With a holiday weekend underway, the Steamship Authority was limping back toward regular service following a spate of mechanical problems that have disabled the two main passenger ferries to the Vineyard and prompted widespread frustration from passengers weary of two weeks of travel disruptions.

The ferry Martha’s Vineyard had resumed making trips between Vineyard Haven and Woods Hole Thursday morning after nearly two weeks of being in and out of service because of mechanical issues, then gave a brief scare Saturday evening when a warning light cancelled the 5 p.m. trip from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven, said Marc Hanover, the Vineyard representative on the Steamship Authority board of governors. Technicians were able to fix the issue and the ferry is expected to run as schedule, he said.

Meanwhile the ferry Woods Hole remained at the Steamship Authority’s Fairhaven maintenance facility because of ongoing problems with the ship’s operating system. The Island Home is also in Fairhaven, awaiting redeployment. Neither boat is expected back this weekend.

The Steamship Authority reports that they have been unable to carry the same number of vehicles as had reservations due to the switching around of available boats. "As a result we have had to change more than 50 vehicle reservations to other trips this weekend where space was still available," the website states. All customers are advised to check their status online, the alert states.

Sankaty and Katama freight ferries have held the line in turbulent times. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The SeaStreak fast ferry Whaling City Express, first brought into service when both ferries were sidelined for most of last weekend, was pulled back into service Thursday afternoon to provide high-speed passenger-only service throughout the Easter holiday weekend.

The Katama will be making an additional trip on Sunday night, leaving Woods Hole at 10:45 p.m., and standby lines will be open through the weekend. "But we do not expect that there will be enough open space for standby customers to travel off-Island from Vineyard Haven during Saturday morning or back to the Island from Woods Hole begining late Sunday afternoon," the alert states.

“This whole situation has been horrendous,” Mr, Hanover told the Gazette Thursday. He has called for an independent marine consultant to review the Steamship Authority, specifically operations and communication, so the situation does not happen again. He said the boat line is also working on scheduling a meeting on the Vineyard to meet with customers face to face.

“We’ve lost the confidence of our customers, and the only way to regain that is to run efficiently and consistently,” he said.

Problems have plagued Steamship Authority ferries for nearly two weeks, with the two main passenger ferries repeatedly returning to service after repairs only to be pulled again a short time later.

Freight ferries are reliable but have limited passenger seating. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Timeline of the ferry fiasco

The Martha’s Vineyard, which lost power off East Chop nearly two weeks ago, returned to service Tuesday night after nearly a week at the Steamship Authority Fairhaven facility. It was back out of service from Wednesday morning to Thursday morning.

Steamship Authority general manager Robert A. Davis said Thursday that repairs were done overnight to a circuit breaker in a switchboard on the vessel. Earlier issues originated with generators, he said, and the circuit breaker issue does not appear to be related.

Mr. Davis said all of the issues on the Martha’s Vineyard appear to be tied to a recent $18.5-million midlife refurbishment. The ferry returned to service in early March after work was completed by Senesco Co. in Rhode Island. While there were still some punchlist items to complete at the time it returned to service, Mr. Davis said, the ferry had been cleared by the Coast Guard to return to service.

He said representatives from Senesco, vendors, and Steamship Authority engineering staff have been looking into the systems on board.

Lots of time to catch up on some reading in the ferry lines. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The ferry Woods Hole, a freight/passenger hybrid that is nearly two years old, has also been in and out of service for nearly two weeks, beginning with an incident in which the ferry grounded briefly in Vineyard Haven harbor. The Woods Hole was pulled out of service Tuesday afternoon after returning to service two days earlier. Mr. Davis said the problem is with a control panel and a technician arrived Wednesday and was working on the vessel all day Thursday. Sea trials were also conducted Thursday, he said.

Mr. Davis said an alarm with an error message relating to a propeller was similar to what happened last week on the ferry when there were valves broken.

Technicians are looking into it, he said, and trying to diagnose the system. He said the ferry will return to service once the staff is confident it will be safe.

“We owe it to our customers that the service we’re providing is reliable, and to make sure we don’t keep chasing the issue around,” he said.

Mr. Davis said the issues with the two regular passenger ferries are unrelated and have happened to occur on both ferries at the same time.

Oh, where oh where has the Island Home gone? — Mark Alan Lovewell

He said he has confidence in the steamship crews to identify any issues so the ferries only run when it is safe to do so. In light of the recent spate of mechanical concerns, he said, “I’m sure they were all in a heightened sense of awareness. We provide the captain and his or her crew the ability to be making that call...if they feel it’s not safe conditions we don’t want them operating.”

