As one of the biggest employers in Cape May County, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry is home to a range of the area’s most interesting and talented characters. I learned this fact just moments after entering the administration building as I was enthusiastically greeted by a lively crew awaiting their ferry’s arrival. They said their polite goodbyes and headed to the boat for their scheduled departure and in walked the man of the hour, captain of the week, Ferry Captain Peter Dudley.
Fresh off his route on the previous ferry, Captain Dudley introduced me to his shipmates and gladly jumped into conversation with me. A captain of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry for eight years and for a career total of twenty years, “I’ve lived at the sea shore my whole life,” he explains. Born in Newark but raised in the Toms River area, he began his seafaring in 1971 as a commercial fisherman based out of Point Pleasant. After a brief fishing career, Captain Dudley sailed with the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Essentially, the MSC’s mission is to support our nation by delivering supplies and conducting specialized missions across the world’s oceans.
While working for the MSC in the U.S. Merchant Marine, he relocated to Cape May. A friend from the area mentioned to him that the Cape May-Lewes Ferry was in need of part-time employees. As an experienced and respected seaman, Captain Dudley decided to try the job out part-time in the summer of 1995. He knew he had found a home. “I’ve been here ever since,” he stated plainly. “It’s a fun, fast-moving job, and even better, I get to go home nightly. You really don’t get to do that in the Merchant Marine. You’re away for sometimes months at a time. In my career, I’ve been away for as long as six months in one stretch. You don’t really have a home life when you’re six months away from home. Your home is the ship,” Captain Dudley explained.
How exactly does one make the transition from seaman in the Merchant Marine to Cape May-Lewes Ferry Captain? Through a long, involved, and demanding process. “First, you must be declared an able seaman after logging 180 days of seatime. Then, you have the opportunity to study for a Coast Guard examination and upgrade to get a license. Next, you must log a minimum of 360 days at sea before you can apply for a captain’s license. Last, you must pass yet another Coast Guard examination,” Captain Dudley informed me. “By the time you get to the level I’m at, you’ve probably passed at least five, maybe six Coast Guard examinations.”
Although the road to Cape May-Lewes Ferry Captain was no doubt challenging, Captain Dudley seems to have no regrets. “This is a people job. You get to interact with a bunch of really nice people on a regular basis, and they’re called our customers.”
Any off-the-clock hobbies that may surprise his co-workers? Definitely not. “The Marine Department is a very close-knit group. We work side by side at least 40 hours a week. There isn’t anything about my life my shipmates don’t know about,” laughed Captain Dudley. But he did discuss a few true loves other than the sea. “I’m a car buff. I own a 2008 Shelby Mustang,” he stated proudly. “But it only comes to work when there’s lots of space in the parking lot. The rest of the time, it’s in my climate-controlled garage,” he assured me.
Captain Dudley also described his alter ego and nickname “Dogman”. “I have two dogs – a golden retriever and a golden doodle. They need a lot of walking, they need a lot of grooming, and they need a lot of TLC. So that’s my job,” he stated.
Meet highly certified yet down-to-earth Captain Peter “Dogman” Dudley and his crew after a comfortable Cape May-Lewes Ferry voyage.
By Megan Kummer