PORT DEPOSIT — PORT DEPOSIT - Driving down Interstate 95, it's difficult to view the Susquehanna River as anything more than a reason to pay a $5 toll, but when cruising downstream on the new passenger ferry Chessie, the river has a life of its own.
Named after the legendary beast that allegedly lives in the Chesapeake Bay, the 52-foot catamaran holds up to 47 passengers and cruises between Port Deposit and Havre de Grace four days a week.
Customers can take a one-hour cruise between the two ports, or board at one city, spend time at the other, and catch the ferry back when they are ready to leave.
The ferry typically carries about 30 people a night.
The Chessie offers a waiver on the $10 service charge for those dining at the Portside Grille in Port Deposit on Wednesday evenings.
"It's a boat ride, but it's also for people that want to travel and don't want to waste gas," said Capt. Marty Smith, who started running the ferry service on the Susquehanna more than a month ago with his friend and partner, Capt. David Gulick.
When the two bought the boat in January last year, they had not anticipated so much work.
After flying to Florida to look at the ferry, the two knew it was "almost exactly what we wanted."
They had a trucking company transport the boat to Savannah, Ga., where they began a trip up the Inner Coastal Waterway.
"It was the first week in April," Smith said. "And it was freezing."
Since then, Smith and Gulick have remodeled the boat, adding a restroom, bar and other amenities.
While business has been slow recently, Smith expects things to pick up soon, especially around Independence Day. The Chessie will anchor near North East for the fireworks celebration on July 3, and near Havre de Grace on July Fourth.
"After all," Smith said, "the best seat is on the water."
Smith and Gulick work on the ferry during their spare time. Although Smith runs a heavy-truck repair shop in Wilmington, Del., and Gulick teaches criminal justice at the University of Delaware, both Cecil County residents enjoy the water.
"We grew up on boats," Gulick said. "And we figured if we're going to spend a lot of time on the water, we might as well get paid for it," he added, laughing.
Smith's favorite aspect of running a service is the diversity of passengers he meets.
"You really get a mixed bag of people looking for things to do rather than walk up and down the street," he said.
Betty Brown from Conowingo enjoyed a ferry ride and said she expects to return.
"I like the weather, being with friends," she said. "But really, I just like boat rides."
Her husband, Bernie, agreed. "There's nothing more peaceful than cruising down the river," he said.