Two years ago, Seastreak LLC took delivery of Seastreak Commodore, a 600-passenger fast ferry, from Gulf Craft of Franklin, La. Designed by Australia-based Incat Crowther, the vessel is the largest of its kind in the United States and was built to meet the burgeoning demand for service in the New York-New Jersey market.
Then COVID-19 arrived and passenger traffic took a nosedive.
The main commuter run for Commodore is between Seastreak headquarters in Atlantic Highlands, N.J., and Manhattan, with seasonal junkets to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The catamaran also deploys for fall foliage cruises up the Hudson River. The pandemic has affected all of these transits.
“Passenger traffic in our New Jersey-NYC market has been the most significantly impacted across our operations,” said Brett Chamberlain, Seastreak’s director of marketing, with numbers in midsummer at roughly 10 percent of pre-pandemic levels. “Our seasonal operations between New Bedford, Mass., and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are faring much better, though still less than pre-COVID.”
Chamberlain said Seastreak has taken a number of steps to address health and safety concerns due to the coronavirus. In addition to reducing vessel capacity to allow for social distancing, the operator requires passengers to wear masks in terminals, while boarding, and when riding and disembarking ferries. Expanded vessel cleaning protocols and touch-free ticketing and boarding procedures are carried out and enforced.
Upon arrival in April 2018, Commodore raised the bar for high-speed ferry design, passenger capacity, equipment, safety, efficiency and comfort. During a morning run from Manhattan to New Jersey shortly after delivery, Capt. Pat Welch gestured to the forward electronics and said, “We have a lot of information in front of us on the console. And there are extensive safety aspects built in.”
The priority at Seastreak was to exceed regulatory requirements and get the best equipment on the market to ensure the safety of the passengers and crew.
“There was a high level of focus on the interior layout and fit-out of the vessel to ensure it would provide a steep challenge to any vessel operating in the region or nation,” said Stewart Wells, project manager at Incat Crowther in Lafayette, La.
Chamberlain said Commodore’s speed, performance and sea-keeping capabilities have exceeded all expectations, so much so that a fraternal twin, yet to be named, is under construction at Midship Marine in Harvey, La.
The new ferry will have the same propulsion package as Commodore, with four MTU 12V4000 M64 diesel engines delivering 1,818 horsepower each. The newbuild will be 7 feet longer than its predecessor and will have a slightly modified bow to dovetail with Seastreak’s Massachusetts piers. •