Photo by Mark Alan Lovewell

The Steamship Authority’s newest acquisition is now sailing between Woods Hole and the Island. Tuesday morning, Capt. James Corbett and his crew steered the loaded freight boat M/V Governor through Vineyard Sound and into her slip with confidence.

“The Governor is not the queen of the fleet, but she grows on you,” Captain Corbett said, standing at her helm. “She’s come a long way since we first picked it up in New York, and so far she’s worked out very well for us.”

The Governor’s features stand out alongside other freight boats like the M/V Gay Head and the M/V Katama. Her wheelhouse is in the ship’s center. Both her bow and stern are open. And most of her passengers will sit in a long, narrow room on her port side. Still, the price of the ferry prompted boatline officials to overlook her idiosyncrasies.

Cong. William Delahunt helped the SSA acquire the Governor after he learned of the surplus ship’s availability while serving as co-chairman of the Coast Guard Caucus. The Governor was used between Manhattan and Governor’s Island, N.Y. After she was replaced, she was sold to the Steamship Authority for one dollar.

Admirers of the M/V Islander should take note of the Governor’s double-ended design. She is also equipped with two wheelhouses and the ability to sail in both directions. That design makes landing the boat easier and significantly decreases the time it takes to load and unload vehicles.

Unlike other freight boats, it’s not necessary for vehicles to back onto the Governor. And like the Islander, she is steered straight into a slip rather than turning and backing up in Vineyard Haven harbor. The open bow and stern may prove a poor design for traveling in rough seas, possibly allowing waves to splash over each side, drenching vehicles with spray. Her wake also appears smaller than what’s left by other ferries.

“On a typical summer day, she will be a great boat, but a rough day like today is when she will work her hardest,” said Jim Hocking, captain of the M/V Nantucket.

Another unique feature of the Governor is her two steering functions, a maneuvering mode and normal mode. In the normal mode, the bow propeller pulls, while the stern propeller pushes. The captain can switch into the maneuvering mode, which allows the two propellers to work against each other, improving the Governor’s ability to steer through tight spots.

The Governor also gets its power in a unique fashion. She has a diesel-electric engine unlike any other ship in the SSA fleet. The diesel powers an alternator which then produces electricity. It’s the electricity that actually propels the vessel. While this creates new challenges for the maintenance crews, Captain Corbett pointed out that the electric engines produces a more constant cruising speed, which is quieter and better for the ship.

The Governor is a large boat, measuring 243 feet, nearly 20 feet longer than the M/V Martha’s Vineyard and the M/V Nantucket. While also larger than the Katama, she carries a comparable load of 150 long tons (about 4 semi trucks) or 45 cars.

The Steamship Authority devoted $500,000 to prepare the Governor for the Vineyard run. That work did an exceptional job hiding her age. The freighter was built in 1954 for the San Deigo-Coronado Ferry System, and was then known as the Crown City.

Costing more than one million to construct, the Crown City was the first ferry built entirely on the West Coast in over 20 years. In 1969 the ship was purchased by Washington State Ferries and operated as the Kulshan until 1982, when it was sold to the Coast Guard for use in New York. Now the property of the SSA, the Governor will be used to back up other freight boats while they are being repaired.

The SSA’s Captain Corbett followed the Governor to the Thames Shipyard and Repair Company in New London, Conn., and then to Fall River, overseeing the overhaul of the engine and retrofitting the hull and stern to fit the SSA slips. She was painted and the dank smell of tobacco was removed from the wheelhouse with diligent scrubbing. She was also given rolling chocks, which act like a dorsal fin and improve stability.

The Governor sailed between Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven for the first time on Sunday. On Tuesday, crews met with choppy seas and sleet for the first day of service to the Island. The crew appeared comfortable with the new freighter, only needing to learn her timing, bearings and distances.

“She made a magnificent landing for her first time,” said Captain Hocking, who was at the helm for the Governor’s first Vineyard arrival. “It magnificent simply because she made it.”