Woods Hole


The Massachusetts port of Woods Hole harbors an extensive collection of watercraft, most notably fisheries and oceanographic research vessels and the Steamship Authority’s fleet of ferries.

The Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority — known simply as the Steamship Authority (SSA), formed in 1948 — is the prime transporter of people, vehicles and freight from the Cape Cod mainland out to the islands, primarily to Martha’s Vineyard from Woods Hole and Nantucket from Hyannis.

In June, the SSA took delivery of Woods Hole, a 235-by-64-foot single-ended passenger and vehicle ferry designed by Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG) of Seattle, Wash., and constructed by Conrad Shipyard of Morgan City, La. The new vessel is currently operating on the Woods Hole-to-Martha’s Vineyard run but also will be utilized as a relief vessel on the Hyannis-to-Nantucket route.

A few weeks prior to sea trials in early May, Capt. Ed Jackson, the project manager representing the SSA, was planted in the eye of a shipbuilding hurricane at the Conrad yard in Amelia, La. Vendors and shipyard workers were in the stretch, scrambling to complete construction in time for Woods Hole to join the SSA fleet for the summer season.

The 235-foot Woods Hole approaches the dock at Woods Hole, Mass., after a run to Martha’s Vineyard.

After many years as a captain with the SSA, Jackson joined Marine Systems Corp. of Boston, the firm that the authority engaged to oversee construction of Woods Hole. It follows that Jackson, armed with his operational experience, SSA cultural knowledge and contacts, was chosen for the project.

Initially the plan was for Woods Hole to replace Governor, a 250-passenger ferry originally built in 1954 to transit San Diego Bay to Coronado and later employed by Washington State Ferries and the U.S. Coast Guard at Governor’s Island in New York. The SSA acquired Governor and invested extensively in upgrading the vessel. To recoup at least a portion of the expenditure, a new plan took shape.

“Now the plan is to use Woods Hole on the Martha’s Vineyard run during the summer and eventually, in four or five years, phase the Governor out,” Jackson said. Having a reserve boat allows the SSA to dry dock one of its ferries during the busy summer season when there are vacant slots at the shipyards.

Woods Hole has the capacity for 384 passengers and 55 passenger vehicles. “But she was primarily designed as a freight boat to meet the need for more truck capacity,” Jackson said. The new ferry can handle 10 18-wheel tractor-trailers loaded with cargo. The deep load design draft is 10.5 feet based on carriage of 10 100,000-pound tractor-trailers and 384 people.

Capt. Paul Hennessy, right, and mate Bill Frostholm scan the Atlantic from the bridge.

For Conrad, fabrication of the ship’s bulbous bow proved to be a major challenge. “Compound curved plates of half-inch steel with tight curves is nearly a lost art in the U.S. of A,” Jackson said. “Finally, after a nationwide search, a small shop (Foster Fabrication and Oilfield Services LLC) in Theodore, Ala., agreed to take on the job.”

Another challenge, one that proved easy to overcome, was satisfying the SSA crews who had a fondness for the Tees White Gill bow thruster, a British-built “directionally vectorable” (360-degree) bow thruster that was installed in the SSA ferry Martha’s Vineyard in 1993. The shallow water encountered in many of the SSA ports frequently renders conventional bow thrusters inefficient because they are often partially out of the water at a time when they are most needed. The Tees thruster discharges at the bottom, eliminating the problem.

“And in the event of engine failure, the Tees thruster discharge pipe rotates 360 degrees so the boat can make approximately 4 knots using the thruster for propulsion,” Jackson said.

As it happened, Phil Lindgren of Lindgren Associates, representing Tees in North America, told Jackson that there was a Tees thruster available in a warehouse in Baton Rouge, La. “Over several years at WorkBoat (the New Orleans conference), Phil would remind me that Tees had a brand-new, never-been-used thruster just like the one installed on the Martha’s Vineyard that could be had at a good price.”

The bridge is outfitted with a Raytheon Anschutz radar suite, autopilot and gyrocompass, along with Furuno AIS and Transas electronic chart display.

The SSA bought the thruster, shipped it to Tees Components Ltd. in the United Kingdom for servicing and, once back in Louisiana, had the beloved thruster installed in Woods Hole. The thruster is powered by a Caterpillar C18 engine supplied by Louisiana Cat and fitted with a Reintjes gear from Karl Senner.

A nod to tradition goes to the steam whistle located above the pilothouse. It was purchased on eBay and is one of four such whistles on SSA vessels. The Woods Hole whistle was originally fitted on the 226-foot State of Pennsylvania, built in 1923 for the Wilson Line of Wilmington, Del., by the Pusey & Jones Corp.

