Experienced island travelers know that an eye on the weather and an understanding of the boat and flight schedules can make for a pleasant and easy crossing. There are three different boat companies that can get you here, including a traditional ferry, referred to by islanders as the “slow boat” that makes the trip carrying both passengers and vehicles in just over two and a half hours. The high speed, passenger-only boats called the “fast ferries” make the crossing in only an hour. The Steamship Authority and the Hy-Line Cruises leave out of Hyannis, while the new Freedom Cruise Lines sails from Harwich Port.
When the weather is good it is hard to beat the romance of boat travel. Two hours in the sun with the smell of the salt air or under a summertime moon can be the perfect way to shake off the tension of the mainland. And standing on the deck as the boat enters the Jetties and rounds Brant Point to dock at Steamboat Wharf is as good an introduction to the island’s charm as there is. For those who will only be relaxed once they arrive, the crossing can be made in half that time on a fast ferry.
Whatever boat you sail on there are a couple of rules of thumb to remember: Always make reservations during the summer season for your car on the slow boat or for passenger tickets on the fast ferries, even if they are not required, because boats fill up fast. Always call ahead from the road, because high winds, rough weather, and mechanical problems, can cancel trips. Getting stranded on either side because of a boat cancellation is one traditional island experience you can probably do without.
The Steamship Authority has been the island’s lifeline to the mainland since the 1800s. It is a quasi-government authority with a fleet of nine boats, including four traditional ferries, three freight boats, and one high-speed catamaran.
Tickets can be purchased at the ferry terminal or at the bus terminal in Hyannis. Reservations for passengers are not required, but are a smart idea. These boats get very crowded in the summer, especially the fast boat. Call ahead while you are planning your trip to see if you can make a reservation to get your car on the boat. In the off-season there is always the outside chance that there will be room available for your car on a stand-by basis, but it becomes a long shot in the summer. You can reach the Steamship Authority at (508) 495-3278.
The passenger-only fast ferry M/V Iyanough makes five trips a day during the summer, beginning at 8 a.m. , with the last trip returning at 9:30 p.m. The trip between Hyannis and Nantucket takes an hour. A one-way ticket for adults is $29.50, children pay $22.50, kids under five ride for free, and it will cost you $6 to take your bicycle. Round trip tickets are $59 for adults, $44.50 for the kids, and $12 for the bike.
The traditional ferries make six trips a day, the first one sailing at 7:30 a.m. and the last returning at 11:15 p.m. A trip on one of the traditional ferries will cost you $15 one-way and $30 round trip, tickets for kids five and older are $7.25 and $14.50, bikes are $6 and $12. A one-way ticket for your car costs $180 between April and October, but unless you plan on leaving it on the island you’ll need a roundtrip ticket at $360.
Walking distance from The Steamship Authority terminal you will find the Hy-Line Cruises at their Ocean Street dock. These are family owned and operated, passenger-only, boats that take you to Straight Wharf on Nantucket. The M/V Grey Lady is a high speed catamaran that makes the trip in an hour, five times a day starting at 6:30 a.m. Between June 3 and September 9 there is an 8:45 p.m. boat every evening, which runs only on Friday’s in the off-season. Tickets on the Grey Lady are $69 round trip and $38 one-way. Kids between five and 12 pay $49 or $29. Bikes are $12 and $6.
Call (508)778-0404 for more info and reservations.
Freedom Cruise Line
There is a boat running from Harwich Port to Nantucket, between the end of May and the beginning of September. Freedom Cruise Line pulls out of Saquatucket Harbor three times daily. The trip takes and hour-and-a-half. Tickets cost $57 for an adult round trip and $38 one-way, $44 rt and $29 one-way for kids under 12, $6 and $4 for kids under two, $12 and $6 for bicycles. There is free parking in Harwich Port for day trippers. The terminal is at 702 Main Street, Harwich Port. That is Rte. 28, next to Thompson Farms Market. Call (508) 432-8999 for more info and reservations.