New Dry Tortugas ferry is fast, green, comfortable


On a winter’s day, the 70-mile crossing from Key West, Fla., to Dry Tortugas National Park — Sunshine State or not — can be a cool and rough one. The high-speed catamaran ferry Yankee Freedom III is fast and, on a brisk day in January, fast was good.

“With the ride control it’s very comfortable for the passengers,” said Capt. Rick Gauron. At a cruising speed of 28 knots, the new boat makes the crossing in two hours and 15 minutes.

The 111.5-foot Yankee Freedom III, owned by Yankee Fleet of Gloucester, Mass., was built to replace Yankee Freedom II in order to meet updated National Park Service requirements. The new boat is on a 10-year contract as the official — and only — ferry on the Tortugas run. Both vessels were designed by the Australian firm Incat Crowther and built at Gladding-Hearn’s Somerset, Mass., yard.

Yankee Freedom III, equipped with the automatic Vosper/MDI ride control system that dampens pitch and yaw, is powered by a pair of Caterpillar 3512, 1,650 hp, Tier II mains with 2.5:1 twin disc, quick shift gears and Bruntons five-blade 47-inch propellers.

Mustering on a gangway are Gauron, park guide Michael Guyet, mate Jeff Jannausch, mate Tom Mangum, mate Ryan Grandcourt and Capt. Andrew Urquhart.

As expected, the new boat is bright with green features including a vinyl wrap that is lighter than paint, requires less maintenance and is more friendly to water. Other features favored by the Park Service include high-efficiency LED lighting, zero discharge of graywater and blackwater, an onboard oil boom that will circle the hull if a spill occurs, solar-charged emergency batteries and metal-free bottom paint.

The boat, which carries campers and day-tripping snorkelers to the island, also has an SK 400 watermaker that makes 400 gallons of graywater every 24 hours. “It keeps up with the usage, mostly for the snorkelers, that use the showers,” said Gauron.

The 255-passenger ferry is limited by the Park Service to carrying 150 people per trip in order to control the number of visitors to the sensitive habitat. The result is a roomy ride with plenty of Beurteaux seating with tables in the interior lounges on two decks, and exterior seating for 56 on the upper aft deck. Day passengers have four hours ashore on Garden Key. There is a wet bar and the buffet galley serves breakfast and lunch, included in the trip fare.

“We don’t throw caution to the wind,” said Gauron at the port console as Yankee Freedom III approached the Fort Jefferson dock in a stiff wind. “We put an extra line up just in case.”

Capt. Rick Gauron at the controls.

The ferry is docked at its Fort Jefferson berth in the Dry Tortugas.

The passengers soak up the sun on the upper aft deck as the boat departs Fort Jefferson.

One of Yankee Freedom III’s Caterpillar 3512, 1,650-hp Tier II engines.

Park visitors board the ferry at Key West.

The high-speed catamaran design and ride-control system aid stability.


By Professional Mariner Staff