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RED BANK, NJ: Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.
I’ve always liked that saying, and it has never been more appropriate than with the two people manning the operations and marketing helm at the ferry service Seastreak.
Seastreak’s history goes back over 18 years and has grown to 8 boats that sail out of New Jersey, Manhattan and New England that have safely carried millions of passengers over the years. Seastreak is expecting delivery of its newest vessel, Courageous, in June 2021 and will be the largest high-speed catamaran in the United States.
As they’ve grown, they began to offer day trips such as Whale Watching and Fall Foliage Cruises with excursions up to New York City, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Newport and Providence. Over the summer, Seastreak offers day trips to Sandy Hook for people looking for respite from the city heat of Gotham.
And what better way to get there than by boat? As their tagline says, “Your vacation begins when you get aboard.”
To learn more about this shore icon, we spoke with James Barker, Director of Business Development at Seastreak and Abby vanHemmen, Marketing Associate and Whale Watch Program Manager and asked them a few questions.
TAPinto: Tell us a little about your family history of Seastreak and how it evolved from a direct to New York ferry service to offering daytrips, getaways, tours and event cruises
Barker: My dad, James A. Barker, started New England Fast Ferry in 2003 and acquired Seastreak in 2008. Our primary business has been the commuter ferry service from Highlands and Atlantic Highlands to Manhattan. We also operate a seasonal service out of New Bedford, MA and run ferries directly to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard islands. We have a variety of other seasonal runs in Rhode Island and North Carolina. We’ve always offered daytrips and cruises – the most popular probably being our Fall Foliage cruise up the Hudson River and our 4th of July Fireworks Cruise
TAPinto: What’s your role and responsibilities?
Barker: I joined in March 2020 as Director of Business Development but have been wearing many hats for the past year. Right now, I am leading marketing and technology for our operations in New Jersey as well as for the New Bedford/Martha’s Vineyard/Nantucket operation. Obviously, our commuter business was hit pretty hard by COVID, so we have been exploring all kinds of other new projects. The Sandbox Beach Bar as well as our Whale Watching Cruise were both started as ways to keep our employees working through the pandemic. Luckily, both of these offerings were big hits and will be here to stay in 2021 and beyond!
TAPinto: What’s the number and size of the fleet, what ports do they sail out of and how many overall passengers can be carried?
Barker: Seastreak is leader in the fast passenger ferry business providing high-speed catamaran services to points in Manhattan, New Jersey, New England, and more. Seastreak’s catamaran fleet includes four 141-foot vessels with a total capacity of 505 persons per vessel, two 95’ vessels with a total capacity of 149 persons, and one 150-foot vessel with a capacity of 500 persons. Our newest boat, the Courageous, sister-ship to the Seastreak Commodore, will be christened in New Orleans – and will be the largest high-speed catamaran in the U.S.
TAPinto: Abby, tell us a little about yourself, your education and your family
vanHemmen: My mom was raised on the Jersey Shore and my dad comes from a long line of maritime engineers. Everyone in my family finds one way or another to get on the water, so it wasn’t a surprise when I decided to study marine biology in college.
After graduating, I worked as a field technician doing sea otter research on the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. I moved back east when I was accepted to the New York City Teaching Fellows program. For two years, I taught high school science in the NYC public school system while completing a graduate degree in adolescent education.
TAPinto: As the Marketing Associate and Whale Watch Program Manager for Seastreak, what are your roles and responsibilities, on shore and offshore?
vanHemmen: My job as the Whale Watch Program Manager is to organize and lead our whale watching cruises and my job as a marketing associate is to get the word out about the trips we offer. In the office, I’m creating whale watching educational materials, writing content for social media, communicating with the press, and staying up to date with our Whale SENSE certification, which is a program that trains our crew on responsible whale watching practices. On the water, I’m the voice on the microphone narrating the trips.
TAPinto: Discuss some upcoming events and tours Seastreak is offering
vanHemmen: Whale Watching trips out of Highlands, NJ began on May 1. We also offer whale watching trips directly from Manhattan! This service is brand new and began on May 8. Additionally, Seastreak offers summer services connecting NY/NJ to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard
TAPinto: How do you prepare for a seafaring tour such as whale watching?
vanHemmen: To prepare for the trips I read a lot. I try my best to stay on top of recent whale research, local wildlife sightings, and environmental news. This improves the quality of my commentary during the trips. To give ourselves the best shot at finding whales, it’s important to stay in close contact with local fishermen and recreational boaters. Lucky for me, our captains do a great job with this. By the time I get on the boat, the captain usually has a plan for a heading.
TAPinto: What’s the best and most challenging part of your job?
vanHemmen: We never know what we’re going to see! We have to be prepared for anything
TAPinto: Same question James; the best part of your job and most challenging?
Barker: Seastreak has always had an entrepreneurial culture – this is something my dad has really pushed. Almost every meeting ends with my dad asking; “who has the new big idea?” and everyone on the team is encouraged to speak up. Some ideas work, others don’t, but I think we have created some really awesome seasonal offerings that our riders can get excited about.
The most challenging times at Seastreak are often the best learning experiences. We’ve obviously had to adapt to shifting commuter demands over the past year, but I believe that all of these challenges have ultimately made the team closer and more entrepreneurial as a result
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