In 1998, Matthew Gill, a 14-year-old from Staten Island, got a summer job answering phones, giving directions and picking up tickets. for City Experiences Statue City Cruises. Now 38, he is still in the business, but has become a harbor master. 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 it,” he said of the statue. “They’re lined up from the time we open to the time we close.” So far, boat-based tourism is around 70% of what it was before the pandemic, he said.
Mr. Gill lives in Bayonne, NJ, with his girlfriend, Lacey Skowronski, 35, a data scientist at New York University, his twins, Colin and Conner, 10, who are with the couple part-time, and Mrs. Skowronski’s son, Hudson, 7.
FIRST TELEPHONE CASES My iPhone alarm wakes me up at 5:55. I periodically change my ringtones. Right now it’s “Float On” by Modest Mouse. It’s enough to scare you but not annoying enough to make you want to throw it out the window. I check my phone to make sure I haven’t received bad news overnight from my port engineer, and I check the weather. I’ll lie down until another alarm goes off 30 minutes later.
FORTIFICATIONS I’m half Italian and grew up drinking espresso, so I make Costco’s Pacific Roast as strong as I can and drink that black from a Yeti cup. I’m going to flip through the MLB Network and see what happened on the West Coast. At 7:30 I am in my Dodge Durango. It’s an efficient dad’s car with a third row and enough trunk space to haul our baseball gear, which looks like an exploded sporting goods store. I stop at Hot & Toasty Bagels in Bayonne. I’m a grilled onion guy with butter.
RESIDENCE I’m driving to Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City. We currently run five of our nine boat fleets: Miss Freedom, Miss New York, Miss New Jersey, Miss Liberty and Miss Ellis Island, which I grew up racing and is my favorite; it’s at my house.
WATERPROOF I’m on the boat at 8:15. We do a pre-check to make sure everything is tight. We are a team of six, including the snack guy. Our ships accommodate between 564 and 799 passengers. We have a simplified process, like at the airport. Everyone goes through a metal detector. We run every 25 minutes. For each trip, we make three stops in one hour: Ellis Island, Liberty Island, then return to our starting point.
THE MORNING I do seven round trips. Morning tourists are those who are prepared. They did their research. They know it will be crowded, so they want to arrive early. I steer from the wheelhouse, which is the front of the boat. I love being part of the passenger experience. If I see a child or a family that is curious, I invite them. After our first trip, I have about 30 minutes to grab my second cup of coffee at the Crown Cafe at the Statue of Liberty. They serve the most heavenly black Starbucks coffee.
SUBSEQUENT TRIPS The customers changed slightly on the third and fourth trips. They are more spontaneous and get up later; maybe they had been out late the night before. They hadn’t gotten 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.
CONSTRUCTION SITES The Statue of Liberty is open up to the pedestal, which offers a panoramic view. Corona hasn’t reopened because it’s tight quarters and they haven’t figured out how to social distance up there yet. There is also a new museum on the grounds with the original torch and artifacts. At Ellis Island there is a wall with the names of immigrants and a record of every immigrant who has touched down. You can find your family on the wall then enter the museum.
QUICK LUNCH At the end of my fourth trip, I will eat a packed lunch, made up of the leftovers from the previous day; a meatball or chicken parmesan hero. My grandmother started packing it for me when I was young. Now my girlfriend does. In this industry, you learn to eat fast.
ACTIVE WATERWAY As the day progresses, the river traffic thickens; it is a natural waterway with the most famous icon in the world. You start seeing lunch, brunch and other sightseeing cruises – and they want their moment with the statue too. The weekend brings jet skiers, paddle boats and kayakers. I don’t recommend kayaking past the statue at midday. It’s like riding a tricycle in Times Square.
MONEY SHOTS The boats are empty on the last two trips so we can bring back all the ones we took out earlier. The last boat leaves the statue at 6:15 a.m. Everyone is either cold and tired or hot and tired. It’s a full day. But I can see in their faces that they saw something amazing. I try to get as close to the Statue of Liberty on the starboard side as possible during the trip and do the opposite so they can see the port side of the ship when we leave. These are the money shots.
FINISHED We dock at the marina. I say goodbye to all the guests, then to the crew. I make sure no one is left on the boat. I disengage the boat, turn off my instruments and engines, and make sure nothing has happened to them all day.
WALKING IN STATEN ISLAND I’m in the car at 7 p.m. I have my boys from Wednesday to Friday and every other Saturday. I coach their Little League team, the Bayonne Clippers. If they’re playing a game in the evening, Lacey and I are going over there. Otherwise, we drive to the Bayonne bridge and cross on foot to Staten Island. It’s my way of moving forward, de-stressing and catching my breath. You can see everything, the sun going down, planes taking off from Newark and New York. Sometimes we have pizza at Denino’s and Italian ice cream 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 crave. We just finished “Ozark”. Or we watch live sports. I like the Yankees; she loves the Mets. I do not blame him.