Steamship buys two vessels to convert

Lode Star and Shooting Star to replace Gay Head and Katama.

HOS Lode Star is one of two offshore supply vessels the SSA is acquiring. The new ferries will be named Aquinnah and Monomoy. — Courtesy SSA

Updated 8/17

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.


  1. It sounds like a great opportunity and I’m happy to hear about all of the detailed refurbishments and improvements. It would be a bonus to include a sort of service contract for maintenance and repairs, perhaps as an alternative to where the SSA currently has these things done.

    • Don…Any thoughts on where the large battery charging station will go? Any thoughts on what will charge the charging station(s)? Any idea on how long it will take to charge the vessel(s)? Any thoughts on how many trips the vessel can make before it needs a charge? Any thoughts on how large a battery bank will be required to power the vessel and how large will the back up diesel engine be? Asking for a friend.

  2. Bill — Just for some reference. One of the largest 100 % electric ferries in the world ( Ellen-195 ft with space for 200 passengers and 31 cars.) has a 56 ton, 4.3 mwh battery pack with a range of about 25 miles.(Woods hole to V.H is about 7 ) It has the battery capacity of about 50 tesla model s’s .

    The charger would go right next to the dock and have inductance charging , just like the charging stations for the e busses just under the roadway on church st in Edgartown.

    They can charge a bus in about 5 minutes– The engineers will figure out how to top off the charge in the 30 minutes it takes to load and unload.
    The charging station doesn’t seem to be that large. — see picture in the link above.
    A large quick charging station (or 2) could be in Woods hole, and a smaller, cheaper “trickle charger” could be on the Vineyard to supplement charging capacity during the day and provide a 100% charge overnight
    I suggest flywheel energy storage on the dock as a means to reduce the peak load from the grid.
    As for where the electricity will come from– Well, 50 Tesla’s doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch, but I do notice they are building some rather large wind turbines about 15 miles from here. I think we could tap into some of that.
    One thing for sure, you can tell your friend that none of it will be coming from burning coal.

    I hope Mr. Acker is reading this.

    Yeah, it’s new, complicated and expensive technology, but I feel it is an investment in the future that will benefit us all in ways we don’t even know.
    I hope I have at least scratched the surface about your questions.

    • Don, how many megawatts does it take to charge a boat battery in five minutes.
      Does that much power even come down Woods Hole Road?

      • Albert — did you read what I wrote ? Where did i say you can charge a boat battery in 5 minutes ?
        Read my comment again, please.
        I’m sorry that I can’t compress some complicated concepts into one liners so that it easier to understand. Please , if I am taking the time to do some research and answer someone’s questions at least have the decency to not misquote me .
        I know you like seeing your name in the paper. But have no fear that George will post your comment even if it makes sense.

    • The largest electric ferry hold 200 people and 31 cars? That ain’t gonna work here Don. It might be feasible 10-20 years from now but certainly not now. Another small point, the electricity used to charge the batteries of all these vehicles is being generated by burning fossil fuels(the majority of it anyhow).

    • Thank you Don!! for this clear concise and straight-to-the-core description of the reality of electric ferries – please keep the info coming!
      Now we need to do whatever we need to do to make sure that they realize that no matter what boat they get, it must be able to function all electric.
      And most or all of that electricity can of course be generated by the acres of PV canopies that can be mounted above the entire parking lot – it will look beautiful, like a shining undulating sea.
      Let’s say 2 acres of PV = 43,560 s.ft./acre x 2 = 87,120 s.ft. / 17 s.ft/PV panel = 5125 PV panels x 350 watts/panel = 1,793,647 wattpower, which equals roughly 1800 kW power, which can top off the batteries during the 30 minutes the ferries are docked (Don et al, how much energy will be required for a single crossing?) – and, when no ferry is docking, that massive amount of PVsolar power can be absorbed by the bunkered battery pack located close by.
      And BTW, those 87,120 s.ft.sq.ft of PV panels would generate at least 1,700,000 kWh annually – and that’s enough to provide 18,000 kWh annually to power 306 all-electric homes and their 2 all-electric cars. Imagine that.
      All of this totally real, practical and doable today.
      And I would bet that, if we compare the true 20-year cost of continuing in the current fossil fueled mode v. the scenario I describe above, I betcha the all-electric option would come out costing way less, maybe even way-way less.
      And it would be totally secure, uneffected by world politics and the price of fuel.
      And it would cause no carbon emission (even the making of them will be done with solar power, 100% recycling, and plants for purification, and woodchip/mycelium compost filters to purify wastewater – and they are working hard to find safe substitutes for the current rare-earth mining.)
      And when the Big Long Total Grid Blackout happens (which we all now know is only a matter of when), and our stores of fossil fuels run out soon thereafter, then neither we nor our food or toilet paper or meds will be able to cross the water (except by sail!) – UNLESS we get into independent solar-powered electric mode. Right?
      Keep it coming Don!

  3. Scott–The Gay Head and Katama can each carry 140 passengers and the freight equivalent of 39 cars, while the Sankaty carries 290 passengers and the freight equivalent of 37 cars.

    Yes, some reduced capacity, but we are not talking about buying Ellen — the technology is always getting better. I think if we start the process now, it will take at least 5 years before we actually would have a ferry. While the terminal in W.H is under construction, we should at least build the basis for whatever infrastructure we will need 20 years from now.
    And yes you are correct about the fossil fuel.
    I really like this link I discovered recently :
    It has real time percentages– today, it seems the one coal burning power plant in New England is actually even running. Mr. Acker is happy…
    So coal at .1% and natural gas at 55% . Interesting to watch that one– yesterday N.G was at 60% . That one coal burner is there to supplement peak power demands or when other sources are down for maintenance. One advantage of coal is that it can be easily ramped up or shut down.
    But I digress.
    To your point.
    The current ferries we have all run 100 % on fossil fuel.
    So here’s an interesting point;
    I compared the gas milage , or the equivalency as determined by whoever– not me– of 3 vehicles based on weight — about 5000 lbs.
    I googled for the weight only — 5000 lbs.
    Here are the first 3 that came up.
    Tesla model x– 107 mpg in the city 97 on the highway. 5,307 lbs
    Mercedes gls — 19 city 23 highway 5735 lbs
    Volvo xc90 ——21 city– 30 highway. 5170 lbs
    Ever wonder how that happens ?
    So burn fossil fuels to generate electricity and put it in an electric drive train and gain 500 % fuel efficiency.
    Magic— I’m in.

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