With a holiday weekend approaching, the Steamship Authority was scrambling Wednesday to provide reliable service in light of continuing mechanical problems that have disabled the two main passenger ferries to the Vineyard.

Line of cars in the Steamship Authority parking lot Wednesday morning. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The SeaStreak fast ferry Whaling City Express started to provide high-speed passenger-only service on Wednesday afternoon, the Steamship Authority said. The fast ferry will leave Vineyard Haven on the hour and Woods Hole on the half hour and will continue to run through Monday, April 2.

A large number of vehicle reservations have had to be cancelled or changed, the Steamship Authority said. Standby for vehicle traffic has been suspended, except for medical emergencies.

The ferry Martha’s Vineyard suffered more mechanical problems and was pulled from service Wednesday morning, just hours after it had been recommissioned after repairs for other mechanical problems. On Tuesday night the ferry Woods Hole was pulled back out of service, two days after the vessel was cleared to run again following repairs.

On Wednesday afternoon the Steamship Authority said it determined that a breaker in the electric panel of the Martha’s Vineyard needs to be replaced. A new breaker was scheduled to be delivered, installed and tested in time for the ferry to be inspected and undergo sea trials with the Coast Guard on Thursday morning.

The freight ferry Sankaty is running in place of the Woods Hole.

Customers line up outside the Woods Hole after the boat line announced cancellations. — Tom Dunlop

In a press release issued at 9:30 a.m., Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis said a breaker powering the pump on the Martha's Vineyard tripped during start-up for its 6 a.m. run from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole.

“The chief engineer on board the vessel recycled the breaker and was able to get the pump back on line,” the press release said, adding that the ferry had been taken out of service while the situation was under investigation. “At this time, SSA engineering and maintenance department personnel and the manufacturer’s technician are on their way to Vineyard Haven. “

“We deeply regret the inconvenience this may cause, and will provide an update as we get more information,” the press release said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the ferry Woods Hole was abruptly pulled out of service.

Marc Hanover, the Martha’s Vineyard representative to the boat line board of governors, said the Woods Hole has the same continuing mechanical issues that have plagued the ferry for more than a week

“I’m absolutely sick about this,” he told the Gazette Wednesday morning. “We’ve lost the confidence of our customers.” He said the SeaStreak ferry would be back in service until ferries prove to be reliable. "But that doesn’t help people trying to get to work today," he added.

Customers waiting in line at the terminal on Wednesday morning echoed Mr. Hanover’s sentiments. Joe Smith of Signature Oysters had been at the terminal since 5:30 a.m. “I have refrigerated stuff on here. I can’t just walk away from it,” he said.

Gene Johnson was trying to get off-Island for a son in law’s driving test. “You expect people working there to know what they are doing,” he said, referring to technicians in Fairhaven. “There’s no excuse but negligence.”

The ferry Island Home has been out of service for scheduled dry dock maintenance since January and was slated to return to service this week; on Sunday Mr. Hanover said the ferry was tenatively scheduled to return to service Wednesday. As of Wednesday afternoon the ferry was still at the boat line's Fairhaven maintenance facility.

State Sen. Julian Cyr and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes issued a joint statement Wednesday calling for the Steamship Authority to improve communications and be more transparent with customers. The legislators said they would be meeting with Mr. Davis this week to discuss the problems and see if there is anything they can do to help.

“Island residents have a right to a reliable lifeline and the Steamship Authority must figure out the steps needed to get its regular fleet back to service and running smoothly as soon as possible,” Mr. Cyr and Mr. Fernandes said in the statement.

Mr. Davis said that shortly before the 5 p.m. departure Tuesday from Vineyard Haven, an alarm code went off on the Woods Hole’s control panel. The captain did not experience loss of control or loss of power on the vessel, he said. The Coast Guard was notified and the vessel will travel to the Steamship Authority’s Fairhaven maintenance facility with a tug escort so the issue can be investigated, he said.

The Woods Hole has been in and out of service for almost two weeks because of mechanical issues. The ferry was out of service from late Thursday until mid-day Sunday. Mr. Davis said the problem was traced to broken check valves in the ferry’s port propeller shaft.

The ferry Martha’s Vineyard has been out of service since last Tuesday after generator issues, including a power outage aboard the ferry that left passengers stranded for several hours. It had been slated to return to service Wednesday but had been cleared by the Coast Guard and was available Tuesday evening, Mr. Davis said.

The freight ferry Sankaty continued to run Tuesday, with some ferries scheduled for Woods Hole trips waiting to see if they can get aboard the freight vessel.

A crowd of passengers gathered on Tuesday evening at the Vineyard Haven terminal, and patience was wearing thin. Standby passengers had largely left by 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, while others with 5 p.m. Woods Hole reservations waited to see if they could get on a ferry.

“I’ve been coming to the Island since 1970 and I’ve never seen it like this,” John Clock said as he waited in line with his car at the Vineyard Haven terminal.

Grace Jackson, who said she had been in line since 4:30 p.m. said she would miss a health and wellness class that she had paid $250 to take.

“Why do your boats keep breaking down while you charge more money,” she said. “They need to do something.”

Mr. Hanover has called for an independent review of boat line operations and communications after the recent string of mechanical issues.