Out of Our Past

The Passenger Boat Association and Captain Ross Dickson, Part II

Posted:  Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - 8:00am
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This is a continuation of Jean Chenoweth’s description of her 1960 summer reserving tickets for boat trips on Boothbay Harbor’s waterfront near Fisherman’s Wharf, and her friendship with Captain Ross Dickson. Barbara Rumsey

The Boats and Captains

The boats in the PBA at that time were: the Stardust (a converted World War II PT boat), Capt. Charles Collins; and the Magnum, Capt. Ransom Kelly. Those two tied up beside Ned's Wharf, now the T-shirt shop and Mine Oyster. Heading southwest there was a float and ramp with Capt. Bob Fish's Maranbo II on one side and his father, Capt. Ray Fish's Nellie G II on the other. Along the Fishermen's Wharf dock was the Richard T. II, Capts. Dave and Marion Dash; the Balmy Days, Capt. Charles Wade; and the Charlotte C., Capt. Pat Elderkin. On the far side of the wharf there was the Linekin, Capt. Les Black; and the Argo, Capt. Eliot Winslow. The windjammer, the Victory Chimes came in every Friday night and tied up at the end of the wharf and Capt. Boyd Guild would spend an hour or two at the booth, telling me stories.

There was a great deal of competition between Bob Fish and Marion Dash, who was the only female captain. Bob had the Squirrel Island run along with his father and the Dashes had the Capitol Island run, but for sunset cruises, etc. they competed. Bob was like a carnival barker, working the crowds on the dock, joking with people. Dave Dash was very nice but very quiet, while Marion’s customer-enticing skills didn’t equal Bob’s. Bob could steal a customer right out from under her nose.

Trying for Captain

Some of the captains talked me into trying to become a captain, and Ross handed me a copy of Captain Pugsley's Guide to Mariners as my textbook. I read it and Ross quizzed and taught me until it was decided I could pass the written test for a six-pack license (allowed to carry six passengers). The only thing I now remember from Capt. Pugsley is to “always store your barrels bung up and bilge free.” That knowledge hasn't been too useful to me in this life.

The next problem was I had to have licensed captains testify and sign that I had 100 hours of time behind the wheel. Since I was working two jobs that summer I didn't really have much free time, but I did manage to get some Maranbo II 8 p.m. runs to Squirrel Island on movie nights, when the boat took moviegoers back to their cottages. Ross got his chance to give me some hours when Eliot Winslow was piloting an oil tanker up the Sheepscot to the Mason Station in Wiscasset one day. He asked Ross to take his boat, the Argo, up with his passengers. As soon as we left the dock Ross turned the wheel over to me. Eliot's crew looked a bit concerned but the Argo handled like a dream, much better than the Maranbo II, and Ross stayed right at my elbow the whole trip. He was amazing—he knew every rock in the Sheepscot almost by name. I asked him how he could know every rock in every inch of a river and he laughed and said “By hitting every one of them at least once.” But, sadly, summer ended without my having the required number of hours.

Aftermath

When I came home from college for Christmas vacation that year, Ross was studying to take a test to keep his master mariner's license, and radar had been added to the test this time. He asked me to study with him so we spent my vacation calculating CPAs (closest point of approach). It was fun and he got to keep his license.

I graduated that next June and went to work for the federal government at the lab on McKown Point but worked part time for the PBA. After that, life moved on, but Ross and his wife Hazel were always a part of it. He was interviewed for an article in Down East magazine, “All Finished With the Engines.” He was interviewed on tape about his life. I have a copy of that tape somewhere and I believe the Boothbay Region Historical Society does too.

Next time: the last article in this series.