We arrive in the cold darkness of Pier 12 on Hoboken's Hudson River waterfront. It's approximately 7 p.m., and indications of the coldest day of the winter have me and my companion sniffling and cradling our body warmth in tightly folded arms. Anchor lights aboard the historic 1907 SS Yankee Ferry flicker, as ripples from New York ferry rush-hour traffic slap against the wooden boat and the pier's mammoth-size dolphin fenders. We stand quietly looking out toward the twinkling Manhattan skyline across the river. Its sight reminds us of our absorbed New York lives, yet as we approach the ferry's wooden boarding ramp, we feel as if we're transcending time and self.
From the outside, the ferry bears uncanny resemblance of an early 20th-century tug boat, only one with endearing window-lined quarters and clean decks that have been tactfully polished since her first voyages as an island vacation vessel for Philadelphia's bourgeoisie. Once inside the lower deck, a blond pure-bred longhair Dotson wags her way toward us, sniffing our cold boots warily yet graciously. Co-owner and -captain Richard Mackenzie-Childs tells us Pinkie is one of two dogs on board, the other being Mr. Brown, a full-sized Dotson, who is wise beyond his years with the receding hairline to prove it.
Inside the Cargo Deck, hammock cradle chairs and a makeshift wooden plank swing sway with the boat, and a convoy of vintage leather-bound suitcase chests and antique area rugs lead to the main deck. On the way, we pass the first deck's master head (bathroom), adorned with charming basin tables, Victorian lace towels, port windows, a slate-tiled shower and a separate cast iron tub. In the intimate living quarters, relics of the owners' whimsical Mackenzie-Childs home decor abound, from waggish screen-printed chairs and busy-patterned quilts to checkerboard- and black-and-white-lined surfaces and a pulley offering a kettle of mini candies. A shredded fabric curtain marks the entrance to the galley, where Richard's better half, Victoria, huddles over the gas stove preparing tapioca pudding, which she later serves from her namesake tableware.
We set ourselves in the Guest Stateroom, which is big enough for a wall of wooden closets and a double-size canopy bed trimmed in white doily tassels. Slothful after consuming spoonfuls of lamb Vindaloo and glasses of California cab, we make way back to our stateroom, where two hot water bottles have been placed at the foot of the bed to help combat winter's chill. Before the boat's sway coddles us to sleep, we chuckle at the bedside lamp's play on double entendre—its base is of a Labrador standing on top of a cob of corn. Corn dog.
We awake early to the boat's rapid sway caused by the morning ferry traffic. Whiffs of a fresh-baked something fill the air, and signs of other life on board (the owners, boat crew and a team of teenage post-Sandy volunteers) make their way toward the galley. After snagging bites of miniature bran muffins and sips of homemade hot chocolate—and giving our respects to a chatty crew of wild-haired chickens—we check out of the National Historic Landmark and slip back into the 21st century.