When Sayville Ferry Service Capt. Mike Jayne guided the Fire Island Empress to Cherry Grove and the Pines, his final ferry ride at the helm, this is what he got: a Coast Guard escort, assorted …
When Sayville Ferry Service Capt. Mike Jayne guided the Fire Island Empress to Cherry Grove and the Pines, his final ferry ride at the helm, this is what he got: a Coast Guard escort, assorted fire department and police cheers at each dock, and upon his return, a crowd of Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ members honking horns, holding signs, shouting their love.
To top it off, there was even a 15-car parade of family and church drivers, all wearing their pandemic masks.
“I was humbled,” said Jayne sincerely of his reaction to the unsuspected hoopla, brightened by a sunny day last Wednesday.
“And from a captain’s point of view, to have a Coast Guard boat escort us...,” he shook his head, still astonished.
Sayville Congregational Church pastor Rev. Ray Bagnuolo greeted the Fire Island Empress at Cherry Grove to take photos, then hopped aboard. “It’s hard to talk about Mike without talking about his relationship to his family,” Bagnuolo said, stressing not only his wife Judie, three daughters Heather, Brenda and Meghan, and grandchildren, but the congregation, too. “The extended family he has was easy to see on the ferry ride coming back,” he said.
Talk about embossed moments—Jayne has even captained 42 Easter Sunday sun- rise services, a free event, compliments of Sayville Ferry Service.
“There’s a short Easter service at the top deck,” Jayne elaborated of the ferry that ships out at 5:30 a.m. He shuts the engines just before the sun comes up and the ser- vice begins in the middle of the Great South Bay. “Typically, the youth of the congregation lead it. We’ve had as many as 120 people at that service and as few as 50.”
He’ll be celebrating his 81st birthday soon and chose not to renew his license, but even though his captain chapter is closing, there are other possibilities.
“He’s not going anywhere,” said Sayville Ferry Service president Ken Stein, en route to a photo op with Jayne.
“Right now, it’s a bare-bones schedule,” Jayne explained. “Will people come flooding back or be cautious? Will I be doing anything? Yes, Kenny and I have talked about it. On busy weekends, I can help out as dock manager.”
Most times, he was on the dock supervising the day-to-day management.
Anyone taking a Sayville ferry ride will tell you it’s organized, courteous, helpful, clean and safe.
Jayne has served as crew manager for the last 20 years, acting as captain when needed. “But I personally captained a lot of Sailors Haven trips with the school groups,” he said.
His work and life resume is jaw drop- ping, so this is the really short form.
He grew up in Gloucestershire, England, left school at 16, attended a Merchant Marine school, then shipped out with the Cunard line. After several years at sea, he arrived in New York, worked for Thomas Cook, the travel company, then joined BOAC, the forerunner of British Airlines, spending 33 years with them. He retired as BOAC vice president of the New York region.
As crew manager, hiring local youths has given Jayne the greatest satisfaction of his job: a sizeable group that benefitted from his tutelage. “Seeing them develop, giving them structure and discipline, I tell them, ‘You have to make a commitment,’” he said. Opting for a spontaneous party or concert after being scheduled to work won’t fly.
“Many have gone on to become lawyers, doctors, firefighters and Long Island Rail Road professionals,” he said.
As for the ferry rides, they offer a moveable feast of experiences, from the happy day-trippers, the regulars with their dogs, families, jokes and sometimes, sad times too.
“You never know who you’ll see at the Pines, especially because the inhabitants are heavily into the arts and entertainment and you get a lot of personalities,” he explained. “They just want to be themselves without all the hype. One of my favorites was the actress Madeline Kahn, a regular at Water Island, and the most down-to-earth, nice person who treated the crew well.”
Then there’s the annual Fire Island Inva- sion of the Pines on July 4th, an uproarious, fun gathering of drag queens in the most colorful, imaginative costumes. (It’s been cancelled this year because of the pandemic.)
“Ken [Stein] runs the invasion boat with Pierce Cohalan. But three years ago, we ran three ferries and I ran the one that carried a gay men’s band,” he recalled of one special anecdote. “They played the national anthem as we pulled in and then they lined the dock to greet the main invasion boat.”
The Jaynes, who live in West Sayville now, own a beach house at Davis Park and spend as much time there as they can. “We try to go back to England at least once a year,” Jayne said. “We take our three grandchildren. It’s one week in London, one to the family home in Gloucestershire; my brother is still there.”
There’ll be a lot to tell on their next visit.