Coastwise, SSA will meet to settle harbor dispute
Shenandoah, Alabama moorings in SSA sights
To head off an imposed resolution of their dispute over sharing space in Vineyard Haven Harbor, representatives of the Steamship Authority and the Coastwise Packet Company agreed yesterday to meet to discuss possible concessions each side might make to resolve the issue.
And, at a meeting yesterday in Tisbury, convened by the Coast Guard and including representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers, SSA general manager Wayne Lamson, Coastwise (which operates Shenandoah and Alabama), and Jay Wilbur, the Tisbury harbormaster, Coast Guard Lt. Alfred Dancy of Sector Southeastern New England asked the Corps representative to join the Coast Guard in conducting a formal and extensive waterways analysis of Vineyard Haven inner harbor.
Lieutenant Dancy told the 20 or so attendees at the unposted, mid-morning meeting that a resolution of the issue by Coastwise and the SSA would "make my job easier," and he said there was unlikely to be any change ordered immediately. He said that he had not, based on his arrival on a SSA ferry that morning, been persuaded there is a safety issue, given the permitted location of the two schooners' moorings and the width of the entrance channel. Lieutenant Dancy said the chief concern of the Coast Guard is safety and the second is to avoid disrupting the commercial activities of either Coastwise Packet Company or the Steamship Authority. But, he emphasized, "Safety is the driver."
No timetable was offered for the completion of the reviews by the Coast Guard and the Army Corps.
The dispute, prompted by complaints from the Steamship Authority, centers on whether the location of the Shenandoah and Alabama moorings allow the two schooners, when the wind is southerly or southeast, to swing into the 280-foot channel leading up to the SSA wharf, creating difficulties for ferry masters trying to get into the slips. An inspection and survey of the two moorings two weeks ago resulted in Shenandoah's mooring being moved 15 feet away from the southerly line of the channel and Alabama's mooring, farther away from the channel than called for in the Corps permit, left in place. Shenandoah's mooring, according to Mr. Wilbur, now conforms exactly to the requirements of the Corps of Engineers permit.
Capt. Jim Mazza, senior SSA captain, said that when the new Island Home enters the inner harbor bound for the south SSA slip, she must be maneuvered north around Shenandoah's stern, then south to shape up to enter the slip. Although Island Home is more easily maneuvered than her longtime predecessor Islander, Islander was enough smaller so that she could squeeze into the slip even if she was not perfectly aligned with it. Island Home, wider, longer, and taller with greater windage, needs to be aligned more precisely with the axis of the slip. Captain Mazza said moving Shenandoah's mooring even 50 feet to the south, away from the channel's southerly edge, would not be sufficient to provide the margin needed by the big, new vessel when she is aimed into the slip.
Mr. Wilbur told Lieutenant Dancy that he was unable to imagine a way to move the moorings of the two schooners, without eliminating three or four other moorings that now are placed at the head of the harbor. Mr. Wilbur argued that the changes in SSA operations over the years - the addition of the second slip, the need to use the south slip because of safety concerns for vehicle and pedestrian traffic at the SSA terminal, and the construction of such a large vessel as Island Home - had ignored the impacts on operations of other commercial vessels, such as Shenandoah and Alabama, as well as on pleasure craft.
The Army Corps representative explained that the channel from the Vineyard Haven breakwater to the SSA wharf was formed by the line created by the federal anchorage established west of the breakwater, where smaller pleasure craft are moored, and by a line parallel to the line of the federal anchorage, about 280 feet south. It is this southerly line which the Corps sets as the limits for Shenandoah and Alabama so that whatever the wind conditions, the two schooners do not impinge on the channel.
The Army Corps waterway analysis will look broadly at the harbor and its uses, traffic, anchorage and mooring areas, and the operating requirements of the vessels using it. That analysis might lead to changes to the channel dimensions, to the dredged areas, to the mooring locations, or to the operations of the various vessels and types of vessels that use the harbor.
Capt. Robert S. Douglas, Coastwise Packet owner and master of the schooner Shenandoah, which has lain to the same mooring for 43 years, told Lieutenant Dancy that the 280-foot channel width was a nominal figure, that in fact on most days when the wind is southwest, the channel is considerably wider, because the pleasure craft nearest the edge of the channel on the north are tending away toward the north, and when the wind is northerly, the Shenandoah and Alabama are pointing north but they are tending toward the south, away from the edge of the channel.