Southern Brooklyn

The Ferries Of The Rockaway Boat Lines

Photo courtesy of John Landers
The dock entrance in Sheepshead Bay (Photo courtesy of John Landers)

If television has taught me anything, it is that one should be wary of any “three hour tours” unless you don’t mind getting stranded on an island with a scientist, a goofy first mate and an angry skipper. Luckily, the tours once advertised by Rockaway Boat Lines only offered tours ranging from one to two and a half hours, saving people the fate of trying to figure out how to wire a radio out of a coconut. The pictures were provided by Sheepshead Bites read John Landers, who had previously sent us a picture of the Columbia, which sailed from Sheepshead Bay to Breezy Point and the Rockaways.

Landers has provided us with more vintage pictures including a shot of the dock entrance at Sheepshead Bay and other ferries docked at the Sheepshead Bay Marina. Thanks for the great pictures John!

Photo courtesy of John Landers
Photo courtesy of John Landers
Photo courtesy of John Landers
Photo courtesy of John Landers
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  1. I remember the boats well, but really don’t remember them being run by Circle Line. Sorry babes.

  2. You neglected to mention that getting stranded on that three hour tour would enable you to meet the incredible Dawn Wells and Tina Louise (MaryAnn and Ginger). Dawn Wells was incredibly hot (and not innocent!) in roles well before Gilligan’s Island. And Tina Louise? Well.
    What this has to do with the article is beyond me.

  3. i remember them well and use to be used for fireworks on the 4th and each year they take out two boats of gettho kids for rides .

  4. Hi I worked on the ferris in 1977-80. Sonny Clair owned the ferry, and his dad Francis Clair was 1 of 5 owners of circle line. I was 17 and was a deck hand. Great summers, great memories!

  5. So Ron, I assume you were a disciple of Captain Willie Sutherland!
    To this day the unforgetable person I ever met!

  6. Great pictures, thanks for showing them. I started as a deckhand at Rockaway Boat Lines the summer of 1969. Got promoted to Captain a few years later. Taught by one of best Captains Wilie Sutherland. Talk about wooden ships and iron men! RBL was owned by the Clair family in SB, Sonny was the GM. The Clairs were partners in the Circle Line and the Hudson River Dayline. Great family, good business men. Took care of their employees. As far as I know Ed Clair senior is still around, living in Florida. Ed told me years ago, that there were several ferries owned by RBL. The ones that I worked on were the C. Washington Colyer, Commander (still operating in Haverstraw), Columbia and the Frederick Lundy (freight boat). The Manhattan had been sold to the CYO Day Camp in Whitestone just before I worked there. Other boats were the Visitor, Neponsit, Rockaway and one other which name escapes me now. The Manhattan is still operating on an upstate lake. These boats were built during the years 1912 thru 1918 and had steam engines later updated to Greymarine diesels. The Commander still has her Greymarine diesel running! I was on her 5 years ago when she returned to Breezy Points 50th Anniversary. What was amazing about these boats was their passenger carrying ability for boats only 65 feet long, (Columbia was 79′), the Commander could carry 245 passengers and they filled them on Fireworks nights. I can remember the lines waiting to board, 5 across from Pier 10 past Ocean Avenue.
    Would love to hear from anyone with memories, especially pictures and former employees!

  7. I was also a deckhand who came up through the ranks and became a captain. I started in 1966. I did it for 4 or 5 years and it was the best job I ever had. I worked on all the boats, mainly the Colyer. Willie Sutherland was a wry and funny little man. I still remember Andy Waters who worked at the front desk. Billy Allen, another captain , Walter Curran, and Tommy Capodacasa, resident carpenter. My dear friend Joe Mulhern was a captain who sadly recently passed away. My wife and I saw the Commander about 10 years ago in Greenport, LI, being fitted out for its Hudson River run. Sonny and Frank Clare were a big part of Sheepshead Bay. Those were the good old days. Didn’t know about the 50 year Breezy Point anniversary.

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