SSA Leaders Pick up the Telephone, Prepare to Vote on New Ferry Design

By ALEXIS TONTI

Thursday night, as the ferry Islander sounded her arrival outside Vineyard Haven harbor, inside the Steamship Authority terminal a presentation was under way about her replacement, a double-ended vessel estimated to cost between $22 million and $25 million.

The Vineyard meeting marked the last stop in a lengthy design process that began nearly two years ago. Now interim general manager Wayne Lamson will ask the SSA board to approve putting the proposal out to bid at the monthly boat line meeting, scheduled for this Thursday on Nantucket.

About 25 people turned out for the presentation, filling the terminal's small second floor meeting room. Several artists' renderings of the vessel interior were on display, along with fabric samples for the seats and lounge area.

Carl Walker, boat line director of maintenance and engineering, took the audience through the evolution of the proposed design. A number of other boat line officials were on hand for discussion, including interim general manager Wayne Lamson, port Capt. Greg Gifford, special projects director Capt. Ed Jackson and Vineyard SSA governor Kathryn A. Roessel.

Audience members asked questions about every facet of the ferry, but focused on overall loading and unloading efficiency and accessibility for the disabled. Several asked SSA managers to think about ways to improve luggage handling.

Mr. Walker noted that the side doors are 10 feet wide, which will allow two passengers at a time to move onto the vessel. In addition, all of the decks are ADA accessible and there are two elevators.

SSA managers are planning for the new ferry to be built and ready for service by April 2006.

The ferry design was prepared by the Elliott A. Design Group of Seattle, Wash.

It envisions a 250-foot-long double-ender, with a steel hull and aluminum superstructure. The ferry would have room for 76 cars, 16 on the lift decks and 60 on the freight deck, and a total passenger capacity of 1,200.

The ferry has two direct drive diesel engines, the same kind used in many of the SSA ferries. It is expected to make the trip from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven in 35 minutes, moving at a top speed of 16 knots.

Mr. Walker pointed out a number of changes that have been made to the design since it was first proposed, including the shift from a single pilot house located in the center of the ferry to two pilot houses, one at either end, to improve visibility and safety.

"This was probably the biggest change that happened during the design spiral, and it was based on the weight of input from the Vineyard Haven harbor management committee and the SSA captains," said Ms. Roessel.

There will be interior passenger seating for 629, a food and beverage counter, lounge and a specially designated quiet room with library tables and laptop capability.

"Now you can't even get away from the computer for 45 minutes," one Vineyard resident remarked wryly.

The freight deck on the new vessel is generally roomier, with no structural columns breaking up the vehicle lanes. The hydraulic lift decks are intended to provide flexibility, allowing crew members to alter the vehicle loading configuration depending on the balance of trucks and cars on any given trip.

The new ferry will accommodate about 26 more cars than the Islander, an increase that was not lost on several Vineyarders.

Ms. Roessel explained that the change is aimed at improving the boat line's operating efficiency. "Ticket prices reflect spiraling labor costs and fuel costs, and it is hoped that with more capacity here we may be able to eliminate some freight boat trips all together and save money," she said.

The ferry is boxier than the Martha's Vineyard and is styled externally as a throwback to the older vessels, with vertical lines and a bold horizontal stripe similar to the Islander.

Ms. Roessel concluded: "I think they've designed this in the most sensitive way possible. You may take a deep breath the first time it comes into the harbor - it's bigger - but I think you are going to be very happy."