Weather conditions on Christmas Eve were already bad and getting worse when the Steamship Authority made the call to cancel its remaining ferries that evening, general manager Robert Davis told the SSA port council on Tuesday.

Mr. Davis was speaking in response to Vineyard Haven port council representative John Cahill, who had asked why the Falmouth-based Patriot Party Boats passenger service was able to boatlift stranded Christmas Eve passengers from Oak Bluffs while SSA ferries were idled.

“The Patriot [ferry] is a different vessel [and] the route that they’re on is different,” Mr. Davis said. The small Falmouth ferry is not licensed by the Steamship Authority because it carries so few passengers, he added.

The SSA is allowed to license larger carriers, including the Island Queen and Hy-Line services, but those boats do not operate in the winter.

On Christmas Eve, “the storm ... lasted a lot longer than people anticipated,” Mr. Davis continued, noting that some SSA captains had surprised him by sailing despite heavy winds that afternoon.

“They were dealing with steady 25 mile per hour winds with gusts of 35 to 40,” he said.

Most sailing decisions are left to the skippers, Mr. Davis said, but the Dec. 24 cancellations eventually came from headquarters after SSA officials conferred with the National Weather Service and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the outlook worsened toward nightfall.

“The winds were forecast to pick up to 40 to 45,” he said.

Port council chair Joe Sollitto, who represents Oak Bluffs, asked whether the SSA’s freight ferries might have been able to make the Christmas Eve run, but Mr. Davis said the M/V Katama was actually among the first boats cancelled.

“We needed to get the weight on it and there [were] no trucks to... keep the vessel down in the water,” he said.

Among other business at Tuesday’s port council meeting, treasurer/comptroller Mark Rozum noted that truck traffic aboard SSA ferries rose more than 4.5 per cent last year compared to 2021. Some of that increase, he said, was likely due to the pandemic-era population increase that occurred when seasonal residents began spending greater amounts of time on the Island, requiring more goods to be shipped here.

Mr. Rozum also noted the return in 2022 of truck-intensive summer events such as the Agricultural Fair and Beach Road Weekend.

Also Tuesday, Mr. Davis was asked what’s next in the quest for an off-Cape freight service contractor after a request for proposals drew no bidders last year. The SSA’s long-range task force should review the RFP, which included extensive input from the Falmouth community, Mr. Davis said.

Once the new freight ferries are in service, he added, it is possible that a contractor may wish to buy one of the older ones — the Katama or the M/V Gay Head — to use for Vineyard service from an off-Cape port.