Island Home Pays Surprise Visit to Vineyard Haven

By MIKE SECCOMBE

Someone referred to her as the Islander on steroids. Others called her the cruise ship. One Steamship Authority worker, gazing up at the huge bulk of the ferry Island Home tied up at Woods Hole, simply called her a monster.

Whatever the metaphor, you get the picture. This is a big boat.

Of course, anyone who has followed the story of the new craft knew that. But sometimes knowing something and realizing it are different, and clearly for a lot of people that realization didn't really dawn until Tuesday afternoon when suddenly she was there, steaming into Vineyard Haven harbor, dwarfing the other ferries.

It's one thing to know the statistics - how many cars and passengers she can carry - but quite another to see her in real life.

The visit was meant to be low-key, for the new boat is not yet in service. It was the first in a series of what port captain Greg Gifford called bump and runs. The idea is to familiarize crews, check on how she fits with berthing facilities and gangways, check out emergency systems and do rescue boat training.

But it wasn't low key. People turned out to gaze at their new ferry.

So far, so good, reported Captain Gifford. The only minor problem is that gangways at Woods Hole will have to be tweaked.

Captain Gifford said driving the new boat is like getting behind the wheel of a truck after driving a Volkswagen Beetle. "It feels strange for a while," he said. "It's a little touchy feely right now, if you will.

"But the crews are very enthusiastic. The vessel is very, very maneuverable. You can turn it virtually within its own length. The visibility is incredible from the bridge for this kind of thing."

There still are drills to do. On Wednesday, Oscar the rescue mannequin was repeatedly thrown overboard, only to be rescued again and again.

Fire drills include the need to become familiar with a new type of equipment never before fitted to any SSA boats - slides, not unlike the emergency slides on aircraft, where passengers descend to life rafts.

"It's quite a system," Captain Gifford said.

The Island Home is scheduled to replace the Islander on March 5. Vineyard residents will have a chance to explore the new vessel on Saturday, March 3, when it will be open house - or boat - from noon until 2 p.m., following an 11.30 a.m. commissioning ceremony.