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A very Chappy Ferry wedding

Photo by Sarahrae Gruner

Downtown Edgartown was Wedding Central at 1 pm on Saturday afternoon. A group of nervous-looking groomsmen were clustered in front of St. Elizabeth’s Church. Crews were setting up tables under the tent at the Daniel Fisher House. Main Street was crowded with bands of perfectly turned-out couples, the ladies skittering along the bricks in high heels toward the Old Whaling Church and the Harbor View Hotel.

However, Becca Hamilton and Jeff LaMarche’s wedding last Saturday was the Island Wedding of the Year.

The Reverend Canon Robert Edmunds administered the vow.

The Reverend Canon Robert Edmunds administered the vow.

That’s saying a lot because the Island has 400 or more weddings a year and wedding mags rate Martha’s Vineyard nationally as a top-five wedding venue. Many of the nuptials are elaborate six-figure affairs starring the rich and famous.

But a true Island wedding is a different animal. For starters, one of the prospective spouses has to be an Islander. On Saturday, that would have been Becca Hamilton and Jeffrey LaMarche, both born and raised in Edgartown.

For another, the best Island weddings are planned with a sense of unexpected whimsy, a dash of practicality, and a generous dollop of community participation — a mirror of everyday life here.

Tony Peak led the wedding procession with his bagpipe.

Tony Peak led the wedding procession with his bagpipe.

Here’s why the LaMarches get the mythical though coveted Wedding of The Year designation. These two free spirits, both captains on the Chappaquiddick Ferry, got married where they work, aboard the On Time II at Memorial Wharf in Edgartown in front of God, guests, startled fishermen, a few dozen delighted tourists and passersby, and those aboard a couple of passing boats that idled in the channel for a gull’s-eye view of the proceedings.

Several hundred men, women, and children. More than you could fit in the Old Whaling Church. Most of them going crazy with cellphone cameras. At this writing, the World Wide Web from here to Peoria is likely groaning under the weight of wedding photos being uploaded. It was that special.

And the men wore kilts, left to right: Chappy Ferry owner Peter Wells, Tom Sullivan, Rick Hamilton, Matt McKenzie, Sam McKenzie, and piper Tony Peak.

And the men wore kilts, left to right: Chappy Ferry owner Peter Wells, Tom Sullivan, Rick Hamilton, Matt McKenzie, Sam McKenzie, and piper Tony Peak.

Another piece of the whimsy was provided by Becca’s dad, Rick Hamilton, a man dedicated to his Scots ancestry. He had appealed to all and sundry to wear kilts if they had ’em. About a half-dozen men including Tom Sullivan and Matt McKenzie and one tyke, Sam McKenzie, came in their clan tartans.

Promptly at 2 pm, bagpiper Tony Peak (“mostly American  mongrel, with a touch of Scots”) led the wedding party, pipes skirling, aboard the On Time II to begin a 200-foot voyage to the harbor-facing front of Memorial Wharf. The wedding couple did not pilot the On Time. That was handled by ferry owner Peter Wells, himself dressed in full clan regalia.

boat2.jpgOnce the On Time II was snugged at the wharf, and after several nonplussed anglers had reeled in, the wedding party completed a stately walk to the wheelhouse where The Reverend Canon Robert Edmunds, in formal cassock (black with red piping and accents), delivered the wedding instructions and administered the vows. The bride was kissed to a roar of applause, pictures were taken, then Capt. Wells sounded the horn and brought the On Time II back to port.

Mr. Peak led the wedding party away from the dock through a gathering crowd drawn by his pipes to the wedding party procession heading toward Main Street and the wedding reception at Atria restaurant.

The bride wore a full-length ivory champagne gown with small pearls at the bodice and a shimmer of delicate sequins. The gown had a short train, a good decision, considering that footing and clean decks can be tricky on ferries. The bridesmaids wore midnight blue knee-length dresses, suitable for reuse, perhaps at a Holly Ball this holiday season. The groom and groomsmen wore buff-colored suits. The wedding party completed their ensembles with fire-engine red sunglasses. Island chic, baby.

On Monday afternoon, Becca and Jeff took a few minutes to review their wedding day with The Times. “We’re kind of shy in general and we were nervous and a little embarrassed by all the people who came,” Becca said.

“I told myself that all these people came because they love us. When I got real nervous I could look at the people and see someone close to me, like my Grandma.

smiles.jpg“So many people helped us, Winnetu, Atria, Peter (Wells) and Jay (Gruner). Atria was fantastic and very generous. Benito’s (Oak Bluffs hair salon) even gave Jeff a trim and cleanup — he was looking a little Duck Dynasty a week ago. Your Market provided champagne. We are lucky people.”

The community aspect of this wedding was apparent in the manner in which people and businesses showed up for a couple of kids who worked hard to scrape together a down payment on a house and were strapped for wedding funds. For example, Jason Gruner, a Chappy resident, stood next to his gleaming Jaguar at Memorial wharf, dressed in a chauffeur cap and white gloves. Mr. Gruner, his wife, Lisa, and two-year old daughter, Ella, would drive the couple to the to the Winnetu Resort following the reception for a night in the wedding suite, courtesy of owner Mark Snider and his staff.

The Gruners had worked mightily on the event because they like the couple and because of a strong bond cemented two years ago. “Ella decided to be born in the middle of the night two years ago, long after the ferry stopped running,” Ms. Gruner explained. “We called for an emergency run and Jeff showed up to take us to the mainland.”

The couple’s offbeat wedding plan drew rave reviews from onlookers. The best testimony about an Island wedding must be pronounced by Islanders. Delia and Chris Gibson, Oak Bluffs natives, were at Memorial Wharf with their two grandkids — Alishay, 5, and Rhemel, 2 — to do some last-day Derby fishing in the Edgartown Harbor channel that often attracts bonito and false albacore.

The kids were enthralled with the bagpipes and the wedding pageantry and color. “This is great,” Ms. Gibson said. “We’re lucky to have been here today. The kids love the bagpipes and the colorful clothes and I have never seen a wedding aboard a ferry before.”