Ferry Tales – An Interview with Dick Nakashian – Founder of Bay State-Spray and Provincetown Steamship Company

By Laura Shabott

Dick Nakashian is a commanding man who misses nothing and is most at home on the water. The Founder of Bay State Cruises now lives in Pocasset tucked into an islet along Buzzards Bay. His gracious wife of 61 years, Marita, welcomes me as I enter living quarters filled to the brim with maritime artifacts, books and pictures.

In his backyard, the SV Kismet, a 50-foot Marconi Rigged Ketch docks next to a small cedar grove. The MV Marita, a 51-foot Trawler Yacht and his former cruising vessel, was donated to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy when Captain Naskashian became stricken by arthritis.

This spot is the perfect home for a retired sea captain. He can drop the lines of his boat and be offshore within minutes.

I meet with Dick on the deck of his two-level home and workshop. He is sporting a vintage wide-striped Bay State Cruises polo shirt and carrying a thick folder. We sit down to pour over pictures from the 1960’s to the present; the history of Boston and Provincetown’s waterfront before me. His twelfth German shepherd, Fritz III, keeps watch, barking at anyone going by in their speedboat or sunfish.

Q: How did you end up on boats?

A: So you want my whole life story? OK. As a kid, I loved planes and made large scale model airplanes with motors. I started taking flying lessons when I was eighteen and would ride in the jump seat, the third spot to sit in the cockpit. One day, we had landed smoothly and the flight instructor, also a friend, decides we can practice another take off. As soon as we were off the ground, the gas tank emptied and we stopped.

This plane we had rented was diving into a crash landing when my friend finally found the lever to the alternate fuel tank. We had almost hit the ground but he saved the plane and us with quick maneuvering.

It would be twenty years before I would fly again.

Back then, I had a sales job with Bostitch, so I bought a little sailboat and started taking clients out on it. Someone was always asking to go for a ride around the harbor and it grew to every weekend. When the SV Spray, a replica of the original, came on the market in 1963, I bought it to use as an excursion boat. It’s a 45-foot Gaff Rigged Ketch fitted to meet Coast Guard standards and upgraded my license to carry 49 passengers.

I got a lot of help in the beginning from Justin Avellar, owner of a schooner called the SV Hindu. He was a wonderful man.

Eva, a woman from Sweden, crewed on the SV Spray. One day, we were onboard and she called from the dock asking if there was work. We said “Jump aboard!” She leapt onto the ratlins and climbed down to the deck. I hired her on the spot. Eva in a bikini was my very best advertisement.

I had to sell the sailboat to make room at the dock for other vessels.

Q: Why?

A: There was such a demand for water transportation. I had bought the MV Bay State, a 250 passenger twin screw wooden vessel, in 1967 while renting at Long Wharf dock. I got George I, my first German Shepherd, to live on the dock and he stopped the robberies that had been constant. For ten years, that dog was my best employee. He was loyal and never asked for a raise as we continued to expand the fleet.

Q: What was it like to run Bay State-Spray?

A: I would take out each of my boats weekly to see how they were running, most often as the relief captain. Everyone had to do three jobs, seven days a week. My crews understood hardship and were very loyal.

I guess I was one of the original women’s libbers in the Sixties because half of my staff was female. They were as good, or even better than men; willing to clean – three-quarter’s of the work for a passenger service – be a deckhand and work the concession area.

In 1972, in an effort to revive the Boston to Provincetown ferry, my company started the construction of the MV Provincetown (I) at Harvey Gamage Shipbuilders of South Bristol, Maine. The steamers had stopped in the Fifties because everyone wanted to drive to the Cape. But, by the Seventies, there was a real demand for the Boston to Provincetown run.

John Gilbert designed a beautiful boat. The MV Provincetown (I) was 135 feet and could carry 600 people; one of the safest excursion vessels on the East Coast.

Q: The round trip from Boston to Provincetown and back took nine hours, with a three hour layover for passengers to explore the town. What did people do on the boat?

A: For most people, just looking at water for over three hours is boring. I provided great entertainment, good food to eat and lots to drink. We had the Winiker Family Band onboard for a number of years. From their exposure on the boat, they became famous and then too expensive for me.

Q: Then, you decided to build the MV Provincetown II, starting the plans in 1979 and finished the construction in 1981. What was it like to spend 1.5 million on a boat?

A: John Gilbert and Associates deserves a lot of credit for his great work. He designed all my boats. Jakobson Shipyards of Oyster Bay, Long Island, did the steelwork. My crew did all the joiner work to save on costs.

The MV Provincetown II is 194 foot vessel that carries 1100 passengers. It only takes three hours each way with a three hour layover in town.

The cost to build it today would be $5 million dollars.

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: Bay State Cruises has a perfect safety record and my crew was very loyal. We still have a crew party once a year.

Q: Do you have any regrets?

A: That I didn’t get to spend much time with my family in those years. I missed watching my kids grow up.

Q: In your retirement, where have you traveled?

A: My wife, my dog and I have sailed to Nova Scotia in the summertime and in the winters we would cruise south to Florida, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and Cuba. The Cubans are the friendliest people on earth. I have arthritis now so we stay closer to home.


Laura Shabott is a nautically-minded columnist and author. Since 2009, she has penned “Notes from Lands End”, a weekly chronicle about the people, places and events that make Provincetown so special.

Her essay, “Confessions of an eBook Virgin: What Everyone Should Know before They Publish an eBook on the Internet” will launch this fall on Amazon.com. Contact her at laurashabott@gmail.com.