Updated Oct. 18
The Steamship Authority sidelined two freight boats Saturday for mechanical issues. The loss of the vessels torpedoed the crossing schedule, and left numerous disgruntled walk-on and vehicle passengers stuck or delayed through Sunday evening.
While she was waiting in a queue of cars at the Vineyard Haven terminal, Linda Shumate told The Times that she began waiting in Oak Bluffs at 11 am with her husband. She and her husband had a 12:20 pm boat out of the Oak Bluffs terminal, she said. They’d come to the Vineyard from Rhode Island for the weekend to celebrate their anniversary. “It has been a mess,” Shumate said.
Nobody came and told her and her husband their boat was canceled, Shumate said. They had to go to the booth to find out.
“The other thing is I never got a text, I never got an email,” Shumate said. “Then they sent a whole 15 of us over here and told us that we were going to get on … What time is it now?”
When told it was 5:53 pm, Shumate responded, “5:53, do you see a ship?”
Shumate said she was very annoyed.
“You know how many times I said I’m going to get on the next boat?” she said. “I must have watched six boats leave. Then they said here comes the big double decker. Oh, they were all excited. [They] said, Oh, we’re going to stage you. Nope, we didn’t make it.”
Shumate said they were staged at various spots in the terminal lot as hours passed. She estimated it would take two hours to get to her home in Narragansett, R.I., once they got aboard, and a gathering her family had in store for her and husband would likely fall through, given that it was a school night and folks had kids.
Shumate said she has been coming to the Vineyard for many, many years, and has considered retiring on the Island, but the events on Sunday may have changed her thinking about that.
The first freight boat to suffer a problem over the weekend was the Katama. Just before noon on Saturday, a deck hatch failed on the Katama. The vessel was subsequently taken out of service.
“The vessel was taken to the authority’s Fairhaven maintenance facility for repair,” SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll said. “The MV Sankaty, which was in standby status at that facility, was then brought into service to run in its place.”
However, the Sankaty suffered a failure of its own Saturday night, at about 8:30 pm.
“One of two main generators on the MV Sankaty lost power during a trip from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole,” Driscoll wrote. “The vessel crew immediately switched to the second generator, and ensured it was operational. The vessel then proceeded to Woods Hole and was then taken out of service.”
With one Woods Hole terminal slip down for construction, the sidelined Sankaty created a disadvantageous musical chairs–style problem for ferries that needed to come across from Vineyard Haven.
“As the MV Governor had already ended its operational day, no slips were available in Woods Hole at that point for a vessel to dock,” Driscoll wrote, “so the MV Governor crew returned to Woods Hole to run service, thus allowing the MV Nantucket and MV Island Home to leave Vineyard Haven.”
The effects of the mechanical issues carried over into Sunday.
“The vessels ran late into Saturday night to complete their scheduled runs, and as such their first trips Sunday were canceled to allow the crews to receive their mandatory rest hours per U.S. Coast Guard regulations,” Driscoll wrote. “Additionally, the MV Island Home had to berth overnight in Vineyard Haven, not Woods Hole, so it could not make its first scheduled trip to the Island.”
In a telephone conversation with The Times Sunday afternoon at about 4:20 pm, Driscoll said repairs had been made to the Sankaty, and the Coast Guard was aboard the ferry to inspect those repairs. In a follow-up message at 5:15 pm, Driscoll told The Times the Sankaty had been cleared for service. Driscoll was unable to provide an update on the Katama. He did say the hatch that failed on the Katama was a watertight hatch, describing it as a “huge safety problem if it doesn’t work.”
While there may be some delays as ferries wait to enter slips, Driscoll said, by now they should be minimal. He said the Island Home was employing its lift decks to accommodate more vehicles, and tractor-towed baggage carts were not being employed in order to offer more vehicle space. Driscoll disagreed with the accusation that no alerts were sent. He said a travel advisory was sent out at 11 pm Saturday night, and alerts were sent out for each cancellation on Sunday.
“Per its policies, the authority is accommodating vehicle reservations on canceled trips on a space-available basis after those customers with reservations are boarded,” Driscoll’s statement noted.
At 5:45 pm on Sunday, the Vineyard Haven terminal was crammed with vehicles. A little after 6 pm the Sankaty pulled into Slip 1 with an empty freight deck. Vehicles were so crowded near the transfer bridge at the slip, the Sankaty couldn’t have been unloaded even if it had carried cars and trucks over from Woods Hole. An announcement was made that the Sankaty would be taking no walk-on passengers, and terminal personnel began to get vehicles aboard. The Governor came into Slip 2 just after the Sankaty, and had to wait to let passengers and vehicles unload, because there was no clear path due to the volume of vehicles at the terminal. However, a path was cleared fairly quickly.
In a message to The Times over the weekend, two passengers recounted their ordeals and the ordeals of others they observed.
“We have been at the terminal since 7 am, because four boats were canceled for unspecified reasons,” Kay Matschullat and Allan Arffa wrote. “We probably won’t get out till at least 5, and that is assuming nothing else goes wrong. They have not given any information on the sequence of events. Apparently boats malfunctioned last night, but no notice was sent to morning passengers about cancellations.”
The two recounted the travails of others. “A woman missed her father’s funeral. Another woman had medication she was trying to get to her husband, who was medevaced out,” they wrote. “They shrugged and said they couldn’t deal with any problems. People with many children have been waiting in the hot sun for seven to eight hours. As of 2 pm, as we write this, people who had reservations on the 6:30 am are still waiting. The [SSA] has done nothing to address the situation. The subsequent scheduled boats have gone, and people with reservations pull up 2 minutes before departure, and get on before people whose boat was canceled and have been waiting eight hours. It is a stunning example of the deep dysfunction of the current [SSA]. At some point [SSA] and Vineyard officials will be accountable. The lack of communication and lack of coordination of response is unacceptable. We have been coming to MV for 40 years, and have never had such an experience or seen people treated with such disdain.”
Later, they wrote to say their crossing, which usually takes about 45 minutes, was an hour and 10 minutes.
At 8:45 pm Sunday, Driscoll told The Times, “All the cars from the canceled trips are now off the Vineyard.”
Driscoll went on to say on Monday that Oak Bluffs remained in operation over the weekend, and the reason people were sent over to Vineyard Haven was “the bigger boats” were there. He also said such things are often done at the discretion of the terminal agents.
As to why folks might not have been notified of cancellations, he said, “If we had your email or your phone number in our database, and if you opted into it,” you received a cancellation alert.
Updated with comments from affected customers. -Ed.