For over a decade, Daniel Lunt has stood at the helm of different ferries, most recently the Miss Lizzie, which runs between Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island and Winter Harbor on the Schoodic Peninsula. Before he became a captain, however, he had to pass a test.
Growing up in Frenchboro on Long Island, a remote community 8.25 miles south of Mount Desert Island, Lunt comes from an island family that goes back nine generations.
Having lobster-fished and operated boats for 30 years, he brings considerable knowledge and skills as a ferry captain. However, that test would prove difficult: he has a learning disability that made studying hard.
“I already knew the stuff, I just had to get the piece of paper that said I knew the stuff,” he said.
Determined, he got a tutor and further refined his knowledge of navigation, the federal laws governing boats at sea and other topics before passing the test and acquiring his federal passenger vessel license at age 48.
More than a decade later, Daniel Lunt captains for Downeast Windjammers, which operates a wide range of tour boats from the Miss Lizzie and two other ferries to the red-sailed schooner Margaret Todd and Friendship sloop Chrissy.
As part of the Winter Harbor to Bar Harbor run across Frenchman Bay, Lunt points out various sights like Ironbound. Waves crash against the island’s towering cliffs. Legend has it pirates used to hide treasure in the caves there.
Linda Lunt keeps her husband company on his evening runs after her job is done as a social worker in Bar Harbor. She said he developed “eagle eyes” from his years as a fisherman and can spot and identify marine life from far away.
On this ferry ride, the captain spied a guillemot, a diminutive black seabird that dives for fish; a bald eagle, multiple seals and even a porpoise popping up from underneath the ocean waves.
Having worked on the water most of his life, Daniel Lunt never tires of these sights and the ocean that can swiftly change from a flat calm to choppy seas.
“I’ve never known anything different,” he said. “Especially on the islands, it’s in your blood early.”
On Frenchboro, where the population has fluctuated from fewer than 40 to 60, he attended the two-room grammar school. For high school, he moved off-island to attend Good Will-Hinckley in Fairfield and Mount Desert High School. Those four years spent away were long enough.
He eventually moved off Frenchboro to Mount Desert Island, where he and his wife live in the Bar Harbor village of Otter Creek.
In August, Linda Lunt serves as the Miss Lizzie’s deckhand. In between the evening runs, they’ll grab dinner together trying out different restaurants while docked in Bar Harbor.
“We must be pretty simple people because we’re pretty happy with just riding the boat every night,” she said.
She takes pride in her husband’s wealth of knowledge about the sea and marine creatures. She notes he always tries to make the ride enjoyable for passengers, especially children.
“I’ve lived in Bar Harbor for longer than he did, and he tells me things I never even knew,” she said.
Miss Lizzie’s captain never hesitates to show youngsters around the boat and even lets them pretend to drive.
“People are always saying, he really is top-notch,” she said.
Despite his wife and co-workers’ praise, the helmsman remains humble.
“I mean, I just know more than I don’t know,” he said.
Miss Lizzie departs from Bar Harbor at 9 a.m., and Winter Harbor at 10 a.m. A full schedule is available at downeastwindjammer.com. One-way tickets cost $14 for adults and $10 for children, with a $3 charge for bicycles. For residents of Hancock and Washington counties, the rate is $8 for adults and $6 for children. For more info, call 288-2984.