The Steamship Authority’s newest all-purpose vessel, the MV Gay Head, sailed into Vineyard waters early this month with none of the hype or fanfare typical of the arrival of a new passenger vessel.

It has not been christened with its new name and plans to hold an open house on board have been put off. But to the standby passengers it will carry in years to come and to those who sail the vessel, its virtues will not be underestimated.

“A lot of the time these ships go unnoticed but they’re real workhorses,” said Capt. Edward B. Jackson, who currently pilots the Gay Head.

The boat line purchased the 185-foot former oil rig service vessel, then named the Golden Mist, in February for $600,000. The Gay Head joins her nearly identical sister ship, the MV Katama, to complete the authority’s tandem of all-purpose vessels.

“It’s difficult for most people to tell the Gay Head and the Katama apart at first glance because the differences are subtle,” Captain Jackson said. “If you can’t tell from a distance, the Gay Head has a taller mast. Before the Katama came here it had tall masts too but they were changed during conversion.”

The open-deck Gay Head has a 32-vehicle, 150-passenger carrying capacity.

Despite being designed primarily for use in the Gulf of Mexico, the hull design of the Gay Head enables it to function in Vineyard waters with little if any effect on its handling.

“I used to work oil boats and these vessels are like little tankers,” Captain Jackson said. “The main difference is that in the Gulf they would be carrying heavier cargo loads and running deeper in the water. It probably had a ten and a half-foot draft. Here its more like eight to eight and a half feet.”

The vessel begins her Vineyard service running back-up to the MV Islander.

Captain Jackson said: “The Gay Head does the job well. It is almost exactly the same speed as the Islander, I’d say it’s an excellent back-up. It allows us to maintain a fairly constant schedule.”

Steamship employees who have run both the Katama and Gay Head said the handling of vessels is nearly identical.

“I get the feeling that the handling is essentially the same,” Captain Jackson said. “They have the same designer and the same power plant and they were laid out in the same manner.”

The Gay Head was built in 1982 and the Katama in 1981, both for oil work in the Gulf. Their forerunner, the slower, less stable and now retired 149-foot MV Auriga, was constructed in 1965 and represented the SSA’s introduction to all-purpose vessels.

“The Auriga was the first generation vessel of its type,” Captain Jackson said. “Since it was built improvements to the design have been made partly because oil exploration has been taking place in deeper waters and that requires faster and more stable ships. Now they are using even larger ships than these.”

The Gay Head may be the last former oil vessel the authority is able to pick up at a bargain price because oil companies have all but purged the small boats in their fleets in favor of larger, more economical ships, Captain Jackson said.

“The authority got a bargain on the Gay Head,” he said. “Almost all of the quality boats the companies were selling off have been purchased and the market for this type of ship has become tight. I would be surprised if they could get the Katama for the same price they paid for it.”