The Young Men and the Sea
Early Staten Island Commuters
Although the Brothers selected the magnificent 19th century clipper ships as the symbol of their flagship school overlooking New York Harbor, few Xaverian students had a nautical experience while in high school. Except, of course, for those intrepid Staten Islanders who daily traveled the sea route to 7100 Shore Road aboard the famous 69th Street Ferry, the only way across the bay before the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Whenever Island alumni from the early years are present, you can bet that a reference to the maritime commute on the “boats” (named The Tides, The Hamilton, The Gowanus, and The EG Diefenbach) is inevitable.The salt air, the rolling deck in rough weather, the sound of foghorns, the smell of diesel fuel, the sight of dozens of vessels at anchor in the bay, and the camaraderie of schoolmates all combined to help form special friendships.
While a Bay Ridge fixture for more than half a century, few at Xaverian today even know why a large painting of the Brooklyn-Staten Island Ferry hangs in the Shore Road entrance. Between September 1957 and November 1965, approximately 125 Staten Island students made the daily crossing. A recent letter to these alumni brought to light some interesting memories of this unique aspect of the school’s history. A sampling:
• Paraphrasing the poet Edna St.Vincent Millay:“We were very tired, we were very merry.We had gone back and forth four years on the ferry...” Virtually all of the days were routine. Most guys got the 8:00 am boat because it timed well with the beginning of school.The ferry ride was always the best time for me—you could catch up on homework, collaborate to get that nasty Physics problem from Brother Lucas, or just socialize.The boat home depended on your activity. I ran track, so most days I got a 4:30 pm or 5:00 pm boat.” Don Bouchoux ’64
• “Fogs made for fun on the water. I remember a particularly thick fog for which the ferry captain had placed two deckhands at either side of the bow of the boat to listen for the bells of ships anchored in the Narrows.We all distinctly heard the ringing of a bell—and then watched the deckhands point in opposite directions.” —Tony Tighe ’62
• “On several occasions, we had near crashes due to high winds and sea states in the Bay.Waiting at the 69th St. Pier was tough since the waiting room was so tiny and cold, especially in the winter.” —Bob Kittredge ’62
• The 69th Street Ferry boats were not very large and not equipped with radar.When there was thick fog, the boats didn’t operate.Those delays were considered “excused late.” I vividly remember one morning when it was well past 9:30 am and the forecast was for no lifting of the fog before noon. One of the upperclassmen called Brother Thaddeus and was told to “round up the herd,” take the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan and then the subway to Brooklyn.What a scene! I think we made it just in time for lunch period!”—Tom “Smitty” Smith ’63
• “I was on the ferry in 1962 during Hurricane Donna. I remember the captain just barely guiding the ferry into the docking apron when there wasn’t much of the slip showing above water. It was the last ferry to make the trip that morning because the water had become too high. —Bill Philpot ’65
• “A lot of homework was done (copied!) on the morning trip over. Cries of,“Who has the math homework?” or English or whatever wasn’t done the night before could be heard most days.You had 20 minutes to get everything you needed. The waiting area on 69th Street was a small shack that had the best chocolate donuts for a nickel.” —Ted Adams ’62
“During one particularly bad storm, we [students] were the only ones to board. No cars, just schoolboys. The upperclassmen decided that it would be a great time for some freshmen initiation (so 1960’s, so politically incorrect nowadays). In rough sailing, waves were breaking over the bow and washing down through the car deck. One frosh was asked to stand at the front of the top deck and periodically shout “Whale Ho!” Another measured the length of the upper deck—outside in the storm—with a ruler, while the rest ran from side to side amidships trying to rock the boat with their weight! —Don Bouchoux ’64
• “And who could forget prom night when all us guys who had rented limos for the evening had them drive us to the ferry terminal in Manhattan so we could take that ferry to St. George and then take the 69th Street Ferry to the Brooklyn dock where the same limos were waiting to drive us the two blocks to Xaverian for our after-prom breakfast. —Tony Tighe ’62 ❱
“Day by day, we had a front row seat to the spectacle of seeing a suspension bridge being built. First we watched the towers being built, then the spinning of the suspension wires, then the suspension of the roadway from those wires. It was slow, but it occurred over all of the four years of the class of ’64 at Xaverian.” —Don Bouchoux ’64
• “It was a real blow when the Verrazano Bridge opened and ferry service ended just before Thanksgiving in 1964. It was a much longer journey by bus and much less pleasant trip once the ferry was closed. “Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride. Tomorrow is promised to no one.” —Tom “Smitty” Smith ’63
In the days of the 69th Street Ferry, just over 6% of the student body lived in Staten Island.Today, 17% of Xaverian students make the commute to Brooklyn.
With a grateful salute to our many alumni contributors,
Sigfried Heiles ’64, Consultant and Archivist