Photo by Hollis Engley.

The motor semi Islander struck submerged rocks moments after leaving the Oak Bluffs wharf at 9:15 Wednesday morning and began taking on water through five holes ripped in her hull. But the vessel’s captain, Antone Jardin, wrestled the foundering ship back to port, averting a major disaster and possible sinking of the ship.

The cause of the mishap is under investigation by the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety office in Boston, but Coast Guard officials said yesterday it appears that a previously unplotted rock in the channel may have caused the damage. Earlier reports that a key buoy had drifted out of place were discounted by the Coast Guard and Steamship Authority officials.

The boat crashed into the outer dolphins of the Oak Bluffs slip, causing further serious damage to the boat and the pier. One woman was injured by glass from a broken window. No other injuries were reported.

Water filling trio bow compartments lifted the stern rudder out of the water, leaving Captain Jardin without steering as he re-entered the slip.

Work to keep the Islander from sinking in the slip began almost immediately after the 136 passengers left the boat. Scores of volunteers — led by the Island’s fire departments — worked all Wednesday and Thursday with savors to patch the ferry’s hull and take hermit of danger.

At 1:00 a.m. Friday, the Islander left Oak Bluffs under its one power for a dry dock back at the Bethlehem Steel yards in Boston. Capt. Jardin was in command.

With the Islander crippled at Oak Bluffs, the authority was forced to return to Vineyard Haven. John J. McCue, general manager of the Steamship Authority, ordered J.M. Cashman Co., contractors for the Tisbury slip repair, to restore the facility to usable condition. By 5:30, the contractor’s crane and barge were nudged out of the slip.

At 6:50 p.m. Wednesday, the Nantucket arrived in Vineyard Haven, the first boat since the accident. The Nantucket made two round trips from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole Wednesday night before sailing for Nantucket.

Thursday morning, the steamer Naushon was pressed into service and took over the Nantucket mute. The MV Nantucket built work the Vineyard passage until the Uncatena returns from routine maintenance, said Mr. McCue. Steamship Authority officials repeatedly praised the outpouring of help from Vineyard residents who manned pumps, brought collet, and food to the workers on the dock, and maintained patience and calm during the crisis.

I would like to express my thanks to the people on Martha’s Vineyard. There were so many people who were so willing and helpful. They offered every range of help from equipment to sandwiches, and we appreciate it,” said Mr. McCue.

Alfred F. Ferro, the Vineyard’s representative to the authority, said he was “amazed, flabbergasted,” by the way Vineyarders rallied to the authority’s aid:

We got clobbered, but if it wasn’t for that, it was almost worth it to see people come out and work together. There couldn’t have been better organization — the hospital giving food to everyone, the fire departments — they were all unbelievable.

We don’t always agree on the Island, but when we had a crisis, everyone did an amazing job. Without them all we would have been in serious trouble.

This is what the true Vineyard is all about.”

Volunteer firemen used three trucks from Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven and Edgartown, and “all the hard suction line on the Island” to keep the boat from sinking during the 45 minutes between the time it returned to the slip and the time Coast Guard boats reached the scene, Nelson Amaral, chief of the Oak Bluffs volunteer fire department, said.

Robert Gatchell. a Steamship Authority employee who saw the Islander foundering, sounded the first alarm to the Island’s emergency network, and brought the first truck down to the wharf.

At the height of the crisis, around 11 a.m., a dozen portable pumps blasted away inside the vessels cargo deck. Three fire departmen pumper trucks and a pumper truck owned by Araujo Bros., a septic tank plumping service, worked on the pier. The Coast Guard cutter Point Bonita arrived at 11:20 with another, smaller Coast Guard boat and began pumping the hold.

Menwhile, divers began exploring underneath the Islander ti determine the extent of damage. At about 11:30, diver Richard Limber of Vineyard Haven, (who said he had made only one ocean scuba dive in his life before being called by a friend to the scene Wednesday), discovered “five elliptical holes. One about two feet long and eight inches wide, the others about one and a half feet long.”

The punctures ran over the ribs of the watertight bulkheads, Limber said. Ken Fardi appeared on the dock in a wetsuit to relay the findings to the gathered crowd, eager to hear how badly the ship was hurt.

Barry Clifford, a professional. salvage diver, worked almost 24 hours to put a temporary canvas patch over the leaks to stanch the flow of water and let the pumps get ahead of the leakage.

The first divers had used everything they could get their hands on to fill the gashes, Mr. Limber said.

We would say something about mattresses, and someone would bring mattresses. Someone brought some traffic cones to shove in there. You’d say anything and they (volunteers) would throw it at you.”

Also of concern was oil leakage from the bilge pumped over the side. William Marks came from his office at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and acted as the coordinator of the oi containment effort, along with commission staff members William Maravell and Norman Friedman. Mr. Marks and several volunteers laid a 1,000 foot orange oil containment boom around the vessel.

It was unclear whether Captain Jardin or pilot Hanwood Gomes was actually at the wheel when the Islander struck the rocks. Ronald Eastman, operations manager of the authority, said he was not sure, but assumed that Mr. Gomes had the wheel. Captain Jardin piloted the ship after it was crippled.

Captain Jardin was not available for comment throughout the day Wednesday. Mr. Eastman said Captain Jardin “could not make any public statement until the Coast Guard makes its inquiry.”

Mr. Eastman coordinated repair operations on the scene for the boat line, while chief Anderson of the Menemsha Coast Guard station directed Coast Guard efforts during the morning Wednesday.

Mr. Ferro arrived at the scene shortly before 10 a.m., dressed in a blue suit and tie. During the day, Mr. Ferro alternated between touring the Islander’s cargo deck, where the feverish salvage activity went on, and coordinating operations with Mr. McCue in his Woods Hole office.

