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Caltrans runs two ferries in California, 24 hours a day, seven days a week

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Posted: Friday, July 30, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 10:15 am, Tue Aug 10, 2010.

A Caltrans worker greets a News-Sentinel reporter and photographer on the J-Mack Ferry as it crosses a narrow slough from Grand Island to Ryer Island.

"You're on Delta time," said Bob Songey, regional manager for the California Department of Transportation. "Things are a little slower here."

Songey was standing on the J-Mack Ferry, which takes people and their vehicles across Steamboat Slough, a three-minute ride, if that. The 41-year-old ferry is the only way you can get to Ryer Island from the town of Ryde. Ryer Island is rich in soil that produces grapes, corn, alfalfa, cherries, kiwi and other crops, Songey said.

A second ferry, known as the Real McCoy, crosses Ryer Island south to Rio Vista.

They're the only two ferries in California run by Caltrans, and they operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The J-Mack Ferry crosses Steamboat Slough about 200 times in a 24-hour period, Songey said.

That's because State Highway 220 takes you to the ferry, and the crossing on Steamboat Slough is also part of the state highway. By not offering 24-hour service, Songey said, it's in essence closing a state highway.

The two ways to reach Ryer Island are by either taking the Real McCoy from Rio Vista from the south end of the island or from Grand Island, about three miles west of the town of Ryde on Highway 160. Taking the Grand-to-Ryer Island ferry also takes you from Sacramento to Solano county.

People take the J-Mack Ferry to Ryer Island for all sorts of reasons. Michael Geredts, of Pleasant Hill, took his friend, Lauryn Agnew, of Moss Beach, on a spin of the island in his bright red 1970 Morgan convertible.

Clara Maria, 85, the oldest person born on Ryer Island, took a ride off the island with her brother, Joe, 76. They still live on island and haven't gotten tired of it.

"It's quiet; it's a great place," Joe said while sitting in his car on the ferry boat.

Three farm workers were driving off the island because their shifts for the day were over.

And Doug Gross, of North Sacramento, decided to show his wife, Carrie, and daughter, Samantha, some of the Delta areas where his late father took him fishing as a child.

"I've always liked coming down here as a kid," Doug Gross said. "We fished all over."

Capt. Paul Peretti, of Sacramento, steers the J-Mack back and forth in what would seem to be an endlessly monotonous 12-hour shift. But Peretti doesn't mind because he sees new faces each day with people telling new stories. He also enjoys seeing otters and seals in the slough. One time, he saw a mink.

Oh, and another thing.

"These guys are bringing me stuff, like corn," Peretti said.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

Ryer Island at a glance

Ryer Island, measuring 11,700 acres, was named in honor of a California pioneer, Dr. Washington M. Ryer, and his family. A map prepared at the time of statehood shows the area divided by the west fork of the Sacramento River, with the western half identified as Priest Island and the eastern half as Sutter Island. It's in Solano County, just north of Rio Vista and west of the Sacramento County community of Ryde.

— Source: Historical map collection of San Francisco Bay (1852).

J-Mack Ferry at a glance

Constructed: 1969.

Serviced: In January and February.

Size: 92 feet long, 39 feet wide.

Capacity: About six vehicles.

Operated: By cable.

— Source: California

Department of Transportation.

Other Delta ferries

There are five ferries remaining in the Delta that allow public access, but three of them lead to islands that are private property. So there are only two that represent a ferry ride that can be taken by the public, and both are free.

One is the Real McCoy, a free-running (no cable) ferry powered by twin diesel engines that takes vehicles across Cache Slough to Ryer Island (and vice versa), and the J-Mack cable-drawn ferry across Steamboat Slough.

The other three ferries are cable-drawn across Little Connection Slough at Herman & Helen's Marina and across Middle River to Woodward Island.

The Victory II is a free-running ferry that takes vehicles from Jersey Island to both Webb Tract and Bradford Island. Out of the Delta and way up the Sacramento River, the Princeton Ferry still operates, charging a fee for a crossing.

— Source: californiadelta.org.

Ferries throughout U.S.

  • Vallejo to San Francisco.
  • Several across San Francisco Bay.
  • San Pedro to Catalina Island.
  • Columbia River Ferry from Westport, Ore., to Cathlamet, Wash.
  • Statue of Liberty, Staten Island and other New York Ferries.
  • Ferries in Alaska, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, Virgin Islands, Washington, Wisconsin.

— Source: USA Ferry Guide.

A ferry in Woodbridge?

Woodbridge once had its own ferry boat to carry travelers across the Mokelumne River. Local pioneer Jeremiah Woods built a ferry boat in the 19th century, but replaced the ferry with a toll bridge in 1858.

— Source: News-Sentinel staff.

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  • Jerry Bransom posted at 2:29 pm on Fri, Jul 30, 2010.

    Jerry Bransom Posts: 363

    This is one of the greatest short pleasures in the area. We love to ride our bicycles to the J-Mack and hitch a ride. Paul Peretti has some interesting stories and some gruesome ones as well if you can get him out of the wheel house and talking. All my visitors and family get a ride on the J-Mack.

    Kimberly, thanks for making me aware of the Real McCoy. Now I am going to look for it.

  • posted at 12:21 pm on Fri, Jul 30, 2010.


    I love both the J-Mack and the Real McCoy. A bit dicey on a motorcycle but always fun. You meet the most interesting folks on these ferries.



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