Editorial : The end
News that the long serving, double-ended ferry Islander has been offered for auction on eBay unexpectedly gathers together several business, sentimental, and historic threads.
Islander, built in Maine after the war, was a reliable part of the Steamship Authority's Vineyard service for more than half a century. She was a sturdy, fond, familiar friend to generations of Islanders and summer residents. She had several splendid qualities. She offered her captain good visibility from the pilot houses at each end. She left almost no wake. Her engineering and electronics were comprehensible, her engines common in marine and railroad applications around the world.
She could be troublesome. She did not steer very well at all at low speed. Her interior accommodations were dim and uncomfortable. Her lunchroom was small. Her auto and truck capacity was modest, compared with the newer one-way vessels the SSA acquired during her long tenure.
When Island Home, a complicated, luxe, capacious, expensive, more maneuverable vessel with a tendency to roll took Islander's place, Islander went for $500,000 to developers who had big plans for Governor's Island in New York Harbor. She was to be a ferry for residents and guests of the park, housing, and commercial sites on the former Coast Guard installation that had occupied the island. That was just a year and a half ago.
Shortly before Islander's departure, the double-ended car ferry Governor came into the SSA's possession, for just a few dollars, when the federal government declared her surplus. She had been a supply boat for the Coast Guard installation at Governor's Island. She was old, but well built, with a diesel electric power plant that made her very maneuverable at low speed. She also had very low freeboard and little protection for vehicles standing on her open freight deck. If your car or truck happened to be lined up near the bow during a lumpy crossing to Woods Hole, solid green water coming over her rails would give your ride a dousing. So Governor's use by the Steamship Authority has been limited to good days in the shoulder seasons and summer. She spends most of her time tied to the SSA's docks in Fairhaven. But anyway you look at it, the Steamship Authority got the better of the two vessels
The Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC), the corporation responsible for developing Governors Island in New York City, put the ferry on the Internet auction block last week, rather than pay millions for needed maintenance. Bidding ends Monday. The current global economic crash has impinged on development plans everywhere. Financing the development of Governor's Island will have to await an economic turnaround, but Islander's need for expensive maintenance and refurbishment won't wait.
Islander started at $10, though she'll probably go for somewhat more, possibly to a ship breaker. Even in a sinking economy clever business people can turn a nickel in the scrap market.
"Vessel is in poor condition," the eBay listing announces. "Engines and generators are in good condition. Item is being sold as is, where is, and with all faults."
It's a justifiable warning to buyers. A marine surveyor's report describes extensive active corrosion, weld fractures and buckled doors. "The amount of steel on the Islander needing renewal is extensive," the surveyor concludes, perhaps 25 percent of all the structural steel in the ship. We and the Steamship Authority had the best of her. She will not be for her next owners what she was for us.
Ships have personalities, or perhaps we confer personalities upon them. We grow profoundly attached to some of them. Like the old Nobska, but unlike the miserable (J)Uncatena, or the big steamer Naushon, Islander is a heartthrob for Vineyarders. Her end is ignoble certainly, but her time had come, and as we do with human loved ones, we will remember her as she was in her best days, not as she was when they ended.