Anchors aweigh for 2 new Portland Harbor passenger-boat services

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PORTLAND — Two homecomings are providing new ways to get around Casco Bay this summer.

Neil Kinner, a Peaks Island native who spent the summer of 2015 in the “other” Portland, has launched Maine BayCycle, which provides pedal-powered paddle-boat tours of the harbor.

Portland resident Ben Graffius, meanwhile, has made his living as the captain of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. This summer, he will ply home waters aboard the Elizabeth Grace, providing Portland Harbor Water Taxi service between the Old Port and South Portland.

Each service will dock in the area of Bell Buoy Park on Commercial Street in Portland. Maine BayCycle is a charter service, that allows passengers to bring beer and wine aboard for 90-minute cruises.

Boats and ships come and go in Portland Harbor, but Kinner’s 14- passenger Bridget K is likely the city’s first-ever tour boat powered by its passengers’ feet. The boat has 10 bicycle seats and pedal sets connected to a retractable paddle wheel.

“It is very leisurely,” Kinner said. “You don’t really have to go anywhere, it is your trip.”

Kinner captained a pedal boat on the Willamette River in Oregon last summer.

“I thought it was  great idea and wanted to bring it back to Maine,” he said.

He hauled his boat cross-country early this spring.

“It was grueling. It took two weeks,” he said, laughing at the recollection.

The Fore River and Casco Bay present unique challenges for the service, he said.

“The weather is more of a concern, the season is shorter and the saltwater adds to the upkeep of the boat,” Kinner said.

The pedals on the Bridget K connect to a retractable paddle wheel, and, just in case, there is a backup motor. Kinner or another licensed captain will always be on board to steer the boat.

“I’ve enjoyed everything from the business plan to financing, and I love running the boat,” Kinner said, adding he hopes to remain in the water through Columbus Day in October.

Crossing the Fore

Contrasting BayCycle’s more leisurely service is the five-stop, point-to-point, hour-long Portland Harbor Water Taxi service. Customers can buy all-day tickets so they can get off, have a meal or shop, and get back on when the Elizabeth Grace returns.

“This is what I want to do; this is fun for me,” Graffius said of the boat he bought in South Carolina and renamed for his daughters.

Portland Harbor Water Taxi departs for South Portland from the public water taxi berth in Portland on the hour from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. The first stop is across the Fore River at Bug Light Park, and then it is on to the Salt Water Grille at Sunset Marina, The Snow Squall Restaurant near South Port Marine, and then Thomas Knight Park, below the Casco Bay Bridge.

The Elizabeth Grace has been operating on weekends, and Graffius said service will be expanded to weekdays June 24 through Labor Day.

The boat has room for 38, and customers can expect Graffius’s golden retriever, Riley, to be along for the cruise. They are also welcome to bring their own dogs.

“I want to help people connect to places on the waterfront,” Graffius said. And he means in both cities: he is making an effort to promote places in Knightville his customers will enjoy, while providing a way for people in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth to get to the Old Port without worrying about in-town parking or traffic.

Graffius said he is will to provide charters; two star-gazing cruises with Ed Gleason, astronomer and manager of the Southworth Planetarium at the University of Southern Maine, have already sold out.

Graffius will hold a 5-7 p.m. open house Saturday, June 17,  at Thomas Knight Park, where he and other volunteers will also help clean up the park.

Throughout the season, he said, his passengers can expect him to be a hands-on captain.

“It is a business you really can’t do part time,” he said. “You can’t do it offshore and be successful.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Neil Kinner, at the helm of the Bridget K on June 10, brought the paddle boat to Portland from Oregon after piloting last summer on the Willamette River in the “other” Portland. (Katie Johnson / For The Forecaster)

Neil Kinner steers as Maine BayCycle passengers drink and pedal their way through Portland Harbor on June 10. The boat has room for 10 pedalers and 14 total passengers. (Katie Johnson / For The Forecaster)

Passengers pedal June 10 aboard Maine BayCycle, powering a paddle wheel as captain and owner Neil Kinner steers through Portland Harbor. (Katie Johnson / For The Forecaster)

Ben Graffius, captain of the Elizabeth Grace, operates Portland Harbor Water Taxi with service between Bell Buoy Park in Portland’s Old Port and four stops on the South Portland waterfront. (Katie Johnson / For The Forecaster)

Passengers aboard Portland Harbor Water Taxi, serving Portland and South Portland, will often be greeted by Riley, a golden retriever owned by proprietor Ben Graffius, seen June 11 on the Fore River. (Katie Johnson / For The Forecaster)

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.