suggestions received hasn’t been counted. Still, there are some standouts.
“Facebook is a terrible place to do business,” Murray said. “Some are just wise-asses who want to call it the Slow Boat to China.”
Other silly names suggested online include A Boat Time, Ship Show and Ferry McFerryface. Murray’s flier specifically rules out Boaty McBoatface, which is what a 2016 online poll famously named a British autonomous underwater vehicle.
With such tomfoolery in mind, Murray would like to keep the ideas serious and coming mostly from people who will ride the new ferry or have some kind of Matinicus connection. But that leaves the idea pool a bit shallow this time of year, when the Everett Libby only makes monthly winter voyages to the island.
“Right now, there’s only about 20 people on the island,” Murray said.
Murray isn’t revealing her favorite suggestion thus far, not wanting to put her thumb on any scales, but she expects to see Abbie Burgess’ name on the list.
Burgess, 16, was the teenage heroine who kept the light burning at nearby Matinicus Rock Lighthouse for 21 days in 1856 during a prolonged and violent storm. The problem is, the name already is taken. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter with the same moniker, built in 1998, is homeported at Rockland.
“So that probably won’t work,” Murray said. “It would be confusing.”
Whatever name islanders and ferry riders come up with, will still have to pass muster with state officials. Murray will submit suggestions to the advisory board on March 23. Then the members will choose one to advance to the Transportation Commissioner Bruce Van Note.
Among the silly names suggested so far are a great many serious ones too. Some are the names of beloved island residents and captains. Some folks are also partial to just calling the new boat the Matinicus.
The designation is available. A Coast Guard cutter by that name patrolled the warm waters of the Caribbean in the 1990s but has since been decommissioned.
Oftentimes, ferries are named for previous, long-serving ferry boat captains. The Captain Neal Burgess, a 17-car ferry serving North Haven Island is one such vessel named for a former skipper.
The current ferry is named for one of the Maine State Ferry Service founders when the service was initiated in 1959. Everett Libby was from Vinalhaven. At 110 feet long, the Libby ferry is 30 feet shorter than the next smallest in the Maine DOT fleet. Unlike some other Maine island ferries, it doesn’t get a lot of tourists. At more than two-and-a-half hours out to sea, Matinicus is just too remote.
The island’s economy runs more on lobsters than summer folks. The ferry sees more work trucks and propane tanks than station wagons and vacationers.
The replacement ferry is now being built at the Steiner Shipyard in Alabama. No Maine-based builders submitted bids.
“I guess I wouldn’t be upset if they just called it Everett Libby II,” Murray said.