Steamship Authority, Tisbury chart harbor shoaling solution

Steve Myrick

The Steamship Authority, working with the town of Tisbury, this week began the process of applying for an emergency dredge permit to correct shoaling caused by the Island Home ferry in Vineyard Haven Harbor.

Over the winter and spring, shoaling has forced relocation of one pleasure craft and could make several moorings in the compact harbor unusable during the summer season.

Among the boaters who have gone aground in the suddenly shallow water near the Steamship Authority dock is harbormaster Jay Wilbur, who bumped the bottom as he explored reports of the shoaling in the town’s patrol vessel.

“I used to be able to get my boat up to that dinghy dock,” Mr. Wilbur said. “Now you’re going to have problems even getting a dinghy up to that dock.”

On Tuesday, February 8, Steamship Authority officials discussed the shoaling, and how to fix it, with Tisbury town officials, including the harbor management committee.

“I think the Steamship Authority is going to accept responsibility,” Marc Hanover said. Mr. Hanover is the Dukes County member of the Authority. “We have to get that shoal out of there.”

Mr. Wilbur and others say the ferry Island Home caused the shoaling. Steamship Authority vessels used the north slip for several months, when work crews repaired pilings in the ferry’s usual berth in the south slip.

The Island Home’s engines are used to slow the ferry as it eases the last few feet into the slip. The backwash from the ferry’s propellers has created a 30-foot depth in the ferry slip and pushed sand out into the harbor mooring area.

“It’s put about two to three feet of sand over by the dinghy dock,” Mr. Hanover said. “On the other side, there is a shoal they call the Steamship shoal.”

Sea Glass, a shallow draft fishing vessel owned by Joe Andrade, was aground at low tide in the spring months, forcing Mr. Wilbur to move the vessel to the other side of the harbor.

“We’ll lose a couple of moorings,” Mr. Wilbur said.

The permitting process for a project of this kind normally takes at least two years. The town is exploring whether it might use standing permits it already has for maintenance dredging. Tisbury officials are concerned that even an emergency permit could delay dredging into the summer boating season.

“This is going to come down to permitting and money and who’s paying,” Mr. Kristal said. “We have to start that process sooner rather than later. I’m hoping the Steamship is going to come through and help with this before we have to start losing moorings.”