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A ‘summer of heaven’ on the Glen Cove ferry

Looking back at Manhattan from the temporary ferry

Looking back at Manhattan from the temporary ferry to Glen Cove. Credit: Newsday / Mark Chiusano

‘For me, it’s the summer of heaven,” said Reid Pauyo, 53.

Pauyo was sitting contentedly last Thursday atop the new rush hour ferry from 34th Street to Glen Cove. The Stevie Wonder song “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” was playing softly over speakers on the enclosed top deck. The bluffs and beaches of Great Neck and Port Washington breezed by, the lights of the Gatsby mansions just winking on. Pauyo gestured magnanimously.

He was the only person in the echoing compartment.

With Amtrak’s emergency repairs at Penn Station upon us threatening to cause what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called a “summer of hell,” the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been challenged to make life as un-miserable as possible for commuters traveling into and out of the city in the face of canceled or rerouted LIRR trains. One of the agency’s actions has been the four-times-daily Glen Cove-Manhattan ferry, a test of sorts for the viability of a more permanent maritime route.

The repair work started last week and the situation hasn’t yet been as hellish as expected, but riders are MTA-trained enough to expect the worst. They may have been briefly spared due to good preparation and the fact that Penn Station work is only beginning. While waiting for the other shoe to drop (maybe it’s dropping as you read), the Glen Cove ferry passengers enjoyed their unexpected ride — all 35 or so on a boat built for more than 200.

Raj Wakhale, 48, of Huntington, sat good-humoredly on the open deck despite a slight drizzle. Nursing a beer and toasting the landscape, he praised the spaciousness vs. the usual LIRR squeeze. You weren’t sweating on the guy next to you or smelling his beer.

For Pauyo, the Glen Cove resident enjoying his solitude out of the rain, the boat made his commute much easier. His office is right next to the Wall Street drop-off for the morning ferry. Couldn’t be better. That might not be true for some who find the 70- to 80-minute ride too long or inconvenient — factors dampening demand for the Glen Cove-Manhattan ferry, which has been an elusive goal for decades. Another factor: potential unreliability, as was the case on Friday, when two runs were canceled because of morning engine problems.

But for some who can swing the slightly longer ride, the new choice might be a pleasant alternative and worth consideration during this unexpected trial run. If you work downtown, the Wall Street drop-off option could even allow you to skip the subway.

Pauyo sees potential for a longer-term service: price and size the boats for demand, and reformat the ride to make it competitively pleasant (Pauyo is, you may have guessed, a banker). He said there were easy ways to spruce up the ferry, one of a varied fleet the MTA is using — have more outdoor seating, for example, perhaps “flat screen TVs” or outlets for your phone. At the moment, the enclosed deck sported only a sad string of party lights and a single wilted houseplant.

Such tricks and more tweaks might be necessary to make the Glen Cove ferry work. Glen Cove Deputy Mayor Barbara Peebles, a longtime ferry advocate, says she’s not surprised to hear about the good experiences, though she had expected many more commuters to try the option, even with the limited schedule.

She says she went to sleep the night before launch day thinking, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

They didn’t, and what she hopes will become a popular permanent ferry was off to a slow start. But maybe people will eventually be drawn by the potential for a not-so-hellish season on the waves.

Mark Chiusano is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.