Alakai: Hawaii says aloha to fast ferry

Alakai adds a fast-ferry option that hasn’t been available in Hawaii since the Boeing jetfoils. (Photos courtesy of Austal USA)

Alakai, the largest aluminum vessel ever built in the United States, entered service in August as Hawaii’s first high-speed vehicle/passenger ferry. The vessel was built at Austal USA’s expanded shipyard in Mobile, Ala., and the customer was Hawaii Superferry of Honolulu. A second high-speed ferry is under construction for 2009 delivery.

The superferry has been a monumental and locally controversial project because of its cost and environmental impact. Protesters in surfboards, kayaks and canoes blocked Nawiliwili Harbor in Kauai on Aug. 26, its first day of operations, forcing the vessel to turn back to Honolulu, and its operator halted service indefinitely.

The catamaran is similar in design to several vehicle/passenger ferries operating in Europe and built by Austal USA’s parent company, Austal, in Western Australia. The 349-foot high-speed auto, truck and passenger ferry has a 78-foot molded beam with an 11-foot draft. The vessel can hold 866 passengers and crew and 282 cars, or twenty-eight 40-foot trucks with 65 cars.

Alakai, which means “ocean path” in Hawaiian, has four decks — one for passengers, two for vehicles, and a bridge deck for the pilothouse and crew. The second deck can be adjusted using a series of hoistable ramps so lighter cars take up less space, maximizing parking for heavier and taller trucks.

Alakai also offers extensive capacity for autos and trucks (top) and large, comfortable lounges (above). 

Hawaii Superferry and its investors, who include former Navy secretary John F. Lehman, hope Alakai and its sister ferry will revolutionize travel in Hawaii. The first superferry was brought in to offer a three-hour round trip each morning between Honolulu and Maui and a similar afternoon/evening trip six days a week between Honolulu and Kauai.

The plan for the second vessel is to extend service to link Honolulu and the Big Island in a 4.5-hour trip, with a second Honolulu-to-Maui round trip.

Among the main beneficiaries of the new ferry will be commercial shippers, especially producers of milk and other agricultural products, delivery services, exporters and the military. The inter-island transportation of bulk products has always been a problem in Hawaii, adding significantly to their cost. Now tank trucks can carry raw milk from the Big Island to dairy processors in Honolulu and packaged fresh milk can be quickly shipped to the other islands served by the superferry.

An alternative to air

Another benefit of the service will be to reduce the dependence on air travel between the islands. The grounding of all airplanes after 9/11 underlined Hawaii’s needs for inter-island transportation alternatives in a world of terrorist disruptions.

A package of debt and equity financing for the project will exceed $237 million, excluding money for port improvements from the state. The Jones Act prevented the vessels from being built outside the United States, and the federal government put up $180 million in loan guarantees — the last ones issued under the current administration.

Alakai has a top speed of 35 knots, although speeds must be reduced to 25 knots in certain populated and environmentally sensitive areas. Propulsion power is via four MTU 20V 8000 M70 engines rated at 10,996 hp each. Each of the catamaran hulls has two engines, one behind the other, with a slightly offset gear leading to two Kamewa model 125 S11 waterjets. The gearboxes are ZF53000-2.

The vessel also has four 425-kW generators, each powered by a Caterpillar C-18 diesel. Any two of the generators can carry the entire boat electrical load.

“We also purchased an additional MTU 8000 engine and two extra ZF gearboxes, and will have them stored in Hawaii,” said Terry White, executive vice president for operations for Hawaii Superferry. “If we need to change out an engine or gearbox, we will save days, possibly weeks, having them on hand.”

Installation of the huge 49-ton, 20-cylinder engines required an unusual procedure. A 26-by-12-foot hole was cut into the side of the hull and a 6-ton lifting cradle was positioned above on the ferry vehicle deck with a 4,000-pound spreader beam to equalize the four-point lift. A steel tower and rail system then had to “skate” the engines laterally into the hull. The procedure was completed in three weeks, ahead of schedule.

Each hull has two fuel tanks for a total capacity of 56,800 gallons.

Alakai has four decks. The main vehicle deck, for cars and heavier vehicles, is the lowest deck accessible by passengers. Smaller vehicles are directed to the bow of the ship where they turn around and are parked facing aft to allow quick offloading. Trucks back into the deck so they, too, can drive off quickly when the vessel docks.

Flexible flier

The mezzanine deck takes most of the cars on each voyage. The forward part of this deck is fixed, but the aft sections can be raised to allow room for taller vehicles on the main vehicle deck.

One deck up is the passenger deck, with comfortable seats and tables. The tables were included to make it easy for families with children to stay together.

“At the bow is a lounge, and forward of that is an area that overlooks the mezzanine deck that lets air flow to the car decks,” said Doug Thor, project manager for Austal.

To launch Alakai on Jan. 18, Austal USA secured a floating drydock to the sea wall in front of the assembly bay. The ferry was then rolled out onto the drydock, which was towed downriver for float-off.

