Editorial : Not one inch
For years, decades even, the Steamship Authority has shouldered its way into Vineyard Haven inner harbor, claiming the premier parts of the waterfront, ignoring or shoving aside suggestions that it consider shifting port operations out of the crowded anchorage or limiting its impact on the town. And, the SSA has also imposed itself on the harbor's traffic and mooring patterns, despite pleas from commercial mariners and yachtsmen. In the name of safety and the importance of its mission, the Steamship Authority has had Capt. Robert S. Douglas's schooner Shenandoah in its sights. For safety and operational considerations, the boatline says, it wants Shenandoah out of its way.
But, in fact, the real safety concern has to do with how the boatline operates, in its expanding way, and not with the presence of Captain Douglas's four decades old schooner. Shenandoah predated the second, southerly slip, the expansion of the Vineyard Haven terminal, and the addition of the gargantuan Island Home. Shenandoah's never been the safety hazard. The origin of the true safety hazard may be found in the history of Steamship Authority decision-making.
Some of us recall a foggy November morning in the early 1970s, as the Islander approached Vineyard Haven inner harbor. Visibility was perhaps 50 yards. Islander was proceeding slowly, in deference to the conditions, but not too slowly because, except at speed, she was not easy to steer. Shenandoah, decommissioned after her sailing season ended in September, and Alabama, in the earliest stages of what would be a decades-long refurbishment, lay to their moorings, right where you see them from a ferry deck as you come and go from the mainland today. The wind was northerly, and the two schooners stretched away from the channel the ferries use to get to the Vineyard Haven wharf.
Islander's master miscalculated, steering the inbound ferry well south of the normal track. He approached Shenandoah from the east and drove Islander's starboard bow into the schooner's starboard side, forward of amidships. Visibility was just sufficient to allow someone on the deck of Alabama to see Islander loom beyond the schooner. The collision caused Shenandoah to dip to port as she was driven sideways by the impact. Why she was not holed and sunk is a mystery. In disgrace, Islander backed away and made her way at last into her slip. Her master of that morning was quickly retired.
For the umpteenth time in the course of the 43 years that Shenandoah has moored in Vineyard Haven, the Steamship Authority is pestering the Coast Guard, the Vineyard Haven harbormaster, and Shenandoah's master and owner, Capt. Robert S. Douglas, over the location of his vessel's mooring. It's a matter of safety, the boatline argues, altogether unconvincingly.
In fact, it's not a matter of safety. For 43 years, Shenandoah has hung on her mooring, and Islanders have been pleased to have her there. The only incident of any significance, the assault by Islander described above, was the result of negligence on the ferry master's part, and anyway, on that morning the wind was in the north, causing Shenandoah to tend away from the channel leading to the ferry wharf.
The Steamship Authority argues that it wants to use the south slip at its wharf, and to get to it, the ferry must run close to Shenandoah's stern when the wind is southerly, but that south (or second) slip was added in the mid-1970s over Vineyard objections. Indeed, in order to build that slip, the SSA prevailed on the legislature to pass special legislation prohibiting Vineyard development rules from interfering with its plans. Planning Island Home, the Steamship Authority argued that she would be more maneuverable than Islander and the other ferries, but the $32 million skyscraper we live with today apparently needs the entire head of the harbor to get into the slip we didn't want. The SSA argues that it wants to use the south slip to reduce danger to pedestrians who must cross the line of traffic streaming to or from the ferry, if it uses the north slip, a design screw-up the boatline enshrined in its most recent reconstruction of the Vineyard Haven terminal. If Shenandoah's location presented genuine difficulties when the wind is southeast, the boatline could simply put her in the north slip on the few days when those unusual conditions prevailed. And, beyond all reason, the SSA always reminds us that its every move is aimed at making the line more efficient, all the while charging us more annually to travel aboard its ferries.
For 43 years Shenandoah has presented no navigation problem for competent masters of SSA ferries, and we urge the SSA to stop whining and return its attention to the many actual challenges its ferry business faces. As for Shenandoah, no need to move, not one inch.