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Jingle all the way down the bay

Gene Willard always refers to the Maquoit as the Seventh Island, recognizing its ability to bring all of the islanders together. This becomes all the more apparent every year on the Thursday before Christmas. For those residents who commute to Portland for work or school, they will board the boat at 5:45 p.m. for the trip home just as they do any other day of the week. But down on the lower deck, Captain Bill Wanzer and his crew play host to a community pot luck and holiday party. As the Maquoit travels down the bay, she picks people up at their respective islands instead of dropping them off. People stand on the open lower deck stern telling stories and laughing until they can’t stand the cold anymore. Then they head into the cabin for a slice of pizza from Andy’s Old Port Pub or a taste of whatever delicious desserts came on board at Long Island. When the Maquoit finally reaches Cliff Island, everyone disembarks. At the ball field just beyond the dock, they stand around singing Christmas carols until the blast of the ferry’s horn. It is one of my favorite nights of the entire year. In 2010 I was working at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Long Island native Zach “Buoy” Whitener was working there too, so we invited several staff members to join us on the annual down bay Christmas Party. Many islanders opened their homes and welcomed me into their lives while I was a deckhand and in turn, I thoroughly enjoyed introducing my friends and colleagues to the people I adore in Casco Bay. The down bay Christmas Party serves as my reminder of the intangible quality that makes the coastal communities in Casco Bay and all along the Maine coast so important. It’s made up of camaraderie, plain pleasures and a wealth of knowledge earned but shared freely. Many thanks to the Casco Bay Lines and the island residents for turning a summer job into an enduring passion.

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