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Going overboard for the ferry

BALBOA ISLAND — Gay Wassall-Kelly brought $2 with her to Thursday’s re-dedication ceremony for the Balboa Island Ferry’s historic marker, which was first dedicated in 1970 by the Newport Beach Historical Society.

“I figured it was a good time to pay back my fares,” said Wassall-Kelly, 71, of Newport Beach. “As a girl, we’d cheat by jumping off the ferry midway.”

The fare for the four-minute ride cost about 10 cents then, she said, comparing that with today’s rates, which are $1 for pedestrians, $1.25 for bicyclists and $2 for cars.

“So, I don’t really owe that much money,” said Wassall-Kelly, adding later that it was an “easy swim.”


Wassall-Kelly was one of two dozen local residents who met at the ferry’s Balboa Island landing not only to re-dedicate the marker with a new metal plaque, but to also honor the ferry’s owner and former operator, Seymour Beek, 77.

“We’d ride half way, until the guy who’s supposed to collect our nickels would catch up with us and we’d jump,” said Balboa Island native Don Dickey, 81. “He’d get so upset , he’d just come undone. We did it just to tease him, mainly.”

Not much has changed since those days — kids will still be kids, said Beek.

The ferry has been around, although changing owners and ships a few times, since 1906. The Beek family has owned and operated the ferry continuously since 1919.


While Beek was attending Pomona College in the 1950s, his father gave him a summertime job as an operator. The position, Beek admitted, was convenient when gathering friends for a beach trip or, more than once, to impress a girl.

“I took the ferry on hundreds of dates and I still do,” Beek said with a laugh.

As the group swapped ferry stories — many about someone going overboard, willing or otherwise — dozens of cars waited in line for the ride to Balboa Peninsula.

It’s nostalgia that keeps riders coming, said Newport Beach Historical Society President Gordy Grundy, who likened a summer trip on the ferry to “poetry on water.”

The re-dedication was the kick-off for a ferry-centric dinner and presentation later this month, “Ferry Tales: The Commerce and Culture of the Iconic Balboa Ferry.”

“The Balboa Ferry is truly iconic and with everything changing, all the development going on everywhere, the ferry is the one thing that stays the same,” Grundy said, noting that Newport had its start as a fishing port.

“It’s an important reminder of our rough-and-tumble history,” he said.


If You Go

What: “Ferry Tales: The Commerce and Culture of the Iconic Balboa Ferry”

When: 6 p.m. March 24

What: Harborside Grand Ballroom at the Balboa Pavilion, 400 Main St., Newport Beach

Cost: $30 per person