How a Statue of Liberty Cruise Boat Captain Spends His Sundays

In 1998, Matthew Gill, a 14-year-old in Staten Island, got a summer job answering phones, giving directions and collecting ticketsfor City Experiences Statue City Cruises. Now 38, he’s still with the company, but he has moved up to port captain. Among his responsibilities on the water is the safe passage of thousands of tourists across New York Bay to visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

“People love to see her,” he said of the statue. “They are lined up from the moment we open to the moment we close.” So far, tourism aboard the boats is about 70 percent of what it was prepandemic, he said.

Mr. Gill lives in Bayonne, N.J., with his girlfriend, Lacey Skowronski, 35, a data specialist at New York University, his twin boys, Colin and Conner, 10, who are with the couple part time, and Ms. Skowronski’s son, Hudson, 7.

“Morning tourists are the prepared ones. They’ve done their research. They know there will be crowds, so they want to get there early.” Credit…Sean Sirota for The New York Times

EARLY PHONE DEALINGS My iPhone alarm wakes me at 5:55 a.m. I change my ring tones periodically. Right now it’s Modest Mouse’s “Float On.” It’s enough to startle you but not annoying enough to make you want to throw it out the window. I check my phone to make sure I didn’t get bad news overnight from my port engineer, and I check the weather. I’ll lie back down until another alarm goes off 30 minutes later.

FORTIFICATIONS I’m half Italian and grew up drinking espresso, so I make Pacific Roast from Costco as strong as possible and drink that black out of a Yeti cup. I’ll flick on the MLB Network and see what’s happened on the West Coast. At 7:30 I’m in my Dodge Durango. It’s an effective dad car with a third row and enough trunk space to carry our baseball equipment, which looks like a sporting goods store exploded. I stop at Hot & Toasty Bagels in Bayonne. I’m a toasted onion with butter guy.

HOME I drive to the Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City. We are currently running five of our nine boat fleets: Miss Freedom, Miss New York, Miss New Jersey, Miss Liberty and Miss Ellis Island, which I grew up running and is my favorite; that’s home to me.

“Our vessels hold between 564 to 799 passengers,” said Mr. Gill, adding that tourism aboard the boats is about 70 percent of what it was prepandemic. Credit…Sean Sirota for The New York Times

WATERTIGHT I’m on the boat by 8:15. We do a pre-check to make sure everything is watertight. We’re a team of six, including the snacks guy. Our vessels hold between 564 to 799 passengers. We have a streamlined process, like at the airport. Everyone goes through a metal detector. We run every 25 minutes. For each trip we make three stops within one hour: Ellis Island, Liberty Island, then back where we started.

THE MORNING I make seven round trips. Morning tourists are the prepared ones. They’ve done their research. They know there will be crowds, so they want to get there early. I steer from the wheelhouse, which is the front of the boat. I like being part of the passenger experience. If I see a kid or a family that’s curious, I invite them in. After our first trip I have about 30 minutes to get my second cup of coffee at the Statue of Liberty’s Crown Café. They serve the most heavenly black Starbucks coffee.

Mr. Gill is a fan of the coffee at Liberty’s Crown Café. He likes it strong and black.Credit…Sean Sirota for The New York Times

LATER TRIPS Guests have changed slightly by the third and fourth trips. They are more spontaneous and get up later; maybe they were out late the night before. They didn’t get their ticket online a few days before. The nature of our business has a lot to do with the weather, so they probably woke up and decided to do this.

THE SITES The Statue of Liberty is open up to the pedestal, which offers a panoramic view. The crown has not reopened because it’s tight quarters and they haven’t figured out how to social distance up there yet. There’s also a new museum on the grounds with the original torch and artifacts. At Ellis Island there’s a wall with immigrants’ names and a registry of every immigrant who has touched the ground. You can find your family up on the wall and then go inside the museum.

QUICK LUNCH At the end of my fourth trip I’ll eat a packed lunch, which is leftovers from the night before; a meatball or chicken parm hero. My grandma started packing it for me when I was young. Now my girlfriend does it. In this industry you learn to eat quickly.

ACTIVE WATERWAY As the day progresses, water traffic gets thicker; it’s a natural waterway with the world’s most famous icon. You start seeing the lunch, brunch and other tour cruises — and they want their moment with the statue, too. The weekend brings jet skiers, paddle boaters and kayakers. I don’t recommend kayaking in front of the statue midday. It’s like riding a tricycle in Times Square.

MONEY SHOTS The boats are empty on the last two trips out so we can bring everyone back that we brought out earlier. The last boat departs the statue at 6:15. Everyone is either cold and tired, or hot and tired. It’s a full day. But I can see on their faces they’ve seen something incredible. I try to get as close as possible to the Statue of Liberty on the starboard side on the trip there and do the opposite so they can see the port side of the vessel when we depart. Those are the money shots.

DONE We dock at the marina. I say goodbye to all the guests, then the crew. I make sure nobody is left on the boat. I take the boat out of gear, turn off my instruments and the engines, and make sure nothing happened to them throughout the day.

“The last boat departs the statue at 6:15. Everyone is either cold and tired, or hot and tired. It’s a full day. But I can see on their faces they’ve seen something incredible.”Credit…Sean Sirota for The New York Times

STATEN ISLAND STROLL I’m in the car by 7. I have my boys Wednesday through Friday, and every other Saturday. I coach their Little League team, the Bayonne Clippers. If they’re playing an evening game Lacey and I go to that. If not, we drive to the Bayonne Bridge and walk across to Staten Island. It’s the way I get my steps in, de-stress and catch my breath. You can see everything, the sun setting, planes taking off from Newark, and New York City. Sometimes we have pizza at Denino’s and Italian ices at Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices, which is across the street, on the Staten Island side. Or we have dinner at home. Lacey will make meatballs and pasta.

DIFFERENT TEAMS We retreat to the couch and watch whatever show we’re bingeing. We just finished “Ozark.” Or we watch live sports. I love the Yankees; she loves the Mets. I don’t hold that against her.

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