Broken sprinkler disrupts Island Home ferry Saturday service


The Island Home ferry could not complete two trips Saturday, because of what ferry service email alerts described as a mechanical issue. Travelers were stuck on both sides of Vineyard Sound through the middle of the day.

The trouble was a broken sprinkler head on the freight deck, caused by the crew’s improper storage of the lift decks — platforms that may be lowered from either side of the freight deck overhead, to add vehicle capacity.

In a series of emails responding to questions from The Times, Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, said he received a telephone call about 10 am Saturday morning, reporting that a sprinkler head on the freight deck was broken.

Mr. Lamson said the sprinkler head was damaged Friday night “when the crew inadvertently raised the lift deck with one of the railings still up.”

Mr. Lamson said the damage was not discovered until the following morning. The damage was reported to the United States Coast Guard (USCG). “The USCG ordered us to tie up the vessel until the repairs were completed,” Mr. Lamson said.

Repairs were completed at 3 pm.

The accident did not result in a release of water. Mr. Lamson explained that the sprinkler systems are not charged, to prevent freezing in the winter. He said that if the crew had to respond to a fire onboard, pumps would be started manually, and the water would be directed to the zone where the water was needed.

Asked why the operator did not hear any distinctive crunching sounds that might have alerted crew to a problem that night, Mr. Lamson explained that the freight deck is a noisy place.

“The vessel was still being unloaded while the lift deck was being raised. In addition, just raising the lift deck causes a lot of noise so it is possible for the operator under these circumstances to be raising the lift deck without hearing a distinctive crunching sound,” he said. “Not every railing has to be lowered before the lift decks can be raised. Some of the railings on the lift decks are permanent and do not need to be lowered in order to stow the lift decks.”

Mr. Lamson said the ferry missed two round trips. He praised the quick work of the maintenance crew and those who helped pick up the slack.

“In addition to the maintenance crew, the terminal staff on both sides, and the crew on the M/V Martha’s Vineyard also did a great job under the circumstances,” he said.

Good service record

The Island Home began service on the Vineyard route in March 2007 as a replacement for the 50-year-old Islander. She can carry 1,200 passengers and 60 vehicles, or 76 when both lift decks are utilized.

Mr. Lamson, a veteran SSA official who began his long career as a ticket-taker, described the Island Home’s recent service record and the notion that her high profile contributed to trip cancellations.

“Out of 4,324 scheduled trips for the M/V Island Home in 2010, 30 trips (15 round trips) were cancelled due to weather and 6 trips (3 round trips) for mechanical reasons,” Mr. Lamson said in response to an inquiry from The Times. “So we batted .992 in terms of the number of scheduled trips that were completed with the M/V Island Home in 2010.”

By comparison, Mr. Lamson said the Martha’s Vineyard had seven trips cancelled between Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven due to weather and 92 trips cancelled between Woods Hole and Oak Bluffs, a number of which would have been diverted to Vineyard Haven due to weather.

“I would not doubt that some captains feel more uncomfortable than other captains when running the M/V Island Home in high winds,” he said. “In fact, wesee it on other vessels as well where you will have one captain who will cancel a trip and another who will decide to go under similar weather conditions, especially on the Nantucket run where we tend to have moretrip cancellations due to weather.”

Mr. Lamson said that the decision to cancel a trip is left up to the individual captain “and how comfortable he or she feels operating the vessel in adverse weather conditions.”

The Washington State Ferries decided that the Island Home’s handling characteristics were just what it needed for the rough waters of Puget Sound. The company paid the SSA for the vessel design and built two ferries based on that design for its fleet.