The Cape May Ferry Stops for Whales and Athletes

Dave Macomber has been a captain for the Cape May-Lewes Ferry in Cape May, N.J., for 28 years.

Dave Macomber, 61, is a captain at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, based in Cape May, N.J.

What drew you to working on the water?

I grew up at the Jersey Shore. Before this job, I worked as a commercial fisherman on several boats, catching fish and helping to deliver them up and down the East Coast, usually to docks at processing plants.

However, I was away from home a lot, sometimes two weeks at a time, so when I heard about a deckhand job here, I took it and started over. I worked my way up, including getting the necessary licenses, over the 28 years I’ve been here.

You travel the same route, from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware, and back, about three hours round trip, twice a day. Does it get boring?

No, because every day is different. One day the bay will be smooth as glass and the next the wind might come from a different direction and we’ll have choppy waves.

Sometimes whales breach near us, and I’ll make an announcement and stop the boat for 10 or 15 minutes so people can watch.

Also, winter weather can keep me on my toes.

I also do a run every June for the athletes in the Escape the Cape Triathlon. I drop the anchor so the participants can jump into the water for their swim.

Credit...Michelle Gustafson for The New York Times

What’s your favorite part of the job?

I like the occasional variety, like the triathlon trips. I especially enjoy the shipyard runs, when we take the ferries to various places for routine maintenance and inspections.

This past November I took one to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I never thought I’d be piloting one under the Brooklyn Bridge. I told one of the crew members that his only job was to take pictures.

If a hurricane is forecast, we have to move the ferries inland, up the Delaware River, so they don’t get buffeted as much, and we stay and bring them back. That’s a big operation.

What do you do when bad weather actually comes?

We’re scheduled to operate 365 days a year, so it has to be pretty bad for us to cancel.

I’ve worked in blizzards, and saltwater can freeze, especially when there are five or six days of subzero weather. Ice is not our friend; I’ve had to break through it and the boat can get stuck.

But passenger safety is a priority, so we do cancel occasionally.

Do you have much interaction with the passengers?

Passengers aren’t allowed in the wheelhouse, but on most trips, I do a walkabout where I give the children trading cards and coloring books and take photos with the family.

A number of veterans take the ferry on their way to veterans’ events in Washington, D.C., and I always try to recognize them.

About a year ago, we had just left the dock when a crew member came up to the wheelhouse and said there was a 100-year-old World War II veteran aboard taking his first ferry ride. I told the mate to take over, and I went down and talked to him and thanked him for his service.

When I went back up, I got on the intercom and told passengers to feel free to stop by and do the same.

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