Island Home makes a splash
SSA officials said watching the vessel slide down the rails was darn exciting
The freshly painted Island Home slid sideways down the rails and into the Escatawpa River at Moss Point, Miss., before a large crowd of local and Steamship Authority dignitaries last Friday morning. Photo courtesy of Bill Colgin, Mississippi Press
The Steamship Authority's Island Home, the 255-foot double-ended ferry built to replace the venerable Islander, slid sideways from builder VT Halter's dock into the Escatawpa River at Moss Point, Miss., Friday morning, as a large crowd of shipyard workers and their families as well as local and Steamship Authority dignitaries watched.
The thunderous broadside launch - a coordinated effort that required precise timing on the part of teams of shipyard craftsmen under the guidance of an experienced foreman - was greeted with applause, whistles and shouts of approval. Click here to view the launch
Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, described the launch as a major milestone in the construction of the ferry, which is expected to arrive at the boatline's Fairhaven facility in November. Mr. Lamson said that although the vessel is afloat, much work still needs to be done and is already underway.
The launch of the ferry represented an important turning point for the shipyard as well as for the Steamship Authority. The Island Home is the first large vessel launched by VT Halter since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast last August.
Saralee Marshall, wife of SSA chairman Robert Marshall, christened the Island Home in the traditional champagne-smashing manner at Friday's launch. Photo courtesy of VT Halter Marine
One of the most destructive hurricanes ever to hit the United States, Hurricane Katrina came ashore just west of the VT Halter Marine shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. At one point, the production yard responsible for Island Home's fabrication of metal work was under approximately18 to 20 feet of water, according to one report. Many employees lost their homes and belongings.
"We here at VT Halter Marine are very proud of the Island Home and the service she will provide to the Steamship Authority," said VT Halter chief executive officer Boyd E. King in his prepared remarks delivered Friday. "Today's launch is a key milestone in reaching our post-Katrina target delivery date and speaks highly of the people who have made today's events possible. This vessel has been a welcome addition to our growing line of commercial projects, and highlights VT Halter Marine's level of commitment to deliver vessels of superior quality even in the face of adversity."
After months on land, the Island Home is afloat. Photo Courtesy VT Halter Marine
Although the new double-ended vessel was scheduled to be delivered in the spring of 2006, in the aftermath of the storm the SSA told VT Halter officials that the timing could be moved back while the shipbuilder concentrated on putting its yard and its workers' lives back in order. Shipyard leaders demonstrated their gratitude and some Southern hospitality by hosting a barbecue immediately following the Friday launch, complete with southern fried chicken.
In his public remarks preceding the launch, Robert Marshall, Falmouth member and SSA board chairman, noted the struggle.
"What the good people of VT Halter have been through and have been able to accomplish over the past year is beyond comprehension," he said.
In thanking those who had contributed to the design and construction, Mr. Marshall also took note of the contributions of Kathryn "Cassie" Roessel of Tisbury, former SSA Vineyard member, who was a driving influence in the design and final contract until her untimely death, and of her fiancé, Dukes county commissioner Nelson Smith of Edgartown, who was in attendance.
A member of the launch crew stands with his torch at the ready. Photo courtesy Bill Colgin, Mississippi Press
In a telephone conversation from his Falmouth home this week, Mr. Marshall said the launching was a testament to the skills and work ethic of the shipyard workers. He commented that his admiration for the workers was only amplified by the heat and humidity that greeted the group upon their arrival.
Mr. Marshall said that after so many years and so many meetings with nothing but drawings, it was exciting to see the massive ship come alive. He said seeing the ferry up close and walking through her left him with the view that passengers will be very happy with the new, much more roomy ferry.
Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, Vineyard SSA member, said that in his public remarks he also addressed the accomplishments of the shipyard and the ties that now bind the two communities. He said the vessel was a testament to perseverance and hard work.
Mr. Hanover said he impressed upon the workers gathered for the occasion that the Island Home was unlike other ships built in the yard.
The Island Home at the VT Halter Marine shipyard prior to her launch. Photo courtesy Bill Colgin, Mississippi Press
"I explained that not only does it provide us with food and fuel and all the supplies we need to sustain us on the Island," said Mr. Hanover, "but that it is also a gathering place where kids do homework and study for tests and families meet."
He added, "I wanted them to be aware that this ferry is an integral part of the fabric of our Island, that it is a social place as well as a business place."
Plenty of room
The $31-million Island Home was designed by Elliot Bay Design Group, a marine architecture firm in Seattle, Wash. She is 250 feet long, double-ended, and capable of carrying 1,200 passengers and 76 cars, including 16 on hydraulic lift decks.
The added capacity is expected to help reduce trips and costs. The vessel displaces nearly 1,950 tons when fully loaded and is powered by two direct-drive EMD diesel engines delivering 6,000 horsepower. She has a top speed of 16 knots.
Members of the launching crew man their stations. Photo courtesy Bill Colgin, Mississippi Press
Lift decks, which can be raised out of the way or lowered to hold cars, will allow the freight deck to be configured for trucks or the loading of 16 additional vehicles. There will be no pillars or posts for drivers to maneuver around on the freight deck.
There will be interior seating for 650 passengers, compared with the Martha's Vineyard, which can accommodate 387 passengers inside. There will also be an expanded dining area, much like a food court, and a quiet area where people can work or read during the passage.
Ready, set, run
For those in attendance, the spectacle of a broadside launching was unforgettable. The ferry rested on a series of greased rails leading to the river and was held in place by a set of five steel plates.
The side launch technique depends on the vessel sliding down parallel to the water. That requires that all of the plates be removed in unison so that one end of the vessel does not move first, causing it to slide down cockeyed and fall over.
According to Mr. Lamson's description, the steel plates are approximately eight feet by ten feet, with three holes. On a horn signal the welders cut across the plates to the first hole. When each welder reaches the first hole he stops and each team's flagman raises a red flag. Each team has a second welder standing by with a hot torch in the event he is needed. The horn sounds again and the teams repeat the process.
"So they did this three times, and then the last time you see five guys jump off this thing and run like hell. Flag man, everybody's running," said Mr. Hanover with a laugh. "Then, it just starts moving slowly and then all of a sudden there is this crash and it really starts moving."
He said the boat rocked in the water, righted and was soon secured by waiting tugboats. An immediate inspection followed.
"It was breathtaking," said Mr. Hanover.