Captains Recall Legendary Days of Eastern Shore Ferries

Ferry captains

Captain Billy Ray Phillips, Captain Richard Belote, Jan Neville, Butch Baxter, and Ed Lewis at Cape Charles Museum.

Cape Charles Historical Society

December 4, 2013

As a part of the Cape Charles Historical Society’s ongoing oral history project, the Cape Charles Museum hosted a gathering of ferry captains and historical society members for an informal session to interview and record the captains’ personal experiences, stories, and details of what it was like working on such legendary ferries as the Pocahontas, Princess Anne, Delmarva, Northampton, Accomac, Virginia Beach, and Old Point Comfort.

Present were Captain Richard Belote, Captain Billy Ray Phillips, and Historical Society members Butch Baxter, Ed Lewis, Bill Neville, and Jan Neville.

The group spent two enjoyable hours talking with the captains who grew up on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and started their service with Virginia Ferry Corporation in the early 1950s. They worked through the transition to Chesapeake Bay Ferry District at Kiptopeke and finally to the Delaware River and Bay Authority in Lewes, Delaware, and Cape May, New Jersey, where they both retired in the 1970s.

Some highlights of the gathering included stories of witnessing the destruction of the “Big D” during the Ash Wednesday storm, which did great damage to the Shore in 1962. (The “Big D” was a huge piece of construction equipment used in building the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. The remains of the wreckage still lie on the bottom adjacent to the bridge). The captains also shared interesting accounts of groundings, accidents, rough seas, scuffles with feisty sometimes “liquored up” passengers, and a tornado that went through Kiptopeke while a ferry was docking. [Read more…]