What happened to Frank Cray can only be described as awful. Headed off-Island for a doctor’s appointment he waited three months for, he got an unwelcome surprise as he drove onto the Island Home ferry in Vineyard Haven.
At first he thought it was a leaking pipe from the restrooms above the vehicle deck, but the amount of liquid intensified, pouring on top of his Ford F-150 pickup truck — a fairly new one at that — and inside the open cab window. It got on him. It got inside his door. It soaked the rug underneath his feet.
Turns out it was hydraulic fluid, from the lift that’s used to give the Island Home extra capacity during the busy summer months.
It didn’t take long for us to find out about the situation. In part, because it delayed the Steamship Authority’s largest ferry. Any time that happens, people start chatting to find out the reason for the delay.
We reached out to the SSA, to be able to inform our readers of the problem.
Sean Driscoll, the SSA spokesman, was quick with a response that in hindsight appeared to downplay the situation in both the volume of fluid that leaked and how the customers affected were assisted and reacted.
SSA personnel swabbed up the fluid on the deck and “used absorbent material to clean the bulk of it from their cars,” Driscoll told us. Driscoll also said Cray and the other driver affected were understanding and cooperative of the situation.
It was that initial comment that triggered Cray to reach out to our reporter. That’s not what happened, he said. Cray did credit the SSA employees on board with helping him get some water, paper towels, and soap, but he cleaned off his own car the best he could with the supplies he was given. And he had to go get the other driver whose vehicle was affected, because that man had already left his vehicle, and doesn’t speak English well. (The benefits of this happening to an Islander is that he knew the man.)
We still haven’t gotten a good explanation about why Cray saw — and photographed — a bucket hanging beneath the lift right after the incident. He concluded that the Island Home crew must have known about the leak and put the bucket there to capture the liquid.
The response we got? We don’t know about the bucket, Driscoll wrote, even as The Times had published Cray’s photo of the bucket right over where the leak happened.
To compound matters, once again, the SSA did not tell Vineyard Haven harbormaster John Crocker about the incident. And while they did report it to the Falmouth harbormaster, they never told him that an individual was sprayed with the fluid.
Mistakes happen, and when you’re dealing with thousands of passengers and vehicles, they’re bound to be more frequent.
But it’s how you respond to those mistakes that matters, and this response by the SSA was botched.
It took more than a day — and we presume a heated phone call from Marc Hanover, the Island’s representative on the SSA board, after he found out an individual had been sprayed with the fluid — for the Steamship Authority to say that they would reimburse Cray for his ferry ticket and for a future trip to get his vehicle checked out.
That should have been the first thing the SSA told Cray.
This was no minor inconvenience. Cray, who suffers from lung disease, was headed to a doctor’s appointment. Because he was covered in hydraulic fluid, the doctor would not see him.
That’s a pretty bad day through no fault of his own.
He deserved more of an effort by the SSA to make it right.