Naming competition for new Matinicus Isle ferry pumps brakes on ‘tomfoolery’
PORTLAND, Maine — Not every ferry can visit Matinicus Isle, which is 22 miles offshore in Knox County. The harbor is just too small and full of rocks.
Among the Maine Department of Transportation’s fleet of ships serving the Penobscot Bay Islands and beyond, only the M/V Everett Libby has the diminutive dimensions required to safely wriggle to Matinicus Dock.
However, the Libby has been in service for 63 years – since 1960, when John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon for president. It is to be replaced in 2024. But before the new ferry makes its maiden voyage to the island, it needs a name.
But the islanders don’t necessarily want your help. You have your own ideas, thank you.
Islander Eva Murray represents Matinicus on the Maine State Ferry Service Advisory Board and has been tasked with collecting proposals. To that end, Murray, who is also the island’s municipal officer, waste coordinator and garbage truck driver, has put up flyers at the island’s post office and at the Rockland Ferry Terminal for ideas. She also monitors a few social media sites, where discussion ranges from the sincere to the absurd. This is a random endeavor, so the number of suggestions received has not been counted. Still, there are some standouts.
“Facebook is a terrible place to do business,” Murray said. “Some are just smart people 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 flyer specifically excludes Boaty McBoatface, who was famously named a British autonomous underwater vehicle in a 2016 online poll.
With such a dumbass, Murray wants to keep the ideas serious and come mostly from people who ride the new ferry or have some kind of Matinicus connection. But that leaves the idea pool a bit flat at this time of year, when the Everett Libby only makes monthly winter trips to the island.
“There’s only about 20 people living on the island right now,” Murray said.
Murray isn’t revealing her favorite suggestion just yet as she doesn’t want to put her thumb on a scale, but she does expect to see Abbie Burgess’s name on the list.
Burgess, 16, was the teenage heroine who left the lights on at nearby Matinicus Rock Lighthouse for 21 days during a prolonged and violent storm in 1856. The problem is, the name is already taken. A US Coast Guard cutter of the same nickname, built in 1998, is based in Rockland.
“So that probably won’t work,” Murray said. “It would be confusing.”
Whatever name islanders and ferry drivers come up with, they still have to get their way with state officials. Murray will present proposals to the Advisory Board on March 23. Then the members will choose one who rises to the rank of Maine DOT Commissioner Bruce Van Note.
Among the silly names suggested so far are a great many serious ones. Some are the names of beloved islanders and captains. Some people are also interested in simply naming the new boat Matinicus.
The designation is available. A Coast Guard cutter by that name patrolled the warm Caribbean waters in the 1990s but has since been decommissioned.
Ferries are often named after previous, long-serving ferry captains. The Captain Neal Burgess, a 17-car ferry serving North Haven Island, is one such ship, named after a former skipper.
The current ferry is named after one of the founders of the Maine State Ferry Service when the service began in 1959. Everett Libby was from Vinalhaven. At 110 feet in length, the Libby ferry is 30 feet shorter than the next smallest in Maine’s DOT fleet. Unlike some other Maine ferries, it doesn’t see many tourists. With more than two and a half hours at sea, Matinicus is just too remote.
The island’s economy thrives more on lobster than summer folk. The ferry sees more work trucks and propane tanks than station wagons and vacationers.
The replacement ferry is now being built at 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.