Less than two years after her final Vineyard voyage, the once-beloved ferry Islander is floating unwanted off Governors Island, N.Y. waiting to be auctioned off on eBay like so much attic junk.
She is scheduled to appear on the shopping and auction Web site on the morning before Valentine’s Day. There is no reserve bid.
It was supposed to be a new lease on life for the old girl. When the board of Governors Island stepped into buy the ferry in 2007, some dignified sunset years looked in store for the 57 year-old vessel, plying the few hundred yards of calm Hudson waters between Lower Manhattan and the tiny New York bay island.
But she never even made a single journey.
John Meyers, director of real estate at Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC), confirmed the news this week.
He said a six-month inspection of the ferry turned up extensive flaws in the vessel. The decision of the board was that it would prove too costly to bring the vessel up to seaworthy standards, he said.
Though the board brought in marine experts to inspect the ferry before buying it last year, Mr. Meyers said there wasn’t enough time to do the thorough check they carried out back on Governors Island, a 172-acre stretch of land east of lower Manhattan and a few hundred yards north of Brooklyn.
“There was less than two weeks until the bids were due, if memory serves me,” he said. “We did a visual inspection. We knew that there would be repairs to the steel and other parts, but the cost compared to a new vessel made sense. We paid substantially less than the reserve price.”
They took the ferry for a spin around the harbor and, satisfied, bought it, paying $500,000. From there she sailed to Governors Island harbor where she has remained since.
The ferry’s last trip on its route between Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven was in March 2007. It then spent time tied up at the state pier in New Bedford and in Fairhaven harbor, before being bought. The Governors Island was the only bid on the vessel.
The Islander, which has a capacity of 770 passengers and 47 vehicles, was acquired in 1950 for $1,010,343.
Mr. Meyers said inspectors used an ultrasound machine to probe every 18-inch piece of steel on the boat.
“The theory was that they built boats thick, not unlike an old house, where the foundations are solid. But in all situations it was as bad or worse than we thought,” he said.
He was critical of the care given to the Islander over the years.
“There was very substantial deferred maintenance,” he said,
But Steamship Authority general manager Wayne Lamson disagreed. He said regular checks ensured the ferry would never have traveled were it not seaworthy.
“Everything is inspected by the Coast Guard annually and there’s a dry dock inspection every three years, something like a car inspection,” Mr. Lamson said. “If anything had to be repaired the Coast Guard would not let it go out. We take pride in the maintenance of our vessels inside and out.”
Still, he said, it was ultimately a case of buyer beware.
“It was put out to bid as is, where is,” he said. “The vessel was sold in 2007, it was 57 years old, It was well built, I know that. I’m surprised they’re selling it so soon.”
Former Vineyard boat line governor Ronald H. Rappaport also came to ferry’s defense: “I’d personally be extremely surprised if it wasn’t well maintained. It was the Old Faithful,” he said.
Nantucket SSA governor Flint Ranney chimed in yesterday.
“It’s the same Coast Guard in New York as in Massachusetts. I can’t understand why they’d want to [sell it] unless they want to do things to make it fancier. It’s only a couple hundred yards across, as I understand it,” he said.
Now the crucial question is whether the ferry will find another home or be resigned to the scrap yard.
“I don’t think I’ll buy it. I wouldn’t buy it even for $300,” Mr. Ranney said. “You’d need a big pier or garden to store that boat.”
He suggested someone might profit from buying the ferry and selling it off piece by piece.
“You could make a lot of money, selling the quarterboard, the beam, the seats,” Mr. Ranney said.
Mr. Rappaport suggested it could make a good venue for affordable housing.
As for spinning the boat’s condition for potential buyers, Mr. Meyers had a low-key pitch:
“It’s physically floating, I can tell you that,” he said, adding: “There’s a fairly vibrant scrap metal out there. That’s another option.
He said the eBay route is not unusual.
“It’s fairly standard,” he said. “There’s all sorts of things up there.”
Mr. Meyers’s sensible approach may rankle the more sentimental Vineyarders. Ken Ivory was among the mourners at a teary farewell to the Islander ferry held in the Steamship Authority Vineyard Haven terminal in 2007.
“It’s amazing how a hunk of steel can really grab a hold of our hearts,” he said at the time.
Perhaps then she’ll make a perfect, 100-foot Valentine’s gift for the Islander who has everything.