The ferry Martha’s Vineyard has been pulled for service for repairs, capping a spate of ferry issues for the Steamship Authority including a late-night ferry power loss that left passengers stranded off East Chop for about five hours.

Weather cancellations and mechanical issues with two of the boat line’s main passenger ferries to the Vineyard have left Steamship Authority staff and crew busy and passengers frustrated.

“I don’t remember a period of time where we’ve had this combination of weather issues along with issues with the vessels,” Steamship Authority generator manager Robert Davis told the Gazette Thursday morning, as ferries were cancelled again because of the fourth winter storm in three weeks.

Bridget Tobin discusses situation with passengers in the ferry line. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The Martha’s Vineyard returned to service in early March after an $18.5 million mid-life refurbishment. On Saturday the vessel lost power to the main engines about 15 minutes after it left Vineyard Haven for the 8:30 p.m. trip to Woods Hole.

There were no injuries in the incident. There were 72 passengers, 11 crew members, three food service employees, and 12 cars aboard, according to Mr. Davis, and an emergency generator maintained power to the ferry but was not sufficient to keep heat. Passengers were required to put on life jackets as part of the standard emergency procedure. The ferry dropped anchor to keep from drifting.

The Coast Guard cutter Hammerhead and a response crew from station Woods Hole responded to the scene, as well as tugboats from Tucker Roy Marine Towing and Salvage in New Bedford and Tisbury Towing. The last tugboat arrived at about 1 a.m., and the boat was towed back to Vineyard Haven, arriving shortly before 2 a.m. Passengers disembarked without incident, according to the Steamship Authority, and the boat line arranged hotel lodging for passengers who needed a place to stay overnight.

Mr. Davis told the Gazette Sunday that he came to Vineyard Haven on the 6 a.m. ferry to talk with passengers as they came back to the ferry terminal to head off-Island. He apologized for the inconvenience and praised the crew for their response.

Ferry Martha's Vineyard recently had an $18.5 million mid-life refurbishment. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The Martha’s Vineyard was cleared by the Coast Guard and returned to service Monday morning. By Wednesday it was out of service again after the crew had concerns about a back-up generator. The vessel traveled under its own power to the Steamship Authority maintenance terminal in Fairhaven, accompanied by a tugboat as required by the Coast Guard.

Mr. Davis said the issues aboard the ferry go back to the refurbishment completed in February at Senesco Marine in North Kingstown, R.I. The Martha’s Vineyard, built in 1993 and clocking in at 780,000 miles on the water, was slated for a midlife refurbishment that included a new passenger deck and other interior work as well as mechanical improvements. Two ship service generators were replaced and a third generator added, Mr. Davis said.

According to Mr. Davis a wire on one of the generators came loose and started to arc, which caused that generator to go offline. The other two generators were still operating, Mr. Davis said. An alarm system for a fuel pump aboard the system was deactivated so the crew was not alerted when during the day Saturday the fuel pump wasn’t transferring fuel from a storage tank to a day tank. This caused the engines to run out of fuel, he said.

Mr. Davis said the fuel tank was brought back online and RM Packer ended up supplying a full load of fuel into the day tank during repairs on Sunday. The boat ran again for two days, and during the last trip of the day Tuesday a backup generator switched from operational mode into standby mode.

“The crew, in light of everything that’s been happening, became concerned that there’s a problem,” he said. “It being a new generator and a new switchboard they didn’t realize that’s actually how that was designed to work.” Erring on the side of caution, he said, the crew contacted the Coast Guard.

“At this point we just wanted to make sure we address all these things, make sure we go over all these systems again with the crews,” he said. “There is some new equipment so there is a learning curve.”

After being released by the Coast Guard, ferry was out of service again Wednesday because of backup generator concern. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The vendor that supplied the generators, R.A. Mitchell Co. of New Bedford was on site at the maintenance facility in Fairhaven, he said, and Senesco was also sending representatives. Crew are also working on a list of other tasks that were scheduled to be taken care of in May, some cosmetic. “In the next week here we’ll take care of as much as we can,” Mr. Davis said.

