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Real Steam Whistles Return To Ferries On Cape Cod


In Massachusetts, people living on Cape Cod are getting used to a new sound. Actually, it's an old sound - real steam whistles have been added onto the diesel-powered ferries running to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Island. Monique Laborde reports.

MONIQUE LABORDE, BYLINE: Take a ferry ride anywhere in the country, and the ship will likely signal its departure with this sound.


LABORDE: But here on Cape Cod, ferries running with the Steamship Authority to the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, they sound like this.


LABORDE: It's the same sound passengers heard in 1925 riding the Nobska steamship to Nantucket Island.

CARL WALKER: We're required to have a whistle on each ferry. We're not required to have two whistles. And we're certainly not required to have a steam whistle.

LABORDE: Carl Walker is the director of engineering at the Steamship Authority. He says the historic steam whistle project started in 2006, and it turns out these whistles aren't so easy to find. After a decade of searching, they managed to find six, one for each of their large passenger ferries. And they include the whistle from the Brinckerhoff, a side-wheel steamship that ran the Hudson River from 1899 to 1941.


LABORDE: The whistle from the Sankaty steamer, which served Martha's Vineyard from 1911 until it was requisitioned for use in World War II.


LABORDE: And this one, believe it or not...


LABORDE: ...Walker founded on eBay for $2,700 and never could track down its origin. Eric Coles is riding the ferry home to Martha's Vineyard. Cole says he can hear these whistles from his house 15 times a day.

ERIC COLES: There's something charming about it, like, living on this island and, like, being able to hear the ferry come in and out. I just get a warm feeling when I hear it. It makes me happy that I live here.

LABORDE: Another ferry passenger, J.D. Garcia, is leaving the island after a holiday.

JD GARCIA: Hearing the whistle reminds me that I'm coming back to reality (laughter). So yeah, it reminds me of music too, of Van Morrison's "Mystic."


VAN MORRISON: (Singing) We were born before the wind, also younger than the sun. The bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic.

LABORDE: For NPR News, I'm Monique Laborde on Cape Cod. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Monique will graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2017 with majors in Southern studies and women’s and gender studies.
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