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To and From NY/NJ and Martha’s Vineyard-Step Aboard Seastreak

September 1, 2011

Seastreak heads up NY's East River bound for Martha's Vineyard

We’ve received several emails from readers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut about a relatively new fast ferry service that allows them to weekend on boats kept in Martha’s Vineyard, MA.  The Vineyard has always been a favored destination for boaters. Now, those wishing to leave a boat on the Vineyard can extend their island vacation long after their usual departure. The ferry also adds the option of inviting guests from the NJ/New York City area for weekend boating in paradise.

The ferry service is operated by Seastreak, a company known formally as New England Fast Ferry, located in New Bedford, MA. Seastreak’s Massachusetts connections have, to the benefit of boaters, resulted this connection between NJ/Manhattan and Martha’s Vineyard.

Capt. Dan has paper charts and Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book ready for cross referencing with electronic data

Seastreak operates four similar vessels, the Seastreak New York, the Seastreak New Jersey, the Seastreak Wall Street, and the Seastreak Highlands. Its Martha’s Vineyard (“MV”) run, the longest fast ferry run on the east coast, departs Highlands, NJ and Manhattan’s East 35th street every Thursday and Friday (3:30 PM from NJ and 4:45 PM from NYC). Passengers disembark at Oak Bluffs, MV at 10 PM. The ferry returns passengers to Manhattan each Sunday, departing MV at 5 PM and returning to NYC and NJ around 10 PM. A round trip ticket costs $220.

The Vessel

During our interview, Captain Dan Park hosted NFTB in the wheelhouse of the Seastreak Wall Street. Each high-speed ferry carries 400 passengers at speeds averaging 35 knots. Coast Guard rules require that the MV run carry two captains and a five-person crew.

The vessel’s four diesel jet drives generate a total of 7500 horsepower. Fuel consumption is 300 gallons per hour. Fuel tank capacity is 2800 gallons. In addition to its four engines, each fast ferry carries two six-cylinder generators. Positioning the jets and their directional “buckets” allows the vessel to maneuver in any direction, including sideways, without the aid of a bow thruster.  According to Capt. Park, emergency stops can be accomplished from full speed in 1.5 boat lengths. Stainless steel impellers power water through each of four-jet tunnels. The tunnels themselves have no moving parts, and no propellers or other appendages are exposed below the waterline. The catamaran’s six feet of draft remains mostly in the water, with some planing, as speed increases. If an object such as a large plank of wood becomes trapped in a jet tunnel, the captain must then bring the ship to a complete stop and back-flush the tunnel to clear it.

Navigation

Situational awareness becomes complicated when traversing a crowded harbor at nearly 40 knots.

From Manhattan the ferry takes passengers up the East River, through Long Island Sound, out the Race, and past Block Island en route to the Vineyard. The captain has access to a variety of navigation aids. In addition to a copy of Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book, a full set of paper charts stands ready for review. A GPS chartplotter with AIS integration is positioned aside two large radar displays. One radar is always set to a distance of three miles, the other at between ¾ and one mile. The VHF radio continuously monitors channels 13 and 16 when not in NY Harbor. When approaching or near the harbor the captain monitors the Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service on Channel 14. During the trip at least two crew, including a captain, are on watch in the wheelhouse.

A significant portion of the trip occurs after dark, when the watch relies on radar and

Watchkeepers rely on two large radar displays aboard Seastreak

AIS to avoid traffic. At speeds of nearly 40 knots this allows less than seven minutes to identify and avoid a potential radar target. The big catamaran reportedly needs to slow to fewer than 20 knots only in seas exceeding 8 feet. During three years of operation the only injuries or damage encountered underway was caused by a wave that broke a front window. The vessel involved was permitted by the Coast Guard to continue its trip after an inspection and emergency repairs.  If weather in excess of ten foot seas or storm conditions occur, Seastreak offers passengers return trips from the island via its standard ferry to New Bedford, with bus service continuing to Manhattan and New Jersey. Cancellations have been rare. Food and drink are available during the trip. Because of the duration of the voyage dogs are not permitted.

Boaters Take Note

Because of the ferry’s speed, and the fact that it travels in fog and after dark, NFTB was interested in the safety record of Seastreak and other fast ferries. An Internet review found that, worldwide, fast ferries have been involved in their share of accidents during docking maneuvers and while at sea. None of these collisions have involved Seastreak. Concern about the increasing size and speed of fast ferries was expressed in January 2011 by a committee of the International Towing Tank Conference (The ITTC is an association of worldwide organizations that have responsibility for the prediction of hydrodynamic performance of ships and marine installations based on the results of physical and numerical modeling). Those interested in the findings are referred to the ITTC’s report entitled “The Specialist Committee on Safety of High Speed Marine Vehicles” at: http://ittc.sname.org/Safety%20of%20HSMV.pdf).

The wheelhouse always monitors channel 16, and additionally either channel 13 or 14 as discussed.

Suffice it to say, boaters on the waters between New York City and Martha’s Vineyard during the hours of operation of the fast ferry should carry radar reflectors, monitor channels 13 and 16, and be prepared to contact the fast ferry’s captain in the event of a potential near crossing.

Conclusion

Seastreak’s fast ferry between NJ/Manhattan and Martha’s Vineyard is a valuable transportation consideration for boaters in the area. It has proven to be reliable and, according to two recent passengers, is “a first class operation” and a “comfortable way to travel”.  Seastreak’s schedule of operation, and any special notices, are available at its website: http://www.Seastreak.com.

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