The freight ferry Sankaty will continue to make runs for the Woods Hole this weekend, he said. The SeaStreak ferry Whaling City Express, which normally provides summer service between New Bedford and the Vineyard, has been pulled from its winter mooring in New Jersey and chartered by the Steamship Authority to provide service until Monday, April 2. With fast ferry trips taking about 20 minutes, the SeaStreak is scheduled to run daily from 6 a.m. through 10 p.m., with trips from Vineyard Haven leaving on the hour and trips from Woods Hole leaving on the half-hour.

“The decision was made to bring that in because we needed to provide a passage for our customers,” Mr. Davis said. He said the boat line will be putting together an estimate of how much the chartered service has cost, but “we erred on the side that we knew that we need to have something here.”

Mr. Davis praised the staff at SeaStreak for being easy to work with and acknowledged that the fast ferry service has been popular with passengers, some of whom have called on the Steamship Authority to provide that service regularly between the Vineyard and Woods Hole.

“Clearly we’re going to have to look at this,” he said. “I know I’ve been down in Woods Hole and in Vineyard Haven and talking with a number of customers. We’ve heard from them they’d like a service like that.”

Ferry Woods Hole is still sidelined in Fairhaven. — Jeanna Shepard

Mr. Davis said the boat line has one fast ferry, which operates seasonally between Hyannis and Nantucket.

“We’d have to balance it in terms of what we are able to do in terms of designing and building a vessel, scheduling and berthing,” he said. He added that passenger tickets for the fast ferry to Nantucket are twice the amount of regular ferry tickets, and that price difference would likely be the same for a Vineyard high speed ferry because of higher operational costs.

Mr. Davis said he has talked to Mr. Hanover about a review of Steamship operations. “I understand that Islanders are relying on us to be able to provide this system, and for those things to be happening on top of one another, we don’t find it to be acceptable ourselves, and I’m sure our customers don’t. So we’ll be looking at how best to prepare a review of what’s been going on and what occurred, what we did right, what we did wrong, and how we can improve.”

A look at the Martha’s Vineyard ferry fleet.

On the Vineyard, patience was wearing thing this week, from passengers who had to cancel off-Island plans to businesses taking a hit from delayed deliveries.

“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 Tuesday night.

The next morning more customers were waiting in line, including Joe Smith of Signature Oyster. He said he had been at the terminal since 5:30 a.m. with a truck full of oysters. “I have refrigerated stuff on here. I can’t just walk away from it,” he said.

Grace Jackson said she would miss a health and wellness class she had paid $250 to take.

“Why do your boats keep breaking

when you charge more money,” she said. “They need to do something.”

Mr. Hanover said he’s been hearing from upset residents. “My cell phone is running out of power,” he said. “Hoteliers, all kinds of people, they’re scared and I totally understand it. They need to understand this is a very unusual circumstance. The Steamship handled it as best they possibly can...these guys deserve credit, Steamship Authority staff, management... none of them have had a day off since this whole thing started.”

But Mr. Hanover said he hoped that an independent review would also look at other issues, too. “Before all this started boats were leaving late and I was upset about that,” he said. “And why different captains cancel more than others, and I want to know why. And we need to figure out a main schedule so in the future, hopefully, we can always have three large boats. I don’t know if that’s possible.”

Mr. Hanover said he was trying to schedule a board of governors meeting on the Vineyard to address customers concerns directly. “The one thing I keep hearing is poor communication. We really need to address that,” he said.

He said he also saw a silver lining. “We need to thank God this didn’t happen in July and August,” he said. “The real key is to see that it does not. Far more safeguards in place. In the event a major boat should go down, we need to be ready.”

Meanwhile the large passenger ferry Island Home has been out of service since early January for scheduled dry-dock maintenance and repairs. An advance schedule had the ferry returning to service March 24. Mr. Davis said that return date was just an estimate and was always subject to change.

Maintenance work for the Island home was done at Senesco, the same place where the Martha’s Vineyard refurbishment was completed, and Mr. Davis said some staff were used for the Martha’s Vineyard that would have worked on the Island Home.

Mr. Davis said the new schedule for the Island Home’s return to service was originally set for this Friday, but during testing and a Coast Guard inspection Thursday the Steamship Authority determined that software for the valve thruster on the Vineyard Haven end of the vessel required an update that either wasn’t done or did not take. “We have to have a technician come back to update that software before the vessel can be cleared,” Mr. Davis said.

He said the boat line would plan to continue running freight ferries Sankaty and Katama in addition to the SeaStreak through the holiday weekend. He said it wasn’t clear when the Island Home would be cleared for service.