I have become very interested in our new ferry boat, the Richard G. Spear. I watch for it whenever I get a chance. I have watched it return to port from the north shore of Owls Head. I have watched it leave from the public landing in Rockland.

The very best place to see it is in the late afternoon from the end of Tillson Avenue in Rockland. When the ferry comes in, it follows the channel and makes a hard turn right in front of you to dock at the ferry terminal, parading gracefully by at close range.

The Spear made its first run in May of this year. Here is what I can tell you about this fine craft.

It was built in East Boothbay by Washburn and Doughty and splashed into the Damariscotta River April 9, 2021. The ship is 154’ long with a beam of 38’. It can move 23 vehicles and 250 passengers at almost 13 knots. The ferry gets 1,500 horsepower from two Caterpillar diesel engines. The electrical power is generated by a pair of John Deere diesel engines, and a third John Deere engine drives the bow thruster. A crew of five is optimum.

The boat is not nearly as amazing as the man it is named for. I knew Captain Spear for many years, and I never knew half of what he accomplished in his life. He was not the type to let on either. I would occasionally see him at Rockland Historical Society events. Most of the time we met on Main Street.

Captain Spear always asked about my mother. His face would light up when we got together. I always made time for him. To him it was a chance to catch up with a newspaper man who might know something of interest.

Here is what I found out about the Captain. He was born January 4, 1922, in Rockland. He was an Eagle Scout (no easy feat) and a Sea Scout as well. At age 17 he took a year off from high school and joined a Harvard-sponsored journey to retrace Columbus’ route to the new world from Spain.

After graduating Rockland High School, he attended the then-new Maine Maritime Academy. He graduated with honors in 1943 as part of the school’s second-ever class. He then served in the Merchant Marine aboard the Liberty ship Henry Jocelyn.

In 1959, Richard became the first employee of the Maine State Ferry Service, as well as the assistant general manager. In 1954 he helped navigate legislation through the Maine Legislature to create the Rockland Port District.

He then was elected to the Rockland Port District for a four-year term and maintained a perfect record of being reelected every four years until he passed on May 3, 2018.

The good Captain was a Buick man. He always had a full-size Buick. His final one was a 2005 Buick Lesabre “Manhattan Edition,” and was the last brand-new Buick Glenn Shepard sold. The last year for the Buick Lesabre was 2005. It was America’s bestselling car until it was discontinued.

Of course I would want to talk about his Buick. It was burgundy with a black half-vinyl roof. On the back roof pillar was a very tasteful chrome outline of the Manhattan skyline with script that said – Manhatten Edition. I always thought it was factory issue. This week I found out it was an add-on piece done by local shops that dress up new cars. I surmise Glenn Shepard had it done special for his friend Captain Spear.

One of the last times I talked with Richard he told me a story I will never forget. Mind you, he was in his 90s at the time. He recounted a recent trip in the Buick to the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone. One of the new things that happens there are time trials for cars and motorcycles. Captain Spear told me he had run his Buick through the timing equipment, wide open. I will not say how fast he went. I will only say it did not go as fast as he had hoped.

The State of Maine certainly did the right thing naming this ferry after him and it is no small thing. But I would like just one more thing on behalf of my old friend.

How about a Buick emblem emblazoned on the bow of the Richard G. Spear?

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.

The Richard G. Spear. Photo by Stephen Betts