The captain of the only ferry crossing the Chesapeake Bay says her first summer of operation has proved successful even though the hot weather kept quite a few people from climbing aboard her open boat.
But Cynthia Riggs, the 56-year-old captain of the 40-foot cruiser Mystique, acknowledges she was a bit too optimistic in believing she could expand from passenger to car service next season. It will be two years before she can begin operating a car ferry on her 11-mile route between Hooper Island in Dorchester County and Solomons in Calvert County, Riggs said.
The Mystique, which is certified to carry 20 passengers, has been plying the lower bay since mid-June. Traveling at 12 knots, the boat makes the crossing in about 90 minutes. By road, Dorchester and Calvert counties are four hours apart.
The boat runs twice a day on Wednesdays and Saturdays, at a cost of $8 one way or $15 round trip. A Friday afternoon service is to be added, possibly this fall.
Bicyclists and sightseers have found the ferry particularly attractive during this first year of operations, done to "test the waters," Riggs said.
Riggs hopes to lure ocean-bound vacationers, particularly from the Washington area, to a future car ferry.
Car ferry service can be profitable even if only a tiny fraction of those who normally take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge switched to her service, Riggs said.
Her ferry service is the state's seventh. There are four car ferries and two other passenger ferries, which travel to Tangier and Smith islands.
Riggs has been using money she obtained from the sale of a piece of land to keep her fledgling service operating, but she adds, "I'm running out." Aided by a retired marketing expert involved in a program of the Small Business Administration, she says she will try to obtain some venture capital.
Riggs, whose ancestors were sea captains, was raised on Martha's Vineyard and has captained two trans-Atlantic crossings in small vessels. She also has piloted tour boats on the Potomac River.
The watermen have welcomed her endeavors. "I expected as a stranger operating a boat in their area to meet with a certain amount of resistance," she said, "but the watermen have been so nice to me. They're wonderful guys. I've snagged their crab pots several times, but they've been very understanding."