Maine ferry hits ledge in narrow channel while operating in dense fog

A maneuvering error in dense fog led to the grounding of the Maine State Ferry Service car ferry Everett Libby on June 3, shortly after the boat left Carver’s Harbor on Vinalhaven Island, Maine.

Everett Libby ran aground on a ledge near Strawberry Island, in a passage between Carver’s Harbor and West Penobscot Bay known as the Reach. The ferry’s captain turned the vessel eastward to avoid ledges to the northeast of the island, which are marked by Wreck Point Light. In turning to starboard, the stern of the vessel swung outward to port, hitting a submerged ledge on the western margin of the channel.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that visibility at the time was less than a quarter mile in fog. According to ferry service officials, the ferry’s captain described it as one-sixteenth of a mile. Everett Libby draws 9.3 feet of water.

Coast Guard investigator Lt. Mason Wilcox described the grounding as “more of a skidding than dead on the bottom.”

“The vessel never really came to a stop,” he said.

State ferries transiting the Reach ordinarily round the red No. 2 buoy at the mouth of Carver’s Harbor, turning northward to leave the Strawberry Island light to port. Once abreast of the island, ferries turn slightly to the west, leaving a green No. 5 buoy to port before entering the wider part of the channel. Water depths range as low as 14 feet; the channel at its narrowest is less than 200 feet wide.

After verifying that the ferry was not taking on water, the crew returned to the terminal at Carver’s Harbor and offloaded the 28 passengers, who boarded another ferry for the trip to Rockland. The Coast Guard verified that Everett Libby was seaworthy enough to return to the mainland and escorted the vessel to Rockland, where it was eventually hauled at South End Marine.

Damage to Everett Libby included a bent propeller and port rudder, and surface scrapes to the hull. Ferry service officials did not have a cost estimate for repairing the vessel, but said it should return to service in July.

Coast Guard investigators declined to say what might have caused the grounding, citing a pending investigation. Dan McNichol, Rockland port captain for the Maine State Ferry Service, characterized the incident as a handling error.

“He used too much rudder and the stern swung out,” McNichol said. “The boat is very slow to respond to the rudder.”

Built in 1960, the 104-foot Everett Libby currently serves as a relief vessel when primary ferries are unavailable. Governor Curtis, for which Everett Libby was substituting, was scheduled to return to service the day of the grounding and picked up passengers stranded as a result of the accident.

Navigation equipment aboard Everett Libby includes GPS, chart plotter, and dual radar systems. Ferry service officials said the ferry’s captain was conning the vessel while one crewmember monitored the radar and another acted as lookout.

McNichol stressed that there was nothing unusual about the voyage on June 3. The factors that contributed to the accident could have befallen any other captain on any other vessel, he said.

“I made two trips through there with the Governor Curtis later that day, and I thought if the captain of Everett Libby •can go aground, I certainly can, and I better keep my eyes open.'”

Alden Robinson

By Professional Mariner Staff