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 s unreliable.  More new ferry info at our "Ferry Updates" pages.
      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.

If interested in the bridge history, see this.
Rio Vista Ferry 
     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?  email us!

      (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 needlessly!)

J-Mac Ferry  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!)