Fast Ferry to NYC loses window in rough seas
Photo by Chris Fohlin
A Seastreak fast ferry returning from Martha's Vineyard to New York City Sunday evening in heavy swells changed course to New London, Connecticut, after a large wave dislodged a deck storage box that smashed a window on the first deck.
Shards of glass and water sprayed passengers sitting in the front rows nearest the windows. Ambulances met the ferry at the New London ferry terminal. Three people reported minor injuries, Mike Glasfeld, New England Fast Ferry president, told The Times in a telephone conversation Monday morning.
Mr. Glasfeld said a sister ship was in port and available. Passengers were transferred to the second ferry and continued on to New York City without incident, he said.
Two of the three injured passengers declined medical attention. One man was treated for cuts in a nearby hospital. Mr. Glassfeld said the passenger received two stitches and continued by car to New York City later that night.
The Coast Guard boarded the damaged ferry and cleared it to continue on to New York, he said.
The ferry was traveling with six crew members and just under 300 passengers. Winds were strong out of the southeast late Sunday, with gusts up to 32 miles per hour, when the ferry departed Martha's Vineyard.
Mr. Glassfeld said conditions were not extraordinary, and although not flat calm they were typical of what the service has experienced this season. That changed as they approached the entrance to Long Island Sound, an area known for strong tides.
He said that when the ferry approached the end of Fisher's Island near The Race, the sea conditions changed and the captain reduced speed. "We could see ahead that there was an odd set of waves, so we pulled the power back by over 40 percent," he said.
A wave struck the ferry and crashed over the bow. "It wasn't such a bad wave for the boat, but it did break free a forward deck box," Mr. Glasfeld said. But for that incident, the trip would have been a bit rough but uneventful, he said.
"We were fortunate in that there were no significant injuries beyond bumps and bruises and two stitches," he said. "But clearly anything that happens on the water will feel dramatic in the moment."
The drama was not lost on Chris Fohlin, 24, a web site developer living in Manhattan and a West Tisbury native. He told The Times in an email sent Sunday evening that he and his girlfriend Kelsey Schelling, an actress, were returning to New York City "after a great weekend."
It was Mr. Fohlin's third trip on the ferry and his second this summer.
"The fast ferry catamaran started bounding over a few swells as the waves seemingly harmlessly washed onto the deck of the bow," he said. "Eventually, we hit a swell just right as a wave came over the bow, dislodged two life jacket bins, one of which appeared to make contact with one of the front windows of the first floor. The one-half-inch thick window shattered, yielding screams and a wave of water into the interior of the boat."
Mr. Fohlin said there was some initial panic. Some rushed to help and others rushed to the rear of the vessel. Some searched for their footwear that they had taken off to relax, he said. When it became apparent that one window was smashed and the ferry was in no immediate danger, the panic subsided, he said.
"My girlfriend and I, along with a few others, lost our bicycles in the accident as they were swept off of the deck of the front bow where they were once secured. The Seastreak crew quickly assured us that anyone who had anything lost or damaged (bicycles, electronics, etc.) would properly be reimbursed.
"The Seastreak crew was very attentive and helpful. At least one man was escorted off the boat on a stretcher with apparent cuts as his clothes were bloodied. Ambulances and fire department vehicles were ready and waiting at New London harbor, and the transition to the new vessel went smoothly. While some passengers opted to find other means of transportation, I'd say that the majority of people continued on the new boat provided."
"We left New London under a heavy rain and wind," Mr. Fohlin reported, "but so far the trip has been smooth."
Building on the success of a trial run last July 4 weekend, Seastreak initiated scheduled fast ferry round-trip weekend service between New York City and Martha's Vineyard this summer.
The ferry leaves New York City at 4:45 pm on Friday and arrives in Oak Bluffs at 10 pm. The turn-around trip leaves Oak Bluffs at 4 pm on Sunday.
The ferry's route takes it through Long Island Sound, Rhode Island Sound, Block Island Sound, and Vineyard Sound.
One year ago the New England Fast Ferry (NEFF), which now operates between New Bedford and Martha's Vineyard under a license issued by the Steamship Authority (SSA), acquired Seastreak.
The fast passenger ferry company offers high-speed catamaran services to points in Manhattan from Highlands, N.J., with a fleet of four vessels.