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Best if by sea

By Dustin L uca Staff Writer

SALEM — The sun was barely rising when Caleb and Linda Jones, Arizona residents on vacation in the Witch City, boarded the Salem Ferry at about 6:50 a.m. to explore Boston for a day.

The reverse tourists were riding with about 50 others, many of them commuters taking advantage of a slightly longer, but more beautiful, way to get to work.

“It’s beautiful, affordable, doesn’t take very long to get there — about an hour or so,” Caleb Jones said. “I don’t know why you wouldn’t take this option instead of an Uber.”

A ferry ride back an hour later, however, saw a heavy tourist crowd quickly fill up the Nathaniel Bowditch — the vessel through which Boston Harbor Cruises runs the Salem Ferry service. Allowed to carry 149 souls, crew capped ridership at 145 as visitors to the Witch City filled the interior, upper deck and even front and back seating areas of the craft.

The interior cabin of the Bowditch was decorated with the standard witchy fare for those boarding Thursday. On the trip from Boston to Salem, staff distributed maps and tour books about

Bowditch the tour boat

See FERRY, Page A2

Tourists and visitors alight a Salem Ferry boat arriving from Boston at the Salem Ferry station in Salem as Haunted Happenings events continue leading up to Halloween.

JAIME CAMPOS/Staff photo

The Nathaniel Bowditch ferry boat, allowed to carry up to 149 people on board, was full up with visitors to the Witch City Thursday morning.

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Salem to help those visiting the city get around as head captain Steve Clary picked up a microphone and provided narration when entering and leaving ports.

“I’m told the difference between an island and a rock is an island has things growing on it,” Clary said as the vessel entered Salem Harbor. “So this, on our left, is a rock. and it’s in Marblehead. So it’s called... Marblehead Rock. and to our right is Children’s Island.”

The captain-turned-tour guide is a touch added to the Bowditch for the 2022 Haunted Happenings season, one showing the health of a ferry service connecting Boston to Salem, said Bob Lawler, general manager of Boston Harbor Cruises.

“We’re continuing to add back service, especially staffing, during the 2022 season,” Lawler said. “Over 2021, we’re up over 30% in ridership. I’m speaking Salem specifically.”

Numbers still aren’t where they were at in 2019, the last normal year before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Lawler. With about 70,000 passengers that year, the company expects to be in the neighborhood of 63,000 to 64,000 rides delivered this year after two final weekends leading up to Halloween.

“From a Boston Harbor Cruises standpoint, we’re doing fine with our tourism business bringing people up to Salem,” he said. “The only time we hit capacity is in October, and it just so happens to coincide with other pieces of our business stopping. We’re able to put larger vessels in service.”

The company did so last year, with a massive scale-up for the final two weekends of Octoberr, according to Lawler. When Bowditch kept filling, they swapped her for another vessel nearly twice the size and ultimately added another capable of carrying 500 people.

“We’re inching up there,” Lawler said, of approaching the 70,000-rider mark. “Last October, we did 13,000 riders. This October, we’ll probably do 15,000 riders.”

‘They’re enchanted’

Many of those riding the Bowditch each day are commuters who prefer the ride on the water to the alternative on rail or wheel. One commuter, three-times-a-week passenger Betsy Rossman, pointed to a man standing out on the front of the craft as it left Salem Harbor for Boston. He stayed out there for several minutes after the ferry reached maximum speed.

“Some people just stand on the bow the entire time. They’re enchanted,” Rossman said. “There’s just something about being on the bow. I can’t find the word for it... it isn’t Zen. It’s just... a wonderful thing.”

Coming in minutes later, the man — Brisbane, Australia, resident Markus Collins — said his family was “just traveling around the country for three months.”

“We ended up coming to Salem for two days to see Boston for two days, and the ferry seemed like a more picturesque way,” he said. “The ferry is really nice. We have a Sydney one.”

Annette Popp and Jo Melanson, two Salem residents traveling for work, sat together at opposite ends of the same seat, positioned about 4 feet apart each with a book open for the 55-minute ride.

“We just got to know each other on the ferry,” Melanson said. “No one talks to each other on the train.”

“You also sit much closer on the train,” Popp added. “It used to be so crowded.”

Then again, so too are Salem’s roads. As city officials practically beg visitors to not drive to Salem this month, Rossman recalled that “driving right now, particularly in October, isn’t a good thing.”

“You’re always wondering if you’re going to make it home,” she said, laughing. “The police say, if they have a problem, they’re going to close the streets.”

On the ride into Salem, East Boston resident Brandon Smith brought family from Ohio on a trip to the Witch City — one they do annually outside of a one-year hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic.

For Smith, taking the ferry was a matter of respect. After all, the paid Haunted Happenings ads popping up all over national news websites this month implore visitors to “HAVE A PLAN — USE SATELLITE PARKING, TAKE THE TRAIN OR FERRY.”

“You don’t want to take someone’s parking spot or congest the streets,” Smith said. “We know, with the amount of people going into Salem, taking the ferry would be the best option, not worrying about finding a place to park, enjoying the ocean... and respecting the town, the actual people who live there.”

Contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or Follow him at or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

Tourists and visitors alight a Salem Ferry boat arriving from Boston at the Salem Ferry station in Salem as Haunted Happenings events continue leading up to Halloween.

JAIME CAMPOS/Staff photo

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