Every summer for more than 100 years, the Stein family has been taking beachgoers across the Great South Bay to the oceanfront communities of Fire Island. Sayville Ferry has always been a family run business. Ken Stein, president of the company, is the fifth generation to take travelers between Sayville and Fire Island. The long history of ferries in Sayville starts with Ken’s great-great-grandfather, Karl Stein, who founded Sayville Ferry in the late-1800s.
Karl was 15 years old when he hopped a freighter ship from Europe headed to New York City. He ended up in the Dutch-speaking community of West Sayville, where he married the daughter of a prominent family in town. When he was discouraged from going into the family business with his brother-in-laws, he started a mechanic shop in West Sayville. In those days, the only way to get to Fire Island was to hire a sailboat. There were no organized communities, just squatters and day trippers. Karl always loved sailing boats and started ferrying people to the barrier beach on weekends as a hobby and a way to make extra money.
The first official ferry boat was a 31-foot gaff rig named Mildred A. that set sail in 1894.
Charles Karl Stein, a German immigrant, initiated the Service in 1894 by carrying charter parties to either Cherry Grove or Water Island in his gaff-rigged sloop, Mildred H., built at Oak Island in 1894; it was equipped with a “shoving pole” in case the wind gave out. Round trip fare was ten cents with a bowl of chowder and a cracker thrown in. The boat landed wherever the most passengers wanted to go for picnics, gathering holly, or just for a day’s outing. In 1918, he upgraded by acquiring another sloop that he had converted to power, the Dare. In 1897, Karl launched a motorized ferry boat, but it still remained a side job. Karl’s son Frederick started Stein’s Boat Yard, but still did the ferries as a second job.
The Dare 1921.
In November 1933 from Barnegat, NJ, the former pleasure yacht Wayfarer was purchased. 51 feet long, built in 1928 with a 100 horsepower motor and a capability of 12 miles an hour.
Then Fred designed a boat specifically for his business, Wayfarer II, to be built by Samuel Newey in his yard in Brookhaven, and sold Wayfarer I which had been found unsuitable; it’s keel was too deep for Bay waters and it became known as the “See Saw” ferry as passengers had to move en masse from stem to stern to effect proper trim.
Wayfarer II 1938.
Wayfarer II entered service the summer of 1938 just before that September hurricane which laid waste to Cherry Grove and devastated tourist business. As a result, the new boat, Wayfarer II, was sold to the English to be a hospital ship in WW II; it was resold after the War to be a tourist craft at Holyhead, Wales and a book called “The Ghost Ship” was written about it. (It was still afloat in 1993 as the Queen of the Sea in 1994.)
It was in this time period when towns on Fire Island started to become organized and ferrying people there became a full-time business. In 1939 with three ferry boats Beachcomber I,II, and IV, Ken Stein Sr. started most of the ferry routes that are still in place today.
Beachcomber I 1940-1962, Beachcomber II 1944-1962, Beachcomber IV 1956-1976
. When Cherry Grove and The Pines were being built, he helped bring the heavy equipment to Fire Island that cleared the way for boardwalks and houses.
The Pines honored his hard work by naming the last two walks in this new community after his daughters Sandy and Susan.
In 1939 Cherry Grove was once again a small and slow growing community. The effects of the 1938 hurricane wore off and people started to rebuild. Then in 1942 after Pearl Harbor things changed. A blackout took over and residents were required to have no bright lights, no walking on the boardwalks with flashlights or cigarettes as not to create a silhouette as nazi submarines were patrolling the area for ships. The army took over the hotel in the Grove and marines stayed at the Lone Hill Coast Guard Station in the now Pines.
The beach was patrolled by jeep and every 15 minutes two army men left the hotel on foot heading east and west, followed 15 minutes later by two marines heading east to west. They would meet somewhere in the middle turn about face and return to their station on a 24 hour basis.
After the war ended Cherry Grove had a building boom which lasted until 1949 when the owners of the Home Guardian Company of NY approached Ken Stein Sr. to start a ferry run to a new development they had on the drawing board to be called “Fire Island Pines.”
It was to have a sheltered inland harbor, hotel and casino, grocery store, post office and the old Lone Hill Coast Guard Station was to be turned into a community house. He agreed and was signed up, and by 1953 started to run the first daily scheduled ferry service between Sayville and Fire Island Pines.
By 1955 he bought a former PT craft Beachcomber IV, and converted it into a ferry. He was able to knock off 10 minutes on the 35 minute ride. He uses this ferry for Cherry Grove and moves Beachcombers I and II to the Pines and sells the “Fire Island Pines” ferry.
Both Beachcomber I and II were retired in 1962.
Also added was the Flying Hornet which served from 1953-1975.
In 1963 the Fire Island Empress arrives.
1980 Fire Island Clipper.
1996. Southbay Clipper.
The Cross Bay Clipper is added to the Fleet.