Lt. Philip L. Smith, of the Coast Guard Marine Safety office, and aides Dennis Layfield and Wes Splettstoessel, arrived from Boston early in the afternoon. Lieutenant Smith would not comment at the scene about the investigation he was conducting.

Rumors and theories about the accident coursed through the crowd gathered on the dock. The most commonly heard explanation for the accident was that a channel marker had drifted off its proper location. But late Wednesday, officials flatly discounted the idea that a misplaced buoy had led the pilot and master of the Islander to misjudge their course.

They had made the entrance and exit three times before that day,” Mr. McCue said Wednesday night. “They were right smack in the channel, the buoy was in the proper location, yet they hit a heck of a good sized rock.

It is intriguing how you would hit it and not have hit it before. The tides have been low,” Mr. McCue added. “The buoy was thought to be out of place. But we took sightings and it was in the proper position. We will have to get the area scanned to see what it is.” He added that a submerged object exists in the Vineyard Haven harbor, “which people hit, but can’t seem to find.”

Mr. Eastman said: “It would be prudent not to run the Nantucket into’

Oak Bluffs until there is a sweep of the area

Damage to the vessel and the wharf could cost the boat line 5150,000 or better, “and that is a hazardous guess,” Mr. McCue said. “The damage to the Islander can’t be assessed totally until we get it into dry dock.”

There are other costs not directly associated with the pier or the Islander. The Vineyard Haven pier reconstruction project, already delayed a week because the contractor, J.M. Cashman, failed to start work on time March 9, will be delayed even further. Mr. McCue said Thursday he hoped service would return to Oak Bluffs on Monday, despite the damage to the slip.

The damage done to the turning dolphin [at Oak Bluffs) was extensive. We are sending a diver down to determine what pilings are broken.” Also, in restarting the Naushon the authority faces an increased fuel expense. The steamer use 31.9 gallons of fuel per mile, five times what the Islander or the Nantucket consume. “Yes, it will cost considerably more,” Mr. Eastman said, “at least two times more to run than the Islander.”

The Naushon is normally laid up in Vineyard Haven until the start of the summer season. A five-man crew travelled to the Vineyard on a chartered boat to work up steam in the vessel all night Wednesday.

The disruptions in service left many stranded on both sides of the water, and emergency measures for delivery of mail and transportation of small numbers of people were taken.

The authority hired the Patriot Too, a Falmouth party boat, to shuttle loads of 40 to 50 passengers to and from the mainland Wednesday.

Howard Leonard, Edgartown’s postmaster, reported that mail from the mainland was either flown in by Air New England or transported to Hyannis and flown via Gull Air.

The authority did a wonderful job. We all worked together and everyone was very cooperative,” Mr. Leonard said. “The authority even paid for flying the mail over.”

The accident, coming in the heat of the controversy over the Tisbury wharf closing, prompted a reaction from two business groups which seized on the mishap as a demonstration of the need for a second Vineyard Haven slip. In a paid advertisement in this issue of the Gazette, the executive committee of the Island chamber of commerce assets: “It is time for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to change its position on the two slip question. . .The accident at Oak Bluffs that put the ferry Islander out of commission this week is a clear demonstration of why the Vineyard

needs a second slip in Vineyard Haven. “One slip isn’t enough in an emergency.”

The Tisbury Business Association, in another advertisement in this issue, calls for a meeting of Island businessmen to discuss the second slip on March 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.

The Tisbury business group also asks residents to urge the commission to accept a second slip.

The commission issued a statement yesterday offering its assistance to the authority to secure funds for emergency assistance. Said Michael Wild, the agency’s executive director: “We have contacted Representative Gerry Studds’s office about assistance, considering the loss of the mainstay of the fleet for an undetermined amount of time.

We are ready to assist [the authority] in any may we can.”

Mr. Wild added that a commission proposal to study improvements in the authority wharf area for storm protection and navigational safety has passed a preliminary hurdle and may bring funds to help increase safety in the accident area.

In a day which brought praise for community effort and understanding, there were some sour moments. At about noon Wednesday a man identified as Maynard Sylvia lost his temper in the Oak Bluffs ticket office when informed of the cancellation of boats, and began yelling at ticket agent Lester Baptiste. Mr. Silvia left angrily after several minutes.

Later in the evening, after the Nantucket had loaded the last car on its first and supposedly only run to Woods Hole at 7 p.m., several distraught travelers stormed into the ticket office demanding passage. They claimed that authority employees had chosen at random the cars to be included on the first voyage to the mainland after the accident, without regard for how long some had waited.

This is ridiculous,” raged Charles Chandlin, one of a group of five executives who gave a presentation at the regional high school Wednesday. “I don’t have a room or even a toothbrush!”

Robert Corr, a ticket agent at Vineyard Haven, fielded complaints wearily, then got on the phone with Woods Hole. After a short conversation, he announced that the Nantucket would make another run to the mainland to carry off the remaining passengers and cars.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, much of the excitement had died down as welders finished putting steel plates into place in the bowels of the Islander’s hold.

The Islander was scheduled to leave early Thursday afternoon, but repair efforts moved more slowly than officials had thought. Mr. Eastman said that leakage in the forward compartment was still a slight problem and was hindering repairs.

Said Mr. Eastman, tired after coordinating operation all day Wednesday (which included dealing with questions from “Channels 4, 5, 6, 7, UPI, Providence Journal, and everybody else”):

I’ve been in more unreal situations.”

The Islander's accident is the worst authority mishap in 20 years. On July 6, 1960, the Nantucket tore a hole in her hull on a ledge in Woods’ Hole. In January, 1972, the steamer Nobska ran aground in fog off Oak Bluffs but sustained no major damage.