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One Family Has Delivered the Mail by Boat for 115 Years. Is This the Last?

“I always wanted to get out,” she said. “I didn’t want to live here.” But at 26, while working as a telemarketer for a credit card company, she became “miserable,” began having migraines and allowed herself to be talked into taking over the family business.

The mail boat is one of 24 water routes, from the Florida Panhandle to Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, funded by the U.S. Postal Service. Over the decades, as the population of smaller islands like Eagle shrank, its winter runs dwindled to once a week. But during the summer, the muttering of a four-stroke engine as it transits the bay is a presence throughout the day.

“It’s vital to this community,” said Peter Offenhartz, a retired chemistry professor who has been summering on Eagle Island since the 1960s. “I don’t know how we would live without it.”

In the afternoon we left the Sunset Bay Company’s office and went outside. The fog began to lift, and from it emerged Robert Quinn, the patriarch of the Quinn family, as well as Ian Ludders, the sternman on the TM 2. Also, a recently arrived guest at one of the Quinns’ rental properties, a woman who identified herself as a ghost hunter.

Mr. Quinn, one of the last year-round residents of these islands, returned to mainland life two years ago to care for his ailing wife, Helene. (She died on Sept. 1.) Sinking into a foldable canvas chair and noticing the face coverings on his guests, he smiled shyly and stroked his beard. “Sorry I don’t have appropriate attire for the masquerade,” he said.

A living link between the 19th century and the present, Mr. Quinn was born when Eagle Island still had a lighthouse manned by the Coast Guard and an active one-room schoolhouse. At 82, he continues to fish the bay, eschewing the 625-horsepower engines and braided polypropylene ropes of “scientific fishermen.”

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