Updated Dec. 27
The Steamship Authority ferry Martha’s Vineyard missed two runs Christmas Eve morning when an issue arose after its emergency generator was tested. A power alarm sounded in part of the steering system, and the SSA opted to pull the vessel from service to investigate.
The Martha’s Vineyard, which endured a fraught $18 million overhaul in 2018, suffered a previous steering alarm problem on Dec.11 that took it out of service for its last run. On Dec.15 a kill switch malfunction knocked out the vessel’s generator, and briefly caused a blackout. Then on Dec.18, the Martha’s Vineyard grazed a construction barge in Woods Hole.
The anomaly triggered by the emergency generator test on Christmas Eve was considered “normal” by the SSA.
“While in port in Woods Hole, the Martha’s Vineyard performed a required weekly test of the emergency generator,” SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll emailed several days after the incident. “Upon completion of the test and switching power back to the main switchboard, a loss of power alarm to the No. 2 steering gear pump was observed. This is a normal occurrence on resetting of power back to the main switchboard, but out of an abundance of caution, additional tests were performed, all of which were returned in good order.”
On Christmas Eve morning, the SSA told The Times the vessel was expected to make its noon run from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven because it had been inspected and cleared. However, the U.S. Coast Guard told The Times the ferry wasn’t leaving Woods Hole. Neither proved completely on the money. The vessel departed late, 12:30, according to Driscoll. By that time holiday travelers had piled up on either side of Vineyard Sound.
Compounding the problem was the MV Katama, which went out of service Monday night after a partial steering failure necessitated a tugboat tow. The Katama remains out of service. Even though the MV Gay Head was mustered to fill the gap, the knock-on effect of service distruption made for a testy atmosphere in the Vineyard Haven terminal building, where passengers who came to the counter got opaque answers as to when they could cross. At least one round-trip ambulance run was delayed by the situation. When the Martha’s Vineyard finally pulled into Vineyard Haven, that ambulance was the first to roll off. A long line of passengers disembarking the ferry merged with a long line of passengers waiting to board. Driscoll said the noon trip delay was due to wait time for the crew to cross aboard the Gay Head.