“The Woods Hole is designed to be the Steamship Authority’s super freight boat first and, when not carrying a full freight load, to serve as a passenger and car ferry,” said Brian King, vice president of engineering and chief engineer at Elliott Bay Design Group.

The SSA required EBDG to design a boat capable of carrying 1 million pounds of tractor-trailer freight within the vessel’s maximum dimensions and conform to the existing dock ramps and fendering arrangements. King explained that the freight requirement and passenger safety requirements dominated every design decision.

Woods Hole’s spacious engine room easily accommodates two MTU 16V 4000 M64 Tier 3 engines, above. The ferry has a service speed of 14.5 knots.

“The Woods Hole has an unusually full hull form for a car ferry, which is necessary to carry the required freight deck load on what is essentially a small platform, dictated by the length and beam limitations,” King said.

The efficiency of the roll-through freight deck for loading tractor-trailers is accomplished with straight lanes free of obstructions such as stanchions and a center island. And the trucks do not have to make turns or back into position.

Because the design focus was dictated by freight first, the passenger aspects were kept simple and functional. To that end, passengers are located on one deck directly above the vehicle deck. King said the windows on the passenger deck are as large as allowable in order to flood the room with natural light, giving the impression of a larger space and providing the best views possible of Nantucket Sound. “I think we were successful,” he said.

“Concern for the operating environment drove many of the design features,” King said. “With the exception of ballast tanks, there are no tanks against the hull.” Controllable-pitch propellers were chosen to dampen propeller wash in shallow-water ports to prevent turbulence and bottom scouring, and the SSA’s concern over maneuverability was alleviated by incorporating special high-lift rudders combined with the Tees thruster. “The vessel can turn in its own length,” King said.

Auxiliary power is provided by three John Deere 6135AFM85 310-kW gensets.

To mitigate noise on and off the vessel and below water, King said all of the engines have critical-grade silencers and are resiliently mounted to minimize stack noise and noise propagated through the hull. Also, the thickness of the sound insulation installed in the machinery spaces and uptakes exceeds requirements.

A tour of Woods Hole in July with Greg Gifford, the port captain, found Capt. Paul Hennessy at the helm on a morning run from Woods Hole to Oak Bluff on Martha’s Vineyard. Hennessy, a hawsepiper who started as an OS on deck 26 years ago, praised Woods Hole’s state-of-the-art equipment, passenger areas and freight capability. “This is the biggest freight boat we have in the fleet,” he said. Then he launched into an explanation of the Tees thruster’s contribution to the ease of docking.

“It’s the best,” he said. “It gives 360-degree rotation and the advantage is that we can quarter with it in any direction we want. When we’re coming into Woods Hole, we use the twin screw to hold the stern into the wind and the Tees thruster to quarter the boat and keep the bow into the wind.”

Below decks, chief engineer Fred Delucca, ensconced in the engine control room, confirmed that the systems operating the vessel were running well, especially considering the kinks and curves that come an engineer’s way while shaking down a new boat. “It’s not even a month old and there have been very few issues,” he said. Commenting on the vast space allotted to each of the machinery areas, he said, “It’s so spacious, I’ve logged a lot fewer bruises after making my rounds.”

Summer passengers on the stern deck look back to the mainland over the wash of Woods Hole’s Hundested controllable-pitch propellers.

The propulsion train driving Woods Hole consists of two MTU 16V 4000 M64 Tier 3 mains, each producing 2,680 hp at 1,800 rpm, with Reintjes gearboxes turning Hundested CP propellers. Three John Deere 310-kW auxiliary generators provide electrical power and a John Deere 200-kW engine is the emergency generator.

There are two 4.5-meter Zodiac MilPro rescue boats, one port and one starboard, on the upper aft deck, each equipped with an Evinrude E-TEC outboard, a jockey seat and control console. The existing 4.3-meter rescue boats in the SSA fleet are open with tiller steering. Gifford approached Zodiac MilPro about building a rescue boat as a demonstration model that he could use when applying to the Coast Guard for deployment on the new ferry. Zodiac agreed to take on the project and the SSA is now replacing all of its rescue boats with the newly modified model.

According to King, the most challenging aspect of the Woods Hole project was the aggressive build schedule in order to deliver the right vessel in time for the summer season. Success was achieved largely because all parties concerned — the SSA, EBDG, Conrad and the Coast Guard — recognized they had a common goal and worked as a team to attain it. The SSA, EBDG and Conrad also contributed a large store of experience in ferry construction.

“The shipyard build process, in particular, reflected that experience,” King said. “There was no notable rework and no wasted effort. Pride of workmanship is evident throughout.”

By Professional Mariner Staff