SSA sails ahead with 5:30 am freight boat

Despite objections from Falmouth rep, schedule approved, with nod toward seeing off-Cape freight port.

The Woods Hole terminal as seen from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Water Street. Woods Hole resident aren't likely to be happy that the SSA is continuing to offer a 5:30 am ferry.

The Steamship Authority will continue to operate a seasonal 5:30 am freight boat out of Woods Hole in 2022, but will also seek bids on companies willing to ship freight to Martha’s Vineyard from New Bedford or some other off-Cape port.

In a 4-1 vote Thursday night, with Falmouth resident Kathryn Wilson opposing it, the SSA board approved the 2022 schedule and the development of a request for proposals for freight service from an off-Cape port.

In asking that the 5:30 am ferry remain, SSA general manager Robert Davis pointed out that the SSA looked at other scheduling options, but those would add to congestion rather than alleviate it. He pointed out that the SSA has tried to listen to Woods Hole residents by only allowing smaller trucks on the early boats, which don’t have the noisy Jake brakes used by tractor-trailers: “By continuing to limit the size of the trucks on [the 5:30 am boat], the authority seeks to minimize the early-morning noise in Woods Hole despite the fact that it limits our operational flexibility for trucks that want to go.”

Wilson suggested removing the 5:30 am freight trip, something her Woods Hole constituents have been pushing for several years, but that was a steep climb considering the weighted votes of Island representatives on the board.

James Malkin, who represents the Vineyard on the board, said the 5:30 freight boats aren’t the “horror that they’re portrayed to be” by Woods Hole residents. He referred to the “relentless campaign” by residents of Woods Hole “that is in some cases insulting to this board and the management of the Steamship Authority. Certainly very bitter, and I’m not going to say slanderous, because that’s a legal term, but a very aggressive posture against the Steamship Authority.”

Malkin said he spent time watching the 5:30 am boat from Vineyard Haven, which is year-round, and described the two ports — Vineyard Haven and Woods Hole — as being historically similar as working waterfronts for commercial fishermen, whaling, and in the case of Woods Hole, a guano factory. 

Malkin said he’s open to the idea of freight service coming from somewhere off-Cape, as well as finding ways to get visitors to the Island with their luggage and without their vehicles. “We’re all looking for a balance of economic growth and character or preservation of values,” Malkin said.

Wilson said she hasn’t felt like the administration and board have heard the concerns of her constituents in the past, though she appreciated Malkin’s comments. “It has taken a long time for Falmouth to be heard in a way that someone like you is listening to, and so there has been an erosion of confidence of whether the Steamship Authority will respond in any way that is measurably different,” she said. 

She said it “breeds this difficulty in communication between the towns,” and urged the SSA to continue with its task force and working groups that are looking at alternatives.

“I’m delighted that we can really be talking seriously about putting RFP out there,” Wilson said.

Robert Jones, who represents Barnstable, pointed out that Hyannis puts up with its share of traffic and noise to accommodate ferries to and from Nantucket.

“It is a mistake to think that nobody has paid attention to Falmouth,” he said in response to Wilson. “If I voted my passions, I would vote against the 5:30 boat. I don’t vote my passions.”

In other business, the board got an update on the $1.4 million overhaul of the MV Martha’s Vineyard, underway at the Thames Shipyard, according to Mark Amundsen, director of marine operations for the SSA. The Martha’s Vineyard is getting a new fuel oil purifier installed, an overhaul to its bow thruster, and, in the only change order thus far, its freight deck will be blasted and recoated, he said.

The board also unanimously approved two additional round-trips per day for P&B bus service. The bus service will now provide one round-trip per day to T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island, and seven round trips to Logan Airport. The board also authorized Davis to change the schedules as he sees fit, with bus companies leasing space to pick up passengers at the terminal.

Davis also reported on the Woods Hole terminal project, which is back in full swing. He said the new canopies (each priced at $2.2 million) were installed with a faulty sealant that caused them to leak. He said they are under warranty, and have been repaired by the contractor. The overall project is $2.8 million over budget, Davis reported.

The board met on Thursday to accommodate Moira Tierney, who represents New Bedford. The meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday.


  1. If you don’t like the noise, it’s a great market to sell,. I live next to the airport, so should I complain about that??

    I watched a new house being built on that same road, how long will it take to complain?

    The costs overrun for the WH project is laughable and all of these costs will come directly on the backs of islanders (MV and NAN)

  2. Gail– I am near the airport most mornings. I could not find a commercial flight either departing or arriving on the Vineyard before 6 am.
    I generally do not hear any planes before that.
    Keep in mind, that the trucks have to be at the terminal by 5 am. And there are lots of them.
    Many of them have air brakes and are very loud.. And in much closer proximity than a plane.
    Keep in mind the ferry first started running the 5:30 freight boat in 2012.
    That was a change that homeowners could not have anticipated.
    People living along roads expect to hear traffic. but I am pretty sure the majority of those people had their houses before 2012. I am also sure they complained to the Steamship back then.
    I would think that you would have every right to complain if British Airways started flying Concords ( the loudest commercial jet ever built) into or out of the Vineyard at 5 am.
    Or for that matter, if Jet Blue and Cape air started a steady stream of flights going out and or landing before 5 am.
    Jet Blue and cape air likely have some clue as to how their flights affect the populations that live near the airport, and they probably care about it..
    But not the Steamship– They could care less what anybody thinks about anything they do.
    What happened to the concept of being a good neighbor ?

  3. If trucks and ferries are limited overnight, won’t that change the delivery schedule to make it difficult for people to do their daytime chores? Or has it been decided people won’t mind coping with trucks on Palmer Avenue during lunch hours?

  4. Perhaps, the good residents of Woods Hole and Falmouth will step up
    and pay for the excess costs of running a freight only operation from New Bedford.
    Who made up the phrase “put up or shut up ” anyways?

  5. I’m thrilled at Mr. Malkin’s push back about the 5:30 ferry. Good for you for taking such a forceful stand on our behalf.

  6. On another note, it would be great if the SSA would consider a 7:30 am boat and a 7:30 pm boat for Island residents only. It has gotten impossible to get off island on short notice…never mind trying to get your kids to and from college at summer beginning and end. Planning a year out for a vacation is one thing…planning a year out for undetermined life events is not possible. preferred reservations are helpful, but by no means a solution to a problem that gets worse every year.

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