Ferry breakdown shuts down early-morning travel

Martha’s Vineyard steering problem has ripple effect.

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A mechanical breakdown of the MV Martha's Vineyard has created a domino effect. - Rich Saltzberg

UPDATE 11:40 am

Early morning travelers and commuters on the Steamship Authority woke up to boats not running Thursday morning, stranding hundreds of passengers and delaying freight service to the Island. Some passengers had to spend the night before in a hotel.

The MV Martha’s Vineyard’s last run on Wednesday was canceled due to mechanical failure, according to the Steamship Authority. The ferry was stuck in the only operating slip in Woods Hole due to construction, SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll wrote in a text message. That caused the SSA to cancel early morning runs of the MV Katama and MV Island Home, as well.

“When the MV Martha’s Vineyard was preparing to make its 9:45 pm departure from Woods Hole on Wednesday, 12/11, an alarm on the steering system went off. The issue was investigated and, ultimately, the decision was made to cancel the trip and offload the passengers and vehicles,” Driscoll wrote in a follow-up email. “Due to construction activity in Woods Hole, the 9:30 pm departure of the MV Island Home was also canceled; that vessel was already underway, and had to return to Vineyard Haven for the night. Accommodations were provided in Falmouth and on the Island for those individuals whom we were able to contact and who needed lodging assistance.”

There were 12 people on the Island Home when it turned around Wednesday night, and another 47 passengers were aboard the Martha’s Vineyard when that ferry’s trip was canceled.

Driscoll wrote that the alarm was traced to “a failed power supply module to the vessels’ No. 2 steering system (the vessel has two redundant steering systems; this was the system that was not being used at the time).” Despite being repaired overnight, a U.S. Coast Guard inspection was required before the ferry could carry passengers again.

Email alerts that went out from the SSA automated system Thursday morning made it seem like all three vessels had mechanical issues, but it was just the Martha’s Vineyard. Driscoll wrote that the ticket sellers have three options in sending out those alerts, and should have used “due to unforeseen reasons” for the Katama and Island Home. “We’ll discuss it with them,” he wrote.

Driscoll reported on Twitter that the 7 am Island Home trip from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole would make its run, while the Martha’s Vineyard was out on a sea trial. During that sea trial, the ferry was cleared to return to service, Driscoll said, and it made its 8:15 am crossing from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole.

That Island Home trip did indeed arrive in Woods Hole on time, where it was greeted by hundreds of waiting passengers and a parking lot filled with cars and trucks, including the truck carrying today’s MV Times, jammed in the parking lot of the Woods Hole terminal.

It looked like a scene from Fourth of July weekend, except for the snow on the ground and the frigid temperatures.

In his email, Driscoll wrote that a barge that is located in Slip 3 in Woods Hole is expected to be moved, which will give the ferry service two operating slips in Woods Hole again.

Updated to include the latest information. -Ed.