Boat Line Unveils Early Plans for New Islander

Gazette Senior Writer

Early concept drawings were unveiled last week for a 250-foot, doubled-ended ferry that will eventually replace the Islander, the dependable and beloved Steamship Authority ferry that has plied the route between Woods Hole and the Vineyard for 52 years.

In a short presentation made during the monthly SSA meeting in Vineyard Haven last week, Carl Walker, who is director of engineering for the boat line, talked about the plan to replace the venerable Islander. Among other things, Mr. Walker showed drawings for both an open deck and closed deck passenger and vehicle ferry.

"Everyone loves the Islander, and this is Carl Walker's presentation, so don't shoot the messenger," the engineer said at the outset, emphasizing that the only work done so far on the design of the ferry has been conceptual.

The Islander is slated for replacement sometime in the next four years at an estimated cost of $22 million.

The ferry has a wheelhouse in each end, eliminating the need for turning around before entering the slip in either port.

When the plans for replacing the Islander were first announced several years ago, SSA engineers recommended that the boat line build a conventional single-ended ferry, and the reaction from the Vineyard community was swift and heated. Boat line managers later changed their position and pledged to build a double-ended boat when the time came.

Now the time is coming.

In his presentation last week, Mr. Walker said a number of factors are important to consider before the design for the new boat can be launched, including the planned routes for the new boat. "Do we want this to be a Woods Hole-Martha's Vineyard boat or do we want this to be a Steamship Authority boat? We have to look at our infrastructure. It's not just building a boat," Mr. Walker said.

He said the plan calls for building an efficient, serviceable, diesel-powered boat that is easy to maintain and fully accessible for people with disabilities. The current concept calls for building a ferry with what amounts to one-and-a-half freight decks, with interior car lifts on the freight deck that can be used to carry extra cars along the sides on the mezzanine level. When not in use, the car lifts can be stowed out of the way, Mr. Walker said.

Mr. Walker said the concept calls for a ferry that has more superstructure than the MV Martha's Vineyard but less than the MV Eagle.

The current plan calls for building a ferry with about the same passenger capacity but much more car capacity than either the Islander or the Martha's Vineyard (the Islander holds about 50 cars and the Martha's Vineyard about 75). The new ferry would hold about 100 cars, Mr. Walker said, with the use of the partial freight deck on the mezzanine level.

The early planning work for the new ferry will include extensive research by engineers, who plan to travel to Washington state, British Columbia, Texas and North Carolina to view other ferries at work, Mr. Walker said.

Vineyard Haven resident Marie Laursen suggested that the boat line board appoint a citizen group made up of Island residents to assist with design ideas for the new ferry.

Built in 1950 at a cost of $687,510, the Islander was designed by architect Eads Johnson. She is 200 feet, six inches long and weighs 1,100 tons. Her engines have been replaced three times in the last half-century. "The new ferry Islander, not beautiful, not even pretty, promises to be a useful craft for the Vineyard," reported the Gazette after her maiden voyage in 1950.

"The hull, the propulsion, the breadth and the purpose of this new ferry were entirely new concepts. . . . The idea would be to build a wide hull that drew little water, stow the passengers in spartan alleyways down the sides, give her as much power as possible and have faith that she could bust her way through almost anything the North Atlantic might throw at her," wrote Tom Dunlop in an expressive history of the ferry published in the Gazette in 1998.

There has been a long-standing love affair between most Vineyard residents and the Islander.

"For generations, Vineyarders and visitors driving down the Woods Hole Road have looked over the crest of the parking lot to see the rounded bow and black spear painted along the side of the Islander and considered themselves already home; at this end, Vineyard Haven harbor without the Islander in her slip looks somehow incomplete," Mr. Dunlop wrote.