The large center cabin has large tinted windows, a gift shop and a food service area with café seating. There is a play area for children, a game arcade and several entertainment options, including television and movies. The aft cabin has bar and food service with café seats. Farther aft is an open area to enjoy the view and the fresh ocean air.

The bridge deck, not accessible by passengers, features a state-of-the-art wheelhouse with wing controls port and starboard for docking and undocking. At the bow is an opening the overlooks the forward part of the mezzanine deck — again, so that air can circulate through the ship.

The wheelhouse has an integrated bridge system supplied by Sperry Marine of Charlottesville, Va. The IBS includes a GMDSS communications system and the latest navigation systems, including two Bridgemaster radars, bridge wing consoles, GPS positioning system, a steering stand with autopilot, a central control station and a navigation station. There is also a machinery monitoring and alarm station.

The engine controls and steering system were supplied by Kamewa, supplier of the waterjets. Steering and engine control of a waterjet-powered vessel is simpler than propeller drive. “The ‘buckets’ on the waterjets supply superb directional control and maneuverability,” White said.



Owner/Operator: Hawaii Superferry Inc.
Dimensions: L: 349′ B: 78′
Depth: 30′ (hull)
Designer: Austal Ships Ltd
Builder: Austal USA, Mobile, Ala.
Mission: Inter-island ferry (passengers/vehicles)
Crew size: 26

– Aluminum catamaran, aluminum superstructure
– Speed: 35 knots
– (4) MTU 20V 8000 M70 diesels rated at 10,966 hp each
– (4) ZF-53000-2 gears
– 4) Kamewa 125 S11 waterjets with Kamewa engine control
– (4) Caterpillar C18, each rated at 425 kW
– 866 passengers and 282 cars or 28 40-foot trucks and 65 cars
– Fuel: 56,800 gallons
– Sperry integrated bridge system
– Sperry System 4000 DGPS
– NAVIGAT x HSC Gyro with transmitting magnetic compass
– Dual MX 420 GPS System
– Sperry Voyage Data Recorder
– NAVIGAT III Electromagnetic Speed Log
– R.M. Young anemometer
– NAVIPILOT V HSC autopilot
– SAAB R4 AIS system
– Sperry VMS ECDIS Chart
– Night Navigator Night Vision System
– Sperry ES5100 Echosounder
– Dual RT-5022 VHF radios
– HT-4520 HF/MF radios with telex
– BridgeMaster-E “X” and “S”band radars
– Furuno NAVTEX NX-700 (provides printout of NAV and WX warnings)
– Survey: Germanischer Lloyd

Shoreside improvements

The Hawaii Superferry required $53 million in state-funded port improvements on three islands.

“The adjustments to do this have been considerable, especially at Kahului Harbor, where shoreside operations are already congested,” said Barry Fukunaga, deputy director of the state Department of Transportation. Maui residents in particular have been worried about traffic jams when the ferry comes in.

“Various ferry operational issues are being worked out,” said Terry O’Hall-oran, director of business development for Hawaii Superferry. “Traffic management is a priority for our port staff, and a whales-avoidance policy has been developed in collaboration with whale experts. During whale season, the ferry will alter its course away from the 100-fathom line because humpback whales prefer shallow water,” O’Halloran added.

Other environmental issues involve agricultural inspections to avoid the possibility that drivers might unwittingly carry pests from one island to another. Travelers going from one island to another who have picked up a plant will either have to leave it on the pier or throw it away unless they obtain an agricultural inspection sticker. “The residents and tourists will definitely have a learning curve,” said Lyle Wong of the state Plant Disease Control Division.

For Austal USA, the Hawaii Superferry contract and an increase in major military work has led to a significant expansion of the work force and the addition of two large fabricating buildings so large vessels can be built under a roof. The expansion adds two 135-foot-by-400-foot bays for a combined total covered area of 177,400 square feet. Additional mezzanine launch aprons, 780 feet of new bulkhead and overhead cranes have significantly added to Austal USA’s shipbuilding capability.

Greg Metcalf, Austal USA CEO, said, “I’m glad we are finally able to start repaying the local community for their contribution to our expansion. We have already increased our staff by more than half of the new jobs we agreed to in return for financial assistance with our expansion.”

The main market for high-speed catamaran ferries of this type is the military. Both Austal and Incat of Tasmania have been pursuing contracts on 30 or more of these vessels for the U.S. Army, Marines and Navy. Both companies have leased vessels to all three services. Results of their extended testing have shown good results in their ability to move troops and their equipment with great speed, but they have received no firm commitment.

However, Austal USA has been awarded a contract for the construction of the sea frames of two littoral combat ships for the Navy. The $223 million contract was awarded to prime contractor Bath Iron Works. The 417-foot sea frame represents Austal USA’s largest individual contract.

Austal builds through Austal USA. Incat is a joint venture partner with Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, La. As with the Hawaiian ferries, the vessels will be built in the United States.

By Professional Mariner Staff