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History of Real McCoy and
J-Mac Ferries serving Ryer Island, and including the new Real McCoy II ferry.
The following information has been
gathered from various sources, such as the CalTrans PR office, the records
of the Rio Vista Museum and notes provided by Delta Historians Hal Schell
and John Thompson.
Information compiled by Nicky Suard. Note that original "Real
McCoy" or Rio Vista Ferry was replaced in February 2011. The new
ferry has been somewhat unreliable but as of 2012 the schedule seems to be
better.. More new ferry info at our "Ferry
deltaferries.pdf is a
scanned copy of an article by Prof. John Thompson for the Pacific
Historian, recounting the different ferries of the Delta over the years.
The map (click on it to see full size) gives the viewer the full picture
of how people traveled around the Delta before all the bridges of the
1920's to 1940's were built. Today, in 2013, there are just a few
ferries remaining in use, and two of those, both owned and run by
CalTrans, take travelers in cars or trucks to and from Rio Vista-Ryer
Island, which is a main local route for those wishing to hightail it to
Sacramento and avoid the Hwy 80 commuter gridlock on occasion.
The photo to the left was taken from the NEW Rio Vista-Ryer Island ferry
in early 2011. This ferry is larger than the last one.
interested in the bridge history, see
The Rio Vista Ferry has several different names,
depending on who you are talking to and which sign you happen to see along
the roadways leading to the ferry. Its most often called the "Rio
Vista Ferry" for the logical reason that its just outside of the town of,
you guessed it, Rio Vista! Half of the trips this ferry makes brings
riders to the levee road to Rio Vista. But its official name is
really the "Cache Slough Ferry" according to CalTrans, which operates the
ferry. However, the roadway signs there (installed by CalTrans) call
this same ferry the "Ryer Island Ferry" because it takes riders over to
Ryer Island, where Snug Harbor is.
But other signs say its the "Real McCoy
Ferry", or "Real McCoy II" as of 2011. Technically, the vessel that takes 6-8 vehicles, boats, RVs,
trucks, busses, tractors and even mobile homes across the deep water
channel section of the Sacramento River is named the Real McCoy because an
engineer named T McCoy designed it and oversaw its construction in the
late 1940's. As of 2005, this ferry is purported to be the oldest running piece
of equipment still in use by CalTrans. It is made of heavy-duty
metal and is powered by twin diesel engines.
Before the Real McCoy went into service,
records show there were other privately run ferries at the same location.
The area farmers found the vessel service was needed to transport the
produce from very green Ryer Island. One map dated 1913 found at the
Rio Vista Museum indicates a private ferry named the "Ashley" was in operation
where the current ferry is located. Before the Ashley, the C.A.
Wisley Ferry transported riders in the same spot, sometime before the
turn of the century.
Today the Real McCoy continues to serve
farmers, boaters, travelers, campers, bikers and anyone traveling from
Sacramento to Rio Vista, using the Hwy 84 corridor that includes the ferry
ride. Its general operation hours are 24/7/365 except for 20 minutes
breakfast and dinner breaks. It just takes 3-4
minutes each way, and the ride is free! We have been told by
CalTrans folks that this ferry is the oldest piece of running equipment
operated in California by CalTrans. Rumor also has it that the
ferry will be replaced with an 80 foot version around June 2007.
This "Rumor" advanced to local news in April 2006 when Assemblywoman Wolk
confirmed that the design and construction of the new ferry would be
complete and in operation sometime 2007. So what will the new ferry
name be? Want to make suggestions?
(A caution: The delta has tides.
If you have an RV with long rear well, and you're over 29' long you might
not want to use the ferry, ESPECIALLY not at low tides! The ferry
can handle the weights and lengths, but the ramp leading to the ferry is a
bit steep if you are in an RV. Check the tide tables and only use
the ferry at high tides, or drive around to the bridge onto Ryer Island to
play it safe! We're thinking of your RV bumper avoiding scraped
The J-Mac Ferry is a cable-drawn ferry that crosses Steamboat Slough.
It is sometimes referred to as the Steamboat Slough Ferry or Grand Island
Ferry, but almost all the locals call it the J-Mac. It got its name
from the CalTrans Engineer/driver who first designed and drove it, a Mr.
MacMillian, or similar name like that. Not much else is known about
this one, except that it is very reliable and runs all the time, even in
flood times! A map dated 1913 found at the Rio Vista Museum
shows a ferry at the same location, named the A.J. Weise. The J-Mac is smaller in size and can only
accommodate 4 cars or trucks at a time, along with ski boats or PWC being
towed behind the vehicles. But RVs should stay off this ferry, as
the on & off ramps are very steep, even at high tides.
(A caution to boaters on Steamboat Slough: Do NOT speed past the
J-Mac when the red lights are flashing! There is a metal cable just
at the water surface, and you could flip your boat and kill or injure
everyone in it if you hit that cable at high speeds! The 5 MPH signs
are there for YOUR safety!)