Daily fast ferry service between Oak Bluffs and Quonset Point, R.I. begins today. Yesterday the founder of the service, Charles A. Donadio Jr., told a crowd at the Oak Bluffs dock anyone using his new ferry service will cut hours off their car trip to and from the Island. And at a cost of $24 per adult, they'll save money.
Mr. Donadio made these remarks just a few steps from the large 128-foot catamaran Millennium, engines still running. The vessel had just pulled in a few minutes earlier as part of a ceremonial first run. Top political officials and business representatives showed up in force to greet Millennium and her visiting passengers. The vessel was scheduled to arrive at 2:15 p.m. yesterday but because of ceremonies back in Rhode Island, it didn't get to the the Island Queen pier until a half hour later.
Mr. Donadio, gracious, put great emphasis into thanking the Oak Bluffs community for much-needed support to get the service running. His company first began talking up the idea with Vineyard officials two years ago; it is incorporated as RI-Vineyard Fast Ferry.
A trip from Quonset Point to Oak Bluffs takes 90 minutes. Mr. Donadio told the gathering that it is not just a commute; it is a scenic ride that starts under the Jamestown Bridge and passes by three Vineyard lighthouses.
"We are going to be one of many solutions," said Mr. Donadio, referring to the traffic problems in Falmouth each summer. "We will save a lot of time for people coming out here. That means they can spend more time on the Island," he said.
Quonset Point may not be on most Vineyard travelers' radar screens. Mr. Donadio told the crowd the ferry terminal is well within reach of a car and a train. "We are 12 minutes from I-95. Amtrak is five minutes away. It is an easy exit," he said.
In the minutes before the ferry arrived, just about every existing passenger ferry made an appearance in and out of the summer port of call. The Schamonchi from New Bedford pulled into the Steamship Authority wharf, next to the Steamship Authority ferry Martha's Vineyard. The Island Queen left for Falmouth, and the Hy-Line Brant Point, serving Hyannis to Oak Bluffs, pulled into Church's Pier.
Even as the Millennium arrived at the dock, the small passenger ferry Quickwater, another fast boat, moved out of the way as it left for Falmouth.
Jeannie Cronan of South Kingstown was the first passenger to step off the Millennium. Ms. Cronan, who said her son works for the company, said it was a smooth ride.
Others took a quick walk into town.
Eric Cote, a public relations person, stood at the podium and talked about the 4 1/2 year old vessel and how it was capable of going between 35 and 40 mph on the water and that it could carry 400 passengers. "You can't work on something like this without the support of the harbor master," Mr. Cote said. He then introduced Todd Alexander, the harbor master, and the audience applauded.
Mr. Cote spoke of the support being given by the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce and help from the Tisbury Business Association: "It takes the entire Island to make it a success. This is being embraced by the whole Island."
Mr. Cote introduced Dale Grogan, town counselor from North Kingstown, and Mell Benson, a Rhode Island state representative for that district.
Selectman Richard Combra also praised the service and welcomed Mr. Donadio. "We have had a long dialogue. He is a resilient young man and he did what was necessary. Oak Bluffs welcomes him and Oak Bluffs welcomes his crew," Mr. Combra said.
"He has promised to bring great service to Martha's Vineyard. He has kept his word," Mr. Combra said.
Renee Balter, executive director from the Oak Bluffs Association, presented Mr. Donadio with a framed map of Oak Bluffs.
Within minutes many of the Oak Bluffs visitors were rushed aboard the vessel for a ten-minute cruise in Nantucket Sound. Shortly the vessel was at high speed, heading off East Chop.
"This is like a carnival ride," said Holly Alaimo, who with her husband owns the Dragonfly Gallery.
Alice Butler of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen's office sat with her friend and colleague Dianne Wilson, principal assessor for Oak Bluffs.
Staff aboard the Millennium served a quick lunch of quahaug chowder, lobster rolls, coconut chicken, veggie wraps and kiwi lime pie.
"I think this is great. I love it," said Judy Hartford, who runs a store on Circuit avenue called Vineyard Lights.
After the trip was over Mrs. Balter said: "This is like a new chapter in history. Oak Bluffs is becoming more and more intermodal, especially for people on foot. It is fast and convenient."
Mr. Donadio said he first got the idea of fast ferry service to the Vineyard back in 1998 when he was authoring a business plan for his Island Hi-Speed Ferry, a service between the mainland and Block Island. He said he was looking at other routes to develop.
He made his first trip to the Vineyard last year.
The Millennium was built in 1998 in Somerset and named for the year 2000. She has four Cummins KTA 38 engines which together produce 5,200 horsepower to run the water jet engines. Mr. Donadio told the gathering earlier in the afternoon that the vessel is fitted with environmental features. He said the engines are fitted out with silencers to make them quieter. He said the wake created by the vessel is less than that created by a 15 to 20 foot Boston Whaler.
Last summer, the vessel was running commuter service between Glen Cove, N.Y., and Manhattan's financial district.
She is owned by Fox Navigation, owner of two other fast ferries, the Sassacus and Tatobam. Mr. Donadio said he has a lease to purchase arrangement with Fox Navigation.
Yesterday, so as not to conflict with the return of the Island Queen, minutes after dropping off its Island visitors, the Millennium was off and running off into Nantucket Sound.
The first passenger service begins today with the ferry arriving in Oak Bluffs harbor at 10 a.m. It will return again at 6 p.m. On Mondays through Thursday the Millennium will make two round trips to the Vineyard. From Friday through Sunday there will be three round trips, each arriving at 10 a.m.; 2:30 and 7 p.m. Mr. Donadio said the schedule will run through the summer into October.