The new Steamship Authority ferry Woods Hole was christened late last week at the Louisiana shipyard where she was built, and has begun testing of its systems and seaworthiness before the voyage to the home port that she takes her name from. The new ferry, designed as a hybrid vessel that can carry freight, passengers and cars, is scheduled to begin service from Woods Hole to Oak Bluffs on June 17.

The vessel was christened on May 20 at Conrad Shipyard in Morgan City, La. Members of the Conrad family, including chairman John Conrad, his wife Mary Lou and vice-president Dan Conrad, led a traditional ceremony that included smashing a bottle of Champagne against the brand new hull.

Next stop, Woods Hole. New ferry soon begins voyage from Louisiana. — Courtesy Steamship Authority

There was a brief ceremony on the deck of the ferry, SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said this week. Falmouth governor Elizabeth Gladfelter and Carl Walker, boatd director of maintenance and engineering, were also on hand for the christening.

Ms. Gladfelter did the christening honors, with Champagne already rigged on a rope that swung from a small platform down toward the hull. “It was very exciting,” she said. “I never would have thought that I got to christen a boat. After I said a few words, I let rip. It went the whole way and smashed and everybody cheered.” In her remarks, Ms. Gladfelter offered a short blessing : “Give them safe passage to Woods Hole and for many decades to come, and grant her fair winds, calm seas, favorable tides and good fortune.”

At a cost of $40.4 million, it will be the most expensive ferry the Steamship Authority has ever built. SSA governors and staff say it will also be the most versatile vessel in the fleet.

The 235-foot Woods Hole is capable of transporting 385 passengers across Vineyard Sound at a speed of 14.5 knots (16.7 miles per hour).

Ten full tractor trailer rigs can fit on the freight deck, which is covered forward but open aft. The vessel can also handle 55 passenger vehicles, or some combination of both.

Dock trials got underway this week. While still moored in a slip, shipyard personnel tested each of the vessel’s systems, including electronics, ventilation, freight deck doors, rescue boats and safety systems.

First look at the deck of the new ferry. — Courtesy Steamship Authority

“They want to put their equipment through the paces,” Mr. Lamson said. “The reports I got when they started up the main engines, is that they were very quiet, with no vibration.”

Sea trials got underway later in the week, when the Woods Hole navigated from the Conrad Shipyard, which is about 20 miles inland, south to the Gulf of Mexico.

Under the watchful eye of the U.S. Coast Guard, the new ferry is being tested for all critical operational systems and seaworthiness.

The Woods Hole will begin the voyage north as early as Saturday, if sea trials are complete and the Coast Guard issues a certificate of inspection.

The ferry will operate nonstop on the voyage of more than 2,200 miles. Beginning in the Gulf of Mexico, the vessel will round the tip of Florida, and steer up the East Coast to the Steamship Authority facility in Fairhaven.

In the past, ferries making a similar voyage stopped twice at East Coast ports to take on fuel, but the Woods Hole will operate around the clock. She will carry additional fuel aboard in portable tanks, enough to make the entire voyage.

Mr. Lamson said a boat line captain and an engineer will be aboard for the voyage, but the ferry will be under the command of Conrad Shipyard delivery captains.

“It’s really Conrad’s vessel until they deliver it to Fairhaven,” Mr. Lamson said. “The shipyard will have their own captain who will be in charge of the vessel and crew. There are something like 15 crew members for the various watches, 15 of theirs, and two of ours.”

The trip is expected to take about six days, but any number of factors could delay the arrival, including weather. On Thursday, the National Weather Service was monitoring a tropical disturbance off the Bahamas, which has a 50 per cent chance of developing into an early season hurricane, according to meteorologists. The weather service advised marine interests from Georgia to North Carolina to keep a close watch on the storm.

Construction of the Woods Hole is on budget, according to Mr. Lamson, but a little late. Under the original contract, the ferry was supposed to be delivered on April 26. The Steamship Authority is negotiating with the contractor to settle any monetary penalties for the late delivery. The contract calls for the shipyard to credit the authority $14,000 for every day past the contracted delivery date, unless the delays were caused by vendors or special equipment specified by the Steamship Authority.

The Woods Hole was originally planned to replace the Governor, which was commissioned in 1954 and bought from the Coast Guard for a dollar some years ago. The Governor is the oldest ferry in the fleet. Already sold as surplus three times, the Steamship Authority decided last winter to spare the Governer from a scrapyard once again, and completed more than $1 million of repairs and improvements over the winter. The Governor will now serve as a spare boat, filling in if another ferry is unexpectedly taken out of service.

Photos of the Woods Hole under construction.