One foggy November morning in the early 1970s, 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 is 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.
Islander's master miscalculated, steering the inbound ferry well south of the normal track. He approached Shenandoah from the east and drove Islander's 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.
For the umpteenth time in the course of the 42 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, especially when the wind is in the south and Shenandoah's stern approaches the edge of the channel as indicated on the chart.
But, in fact, it's not a matter of safety. For 42 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 toward the south and 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. 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.
Balancing the equities in this tiresome argument, considering that the new, $32 million Island Home, which is to take Islander's place, is a double-ended ferry, designed specifically to be steerable at very slow speed, and acknowledging that in 42 years Shenandoah has presented no navigation problem for competent masters of SSA ferries, the SSA ought to stop whining and return its attention to the many actual challenges its ferry business faces.