He said the generator is still under warranty but it otherwise wasn’t clear what the cost of the repairs would be. “The focus has been on what service we can provide for customers and what we need to be doing with the vessel itself and get it back as a safe and reliable part of the operating schedule,” he said.

The boat line aims to have the ferry back in service on Tuesday, before traffic picks up for the Easter holiday weekend and April school vacations.

Marc Hanover, the Martha’s Vineyard representative to the Steamship Authority board of governors, said boats that aren’t currently in service are kept on stand-by in Fairhaven. Freight vessels often fill in for out-of-service passenger ferries. The freight ferry Sankaty was pulled into service for the Martha’s Vineyard because it has a higher passenger capacity than the other freight ferries.

The Martha’s Vineyard holds about 50 cars and the Sankaty holds 40, Mr. Davis said, though capacity can vary depending on the size of cars. “Our reservation department has been going through each of the bookings on those trips.” He said if any issues are identified customers are contacted to see if they can move to another trip.

Mr. Davis said the boat line is trying to balance passenger needs with the safety and upkeep of the 10-vessel fleet. “We realize it has an impact on everyone’s travel system. But we also use this opportunity to provide some additional training and familiarization.”

Meanwhile the ferry Woods Hole, the newest ferry in the fleet at two years old and the other main passenger ferry to the Vineyard, was also out of service for a period last week. Last Thursday the Woods Hole briefly ran aground in the shallow water of Vineyard Haven harbor, but docked safely. The next day the captain and pilot noticed a problem with the on-board operating system. The ferry was out of service Friday and Saturday but was cleared by the Coast Guard to return to service.

Mr. Davis said he hopes to have a final determination soon about issues with the operating system, but in the meantime the vessel is running safely.

Mr. Hanover said the spate of problems had been an “unfortunate coincidence,” noting it had been a difficult week for the so-called lifeline to the Islands.

Newer boats have more advanced electronic systems that can be more difficult to repair, he said, like newer cars. But overall “these boats are excellent boats and they’re going to run fine,” he aid.

Mr. Davis said electronic advancements extend from radars to electronic panels controlling things like generators.

“We wouldn’t want to put the boat out there if it’s not safe,” Mr. Davis said. “I understand there’s nostalgia for the Islander and everything...things change and we need to make sure we’re staying abreast of what’s available and making sure we’re able to source parts when we need them and replace them as they go along.”

When the Martha’s Vineyard went in for mid-life servicing at 25 years old, he said, the switchboard, generators, transformers, and other equipment had to be replaced and some was obsolete.

The Steamship Authority has also been going through a period of growth and transition. A large overhaul of the Woods Hole terminal is underway. Construction recently ended on new administrative offices by the Palmer avenue parking lot in Falmouth, and the old Woods Hole terminal was demolished earlier this month to make way for a new terminal and reconfiguration project that is expected to take about five years. A temporary terminal has been built on site.

Mr. Davis is in his first year as general manager, taking over from former general manager Wayne Lamson, who retired last summer after 13 years at the helm.

The boat line is also in the process of creating a new communications director position. The board of governors approved Mr. Davis’s request for the position at a meeting this week; the communications director would be responsible for preparing minutes of meetings, overseeing marketing, and responding to requests from the media and the public.

This week Mr. Davis has been on the front lines of that task, including spending time with passengers and explaining why the ferry doesn’t run when the weather seems fine in one port but conditions are rough on the other side of Vineyard Sound.

“I’ve been trying to get out there as much as I can,” he said. “We’ve been having issues. We’ve been dealing with the weather as well.”

“Just bear with us here, as we’re getting through this,” he added. “We’ll get everything back online the way it should be.”

Mr. Hanover said the Steamship Authority will continue to address maintenance and training.

“Between weather and boats breaking down, it’s been very difficult,” he said. “People’s patience is being tried and I can’t recall being in this situation before. We’re going to get everything fixed and right.”

Landry Harlan and Louisa Hufstader contributed reporting.