The Steamship Authority is preparing to purchase two offshore supply vessels for conversion into freight ferries to replace the aging M/V Gay Head and M/V Katama.

Built less than 15 years ago, the two are identical Lode Star class OSVs made by Hornbeck Offshore Services of Covington, La., to serve the oil and gas industry, SSA general manager Robert Davis said Tuesday during the regular monthly meeting of the boat line board of governors.

“They were in service for approximately five years [and] have been laid up in the bayou or down in the Gulf [of Mexico] for the past seven years,” Mr. Davis said.

The Lode Star is a sister ship to the Shooting Star. — Courtesy of the Steamship Authority

“As part of our due diligence, we went down along with a marine surveyor to inspect this class of vessel,” he added.

The SSA team tested the engines, generators, bow thrusters and other equipment on four Lode Star OSVs, although dry-docking will be necessary to assess the condition of the boats’ hulls, Mr. Davis said.

If the hulls are in poor shape, he added, there is an option to get out of the purchase.

Compared to the Gay Head and Katama, which a recent useful-life study found have about five years left of service, the Lode Stars are expected to last at least another 25 years, boat line officials said.

“Most of the equipment has [fewer] operating hours on it than our newest vessel, the Woods Hole,” said SSA director of marine operations Mark Amundsen.

Mr. Amundsen and port captain Charles Montero both praised the Lode Star class as more maneuverable than existing freight ferries.

“These have three bow thrusters,” Mr. Amundsen said. “We currently have one.”

The vessels’ controllable-pitch propellers will make them better at getting in and out of SSA slips, Mr. Amundsen said.

“It’s a major upgrade over the existing OSVs that we have in the fleet,” he added, referring to the Gay Head, Katama and M/V Sankaty.

“This could be the platform for the future … and move us into a much younger fleet,” Mr. Amundsen said.

Mr. Montero also praised the stability of the Lode Star design.

“I think we’ll have a lot better service [and] more reliable service with these vessels, in all types of weather,” he said.

The fact that the two boats are exactly the same will be a boon for both training and maintenance, Mr. Davis told the board.

“You won’t even know which one you’re standing on,” he said.

“To have sister ships, in terms of supplies, spares and things like that, will be a big advantage going forward,” Mr. Davis added.

The boat line board of governors voted unanimously to buy and convert the two vessels, at a total estimated cost of about $32 million and with the option to purchase two more Lode Star class OSVs from Hornbeck by Nov. 30.

To pay for the first two boats, the board approved up to $33 million in bond anticipation notes, with actual bonds to be issued once the purchase and dry-dock costs are finalized.

The boat line currently has about $66 million in outstanding bonds, with a $100 million borrowing limit, treasurer-comptroller Mark Rozum said. About $7 million of the outstanding debt will be retired March 1, 2023, Mr. Rozum added.

Currently 240 feet in length over all, the Lode Stars will have stern ramps added to match the transfer bridges and fendering systems at SSA slips.

To accommodate the 15- to 20-foot longer sterns, Mr. Davis said, the boats will have part of their midsections removed, for a final length of 235 feet.

The first of the refurbished OSVs should be ready for service at the start of next summer, Mr. Davis said, with the second boat following it.

How the SSA then disposes of the Gay Head and Katama will depend on the results of a marine survey to determine their value, Mr. Davis said.

In the mean time, the two Lode Stars will need new names: The purchase and sale agreement with Hornbeck requires them to be renamed within 30 days, Mr. Davis said.

The public will be invited to enter a naming contest, SSA communications director Sean Driscoll said.

“I feel fingers on keyboards across the Island even as we speak,” he said. 

Among other business Tuesday, the SSA board approved a staff request to delay the 8:30 p.m. departure from Oak Bluffs by up to 15 minutes on August 26, 27 and 28, in order to accommodate passengers leaving the Beach Road Weekend festival in Vineyard Haven, which ends at 8 p.m.

The 8:30 departure from Vineyard Haven, aboard the freight ferry M/V Governor, will also leave at 8:45 so that the two boats don’t arrive in Woods Hole at the same time, Mr. Davis said.

The Hy-Line, which is licensed by the SSA to carry passengers between Oak Bluffs and Hyannis, is also delaying its last Island departures during the festival, Mr. Davis said.

“They’re not running extra service, they’re just delaying the last trip,” he said.

Other festival-goers will be leaving Vineyard Haven aboard passenger boats from Cape and Islands Transport, which normally runs between Falmouth Harbor and Edgartown’s Memorial Wharf.

After ascertaining that passengers will be bused directly to their hotels from Falmouth Harbor, the SSA board authorized the company to provide after-hours trips from Vineyard Haven on each of the three festival nights.

On the schedule approved Tuesday, the M/V Sandpiper will leave at 8:30 and 10 p.m. and the Pied Piper will depart at 9 and 10:30 p.m., with passenger drop-off in Falmouth approximately 45 minutes later.

Also Tuesday, the SSA board approved the purchase of two electric shuttle buses and awarded a contract to Senesco Marine, in North Kingstown, R.I. for the M/V Woods Hole to enter dry dock in January for maintenance and a Coast Guard-required hull exam.