Throttle issue sidelined freight ferry Gay Head  

The Gay Head was sidelined for two hours Saturday morning, but has returned to service. – Rich Saltzberg

The Steamship Authority freight ferry MV Gay Head was taken out of service Sunday morning for a mechanical problem, and missed six trips. At the end of service on Saturday, “irregularities with the vessel’s throttle controls” were detected, according to Sean Gonsalves, an SSA spokesman. “Upon inspection by maintenance and engineering overnight,” Gonsalves emailed, “the cause was identified.” Gonsalves later wrote that the cause was “air pressure leakage at the throttle control.”

“The USCG gave permission for the vessel to return to Woods Hole at daylight without passengers so that the throttle controls could be replaced,” he emailed. “The replacement of the parts on the MV Gay Head necessitated the cancellation of its first three roundtrips between Vineyard Haven and Woods Hole on Sunday, Dec. 29 (5:30am/6:30am, 7:30am/8:35am, and 9:50am/11:05am sailings).” 

The Gay Head was called into service on Dec. 23 as a stand-in for the MV Katama after it went out of service for a steering malfunction. Emailed alerts on Sunday morning from the SSA stated the Gay Head would miss the 7:30 am, the 8:35 am, the 9:50 am, 11:05 am, and 12:20 pm crossings. Shortly after 11 am, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Nathan Mendes told The Times, the Gay Head was poised for sea trials and would re-enter service. Just before noon, the Gay Head pulled into Slip 1 at the Vineyard Haven Terminal with an empty freight deck. Passengers waiting to board with vehicles at the Vineyard Haven Terminal earlier in the morning told The Times they received a call from the SSA at 9 am informing them their 9:50 am crossing was canceled. They said they were advised to hasten to make a 9:30 am boat. When they arrived, they said they were told that it was canceled, too. That trip wasn’t canceled, according to Gonsalves, who noted some vehicle passengers weren’t afforded space. “With regards to the passengers on the [9:30 am] boat — which was the MV Island Home … every attempt was made to accommodate all passengers. However, there were vehicles that were unable to board because the boat was full.”

Those passengers who pointed out the 9:30 cancellation declined to be identified but said they lived in Vineyard Haven. Another passenger, Beth Tessmer of Edgartown, said she felt something was amiss in the way cars were chosen to board the other ferries that came to the terminal while the Gay Head was down. Tessmer later texted she had finally pulled aboard the Gay Head, albeit about 20 minutes late, for the 12:20 crossing. 

“Efforts were made to contact customers with reservations on the impacted trips, and the lift decks on the MV Island Home were placed into service,” Gonsalves wrote. “The repair was made, and following a sea trial, the vessel was put back in service at approximately 12:15 pm, leaving Vineyard Haven shortly after 12:30 pm. We apologize for the inconvenience this created for our passengers.” 


  1. I guess the SSA is trying to see if they can beat the failure rate of two winters ago. This necessitated the use of the fast ferries.
    It is sad to say they need to purchase a fast ferry and have it fueled up and waiting in Woods hole someplace. They say it is too costly, more costly than customers pissed off at them. Or more costly than the bad press they receive when some type of mechanical failure happens on a weekly basis.
    A new terminal is nice, but actual working boats would be better.

  2. As the fast ferry experiment two years ago proved to everyone who enjoyed it for two weeks, regular fast ferry service between Woods Hole and the Vineyard is entirely practical and would be extremely popular. In the wake of that experiment, the SSA was quick to find justifications not to pursue fast ferry service to the Vineyard. The SSA pointed to cost, but the real reason for the SSA not pursuing a fast ferry between Woods Hole and the Vineyard has been the SSA’s backward thinking over at least the last two decades. The SSA has over-invested in wedding-style boats that try to move freight and people on the very same vessels, whereas it’s obvious to other ferry system operators (see Washington State Ferries’ very popular fast ferry service between Seattle and Bremerton for commuters) that fast ferries are the future for commuters and day tripping tourists. Freight can move separately in many cases and less quickly and thereby burn less fuel. It is simply a myth that an unsubsidized fast ferry service would be too expensive for Vineyard commuters and day tripping. (In fact, fast ferry service from Woods Hole to the Vineyard would only be expensive for SSA management, as the SSA would inevitably lose some foot traffic from its existing wedding-cake ferries.) Today’s fast ferries are not your grandfather’s fast ferries. #breakupthesteamshipauthoritymonopoly

  3. I liked the fast ferries, bring them back. Ten minutes vs. 45 painful minutes you will never get back while traveling on some of the rustiest, dirtiest, and ugliest ferries on this side of the planet. I believe the only ferry system worse than ours is in the Philippines and that’s only because they actually sink.

  4. Fleet is getting older everyday. We should expect some failures to be honest. Give them a break. Its better than a tunnel or a bridge. I could only imagine the complaining there would be if either one of those existed.
    And its better they catch these failures early or Boats would be breaking down more often at sea and dropping anchor and getting towed back to port. Islanders need to realize what they have.

  5. I was booked on the 7:30 trip out of VH, and got a call at 6:35 to try to make the 7 am boat. That didn’t work, so I was stuck in VH until 9:30. I don’t understand why cars that are stranded due to cancelled ferries are not first priority on the next boat, instead of stand-by- except that this would mean even more angry passengers?

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