For more than 50 years, the Staten Island ferryboat named for John F. Kennedy shuttled countless people back and forth across New York harbor’s upper bay.
Now, several months after being retired, the boat is being auctioned off, with the sale ending on Wednesday evening. At the time of publication, just a couple hours before ending, the going bid is around $140,000, up from a start of $125,000.
It’s unclear what the new owner—whoever will end up the winner—will do with the Kennedy, which has been docked at the St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island since it was removed from service in August 2021. While the iconic orange hull is still in good condition, the listing noted that its inner workings are not. The ferryboat was decommissioned because it was no longer possible to fix its mechanical issues. There's hope for a new life, however — even an old 1907 Ellis Island ferry has become a floating home.
In Previous Ferry News: You Can Live On This Historic Ellis Island Ferry For $1.25 Million
Even though the Kennedy was the oldest operating ferryboat in the fleet before its retirement, it was long considered one of the most reliable ships running between Staten Island and lower Manhattan – and one of its former pilots, Acting Senior Port Captain Kenneth Meurer, still remembers it fondly.
WNYC/Gothamist interviewed Meurer this week. The following exchange has been edited for clarity.
How long have you been a ferry captain?
I started in 2007. I was a mate for three years, assistant captain for two, and I believe captain for just about eight. I think that that lines up correctly.
How does it work when you're working the ferry route? Do you specifically work on a single ferry or are you splitting your time between different boats?
It depends on the day, it depends on the run. Each run’s assigned a different boat, sometimes the classes aren’t always the same. When I say class, I mean, there's the Molinari class, there was the Kennedy class, there's the Austin class, which is small boats. And then there's the Barberi class. So depending on the day, you could end up on any one of those boats.
What was it like running the Kennedy? I know it's been in service for a long time.
It was almost a nostalgic feeling running it, honestly, because of how old it was. It was a nice old, warm boat, it was open and had a lot of space for everyone. It was very easy to load and discharge passengers just because of the way it was designed. And then the operation of it was very traditional: you had your propulsion, your steering was on your aft end, and it took a little more precision to ensure safe docking with that boat than some of the other boats that have steering capabilities from each end.
For the Kennedy class, there were two rudders and a propeller at either end, and normally in the direction that you're heading the forward rudder is secured to prevent any damage from that steering system. So you would lock the forward rudder in place centered zero, and then you would steer the vessel with your stern rudder as needed.
How does that compare to some of the newer ones?
It's definitely different. The new boats have control of either your forward or your aft end while docking, and making your approach you're able to utilize your rudder or whatever means of steering that you have. Some have the traditional rudder and propeller on opposite ends, and then the other boats have Voith Schneider systems that are very advanced and very maneuverable.
Were there any quirks with the Kennedy that you had to be aware of when you were piloting it?
It just takes a little more planning to make a safe landing every time. You have to take more consideration in your tides and currents and wind as you make your approach. The one good aspect about that boat is that basically you have what you have, so you know exactly what you have. You have to play the wind, but she held so steady and so true into the elements and into the conditions that there were no surprises with the boat. It was just well-designed, very streamlined, good profile, she wasn't too tall. Good whole design streamlined through the water. And the power you had, you knew what you had. It was no question about it.
You have to play the wind, but she held so steady and so true into the elements...
If you were to win this auction, say you wanted the boat, what would you do with it?
She's probably very valuable for scrap, and that's just a personal opinion. I mean, it would be cool to have as a museum somewhere, but I think it's going to be a struggle to upkeep, [to] just stay ahead of whatever requirements are required to keep it on the water. Just because she's getting old. I always said it would be cool to put it on land somewhere where you can take the water aspect out of it and just have her as a museum to look at.
Is there anything you'd want to say to whoever ends up buying it?
No, I really don't have anything to contribute except enjoy the legacy of it. It hasn't changed. It hasn't been retrofitted by any means in the history of it. It's pretty cool.