The Steamship Authority board voted unanimously Tuesday morning to authorize just under $11.3 million for the purchase of two offshore supply vessels from Louisiana. The vessels are to be augmented to suit the SSA’s needs, and will replace the freight ferries Gay Head and Katama, which are approaching the end of their lifespans. SSA general manager Robert Davis said the two vessels, the Lode Star and the Shooting Star, are 240 feet long, though registered at 221 feet long. After the SSA is through converting them, they will be 15 to 20 feet longer, he said. Those conversions, and other costs, will roughly triple the purchase price.
“So when we take this all into account,” Davis said, “the overall cost estimate for the project, including acquisition, broker fees, inspections, conversions, reactivation, design, and engineering, and the Steamship Authority shipyard representatives, along with a 20 percent cost contingency, we come up with a total budget for the project of approximately $32 million.”
Davis said the SSA considered other options before choosing to acquire offshore supply vessels.
He said “a midlife refurbishment” of the Gay Head or the Katama was not desirable due to the age of those ferries. Laying the keel for a “Woods Hole–type” ferry was “a desirable option on many levels,” but funding limitations and a protracted construction timeline sidelined such a prospect. The SSA therefore tapped a marine broker and began looking down South with an eye toward vessels that could operate in the harbors SSA vessels use, Davis said. Such vessels would require “a molded depth of between 14 and 20 feet,” Davis said. Other requirements were that the vessels were under 15 years old, could be converted to the lengths the SSA desired, and were reasonably priced.
“In April of this year, staff, along with a marine surveyor, concentrated our inspections on the Hornbeck Offshore services Lode Star class of vessels,” Davis said. He added that a naval architect provided conceptual plans for these vessels that included “modifications to the stern for a stern ramp that would be capable of matching up with the authority’s existing transfer bridges and fendering systems, a sponson design, concepts for the passenger accommodation spaces, amongst other things.”
Davis estimated the conversion of the vessels at $4 million. Another set of costs would be “reactivation,” which he said would include “main engine overhauls, bow thruster and generator overhauls, installation of a marine activation system slide, various steel replacement and coating estimates, amongst others.”
Davis said he anticipated one of these newly acquired vessels to be ready for service at the beginning of the 2023 summer schedule, “and the second vessel to follow shortly thereafter.”
SSA director of marine operations, Mark Amundsen, said, “There’s some really good value in these boats.”
Amundsen noted the vessels have been kept in freshwater, and that most of the vessels’ equipment has less operating hours than “our newest vessel, the Woods Hole.”
Davis said the vessels will be towed to a place where they can be taken out of the water for further inspection.
Amundsen said that would include “ultrasonic gauging of the hull,” inspection of the rudder, the bow thrusters, and the propeller.
Amundsen also said he expects these vessels will be much more maneuverable, based on their bow thrusters and their controllable pitch propellers.
Port captain Charles Monteiro said he anticipated “a lot more reliable service with these vessels — in all types of weather.”
Vineyard representative Jim Malkin said he was “delighted” the vessels will be sister ships. As sister ships, Davis said, training for one will work as training for the other.
Davis informed the board the SSA had 30 days to rename the vessels. He said staff would poll the board and port council members individually, compile a list, and bring that list back for evaluation at September meetings. Nantucket board member Robert Ranney asked if the public could weigh in on the naming process. SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll said he would come up with something to facilitate public participation — something not as formal as a naming contest.
“I feel fingers on keyboards across the Islands even as we speak,” Driscoll said.
The Pied Piper of Beach Road Weekend
In the wake of failed overtures for ferry diversions from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven to help transport Beach Road Weekend patrons off-Island, the board voted unanimously to allow SSA licensee Cape Islands Transport (d.b.a. Falmouth-Edgartown Ferry Service) to utilize its vessels Pied Piper and Sandpiper to bring folks to Falmouth after the music festival.
Ahead of the vote, SSA general counsel Terence Kenneally said he and Davis had been concerned about how folks would be further transported once they got to Falmouth. However, Kenneally said they were satisfied to learn Beach Road Weekend organizers had put together a “transportation package” that picked folks up in Falmouth by bus and took them to “their various hotels.”
Kenneally also said he and Davis conferred with Falmouth’s interim town manager, Peter Johnson-Staub, who reportedly said the town has no apparent objections, but would have enjoyed more time to mull the logistics.
Concert promoter Adam Epstein first broached the subject with SSA officials in February, but it didn’t reach the full board until July.
The license agreement allows the general manager to approve “an occasional charter trip,” Kenneally said, but he characterized the service for Beach Road Weekend as above and beyond that allowance.
Both Malkin and Tisbury port council member John Cahill expressed support for the special Pied Piper and Sandpiper service.
Falmouth board member Peter Jeffrey said he also supported the special Pied Piper and Sandpiper service. Jeffrey commended Davis and his staff for “so quickly” reaching out to Johnson-Staub and the select board. Jeffrey said the message he received from town hall was that in the future such things should be coordinated “well in advance, not just the week in advance.”
Jeffrey went on to say, “And that’s a lesson to be learned moving forward.”
He added Johnson-Staub “didn’t like being backed into a corner,” but supported the service nonetheless.
Board chair Moira Tierney characterized the prospect of special music festival ferry service under the SSA license as an example of “the Steamship Authority going above and beyond to meet the community’s needs.”
In other business, the board voted to alter a previously approved $217,324 purchase of two new diesel buses. On the recommendation of Alison Fletcher, SSA director of shoreside operations, the board instead unanimously authorized the purchase of two electric buses for the sum of $560,704.
Updated with more information from the meeting.