Prudence Ferry eyes expanded public cruise service

Fund-raiser Saturday for Clean Ocean Access featured musicians, drinks and ice cream

By Ted Hayes
Posted 7/24/19

In its years as the main Prudence Island ferry, the Herbert C. Bonner has carried countless passengers back and forth to Prudence Island. But few sails were as memorable as its two and a half-hour …

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Prudence Ferry eyes expanded public cruise service

Fund-raiser Saturday for Clean Ocean Access featured musicians, drinks and ice cream

Posted

In its years as the main Prudence Island ferry, the Herbert C. Bonner has carried countless passengers back and forth to Prudence Island. But few sails were as memorable as its two and a half-hour run Saturday evening.

At the forward cargo area usually occupied by clean cars heading to the island and dusty ones heading off, four local musicians took turns standing on an oriental rug and playing to a crowd of more than 100. Along the starboard side, volunteers served Narragansett beers, mixed drinks and ice cream. As the ferry steamed out of Bristol, heading lazily south to the Prudence T Wharf, then Melville and finally northeast into Mt. Hope Bay before heading home, heat lightning filled the sky, fireworks were spotted over Portsmouth and a cool bay breeze eased what had been the hottest day of the year to that point.

Saturday night’s sold-out cruise was the first of its kind for the Prudence Island Ferry. A benefit concert for Clean Ocean Access, an Aquidneck Island organization that works to protect the health of and public access to the ocean, it was also a test run to gauge public interest in a new direction for the ferry company — public bay cruises and charters.
Over the past year or so, Prudence and Bay Islands Transport has run a handful of private charters aboard the Herbert C. Bonner, taking bachelor parties, an area hockey team and a few companies on private trips. Now the company’s management is considering expanding its services, opening up the large main ferry to public cruises, charities interested in holding fund-raisers and celebrations, and other public groups.

Prudence Island resident Nicole Antaya, whose family has owned the company since 2014, said Saturday night’s cruise appeared to be a huge success, and she’s excited at the chance to add a new direction for the company.

“It looked like people had a really good time,” she said. “It’s a ferry boat so it is different than a cruise ship, but judging from what I saw, I think everyone enjoyed the open-air aspect of it.”

The owners started quietly running private charters the summer before last. Since the ferry is a public utility, cruises are scheduled for when the ferry isn’t otherwise running. But the Herbert C. Bonner, which can carry 140 guests, is available Saturday evenings from 7 to 10 p.m., and there is a noon-to-2 p.m. Sunday slot as well. The ferry company has contacts with catering companies available to passengers and has obtained a liquor license, and most employees are TIP-certified, she said.

On the handful of private cruises it has run to date, the ferry has headed as far south as the Newport Bridge and up into Battleship Cove, over to the West Side of Prudence and north of the island. Saturday night’s leisurely route was plotted out by captain Ethan Rossi, Ms. Antaya’s boyfriend, to give music lovers a chance to better enjoy volunteer performers Connor Fisher, Bristol’s Allysen Callery and daughter Ava, who played their own sets, and closer Bernard John.

The cruise was organized by Jamie Marie, a Providence-based fund-raiser whose firm, Give And Co., stages events for non-profits across the state. She grew up with Ms. Antaya, and offered to stage the fund-raiser on Clean Ocean Access’s behalf as she’d heard of the organization’s good works from many of her friends on Aquidneck Island. The ferry company donated the boat for free, the musicians played for free and Narragansett Brewing, Sons of Liberty Beer and Spirits, The Granny Squib Company and Vic’s Ice Cream of Barrington donated their products and time to the cause.

Dave McLaughlin, Clean Ocean Access’s executive director, said he was thrilled at the turnout and loved the ferry’s novel service:

“People came from pretty far away,” said Mr. McLaughlin, who said his organization will use the funds raised to further its environmental education, outreach and advocacy across Aquidneck Island and Newport County.

“I thought it was a great event and people had a great time.”
With the cruise in the books, Ms. Antaya said Tuesday that she’s encouraged at the possibility of running more events, giving the public a glimpse of the bay from a vantage point and pace seldom seen.

“We haven’t really sat down and talked a lot about what went well and what else we could do, but it is definitely something we’re considering,” she said. “It was a fun night.”

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