Ferries Lead the Way

Thursday, January 24, 2002
There are several quick conclusions you can draw about passenger boat construction in the new millennium. First it is a smaller market than 10 years ago with far fewer boats being built today than a decade ago. Secondly almost all of these vessels are built on the east or west coast. There are virtually no passenger boats being built in the south. Third, the number one vessel type being built is the ferryboat and more specifically the all-passenger ferry that shuttles people at 25 knots or better. In the years between 1987 and 1993 shipyards all over the country were building 600-passenger excursion-dinner boats in great numbers as sightseeing and dining vessels on America’s great rivers, lakes and bays became increasingly popular. More than any other factor, it was this surge in construction that brought boat building out of the doldrums created when the offshore oil industry collapsed in the mid 1980’s. Another uptick in passenger vessel construction shortly followed this boom when six states passed riverboat gaming and 100 or so vessels were built to handle the demand for casino-style gaming on the water.

Casino boat construction for the past three years has slowed to a trickle as no new states passed gaming legislation. Only the replacement of boats with barges are on the order books in the once booming casino boat construction market. Today, vessels to serve the offshore oil industry once again dominate the yards of the southern shipbuilders. The delivery of a passenger vessel to serve any market from a Gulf Coast shipbuilder is a rarity. Many of the nation’s leading naval architects who specialize in excursion/dinner boat designs realize the market shows no immediate signs of improvement. Andy Lebet, vice president of the naval architecture firm of DeJong & Lebet, Jacksonville, Fla. has a crew/supply boat design being built in Florida and looks to other specialized vessel projects in the future. “We are still in the casino boat market engineering large barges to replace boats in Illinois and hope to do this type of work in other states as well.” Lebet said. “The traditional excursion/dinner boat market is soft to say the least,” Lebet added. Tim Graul of Timothy Graul Marine Design of Sturgeon Bay, Wisc. agrees. “Out clients have challenged us to design everything from rowboats to towboats to showboats,” Graul said.

In 2001, fast aluminum catamarans led the way in passenger vessel construction built mainly in and for the commuter markets in the northeast and northwest sections of the country including a lot of ferryboat activity in Alaska. The most popular of these ferry designs is being built by two licensees of INCAT designs of Sydney, Australia. Gladding Hearn Shipbuilding of Somerset, Mass. is the east coast builder and Nichols Brothers Boat Brothers; Whidbey Island, Wash. has the license for the West Coast. Both yards were kept busy building these vessels in 2001 that typically hold 300-400 passenger on two decks in airline type seating.

The outstanding passenger vessels for 2001 is top heavy with ferry vessels as the excursion/dinner boat market remains soft. It appears that ferry boats will remain the prime mover in the passenger vessel construction industry for the foreseeable future as congested highways and shorter over water routes combine to make ferry transportation the logical alternative. There also appears to be future development of passenger/vehicle and passenger only routes on the Great Lakes. Several proposals that would link eastern Wisconsin with western Michigan across Lake Michigan appear to be viable. Other proposals linking the U.S. with Canada across Lake Erie and possibly even Lake Ontario may be viable. One company, Inland Ocean Lines, is proposing a route from Cleveland to Windsor, Ontario Canada to Detroit and return using a catamaran-style vessel that can carry 450 passengers and 87 vehicles at 43 knots using four 7,500 hp Ruston engines coupled to water jets. One segment of the passenger vessel industry that has been dealt a major setback recently is the overnight segment. The sudden bankruptcy of American Classic Voyages (AMCV) has idled seven of the company’s eight overnight vessels. In addition, the bankruptcy has seriously damaged any chance of the development of an American-flagged overnight passenger vessel construction industry. The industry must first” absorb” these vessels back into the overnight passenger vessel fleet. No doubt these vessels will sell at “bargain basement” prices, precluding the construction of new vessels in the next two to three years. You will be able to count on just a couple of fingers of either hand new construction in this market until at least 2005. A complete discussion of the problems facing Title XI financing was discussed in the December 14 issue of Marine News. To keep this list as current as possible we did not include vessels that have been extensively publicized earlier this year. Instead, we have concentrated on passenger vessels delivered in the last six months. They are presented in alphabetical order by builder.

Name: Oral Freeman Type: Passenger/Vehicle Ferry Builder: Alaska Ship & Drydock Owner: Ketchikan Gateway Borough Ferryboats that can carry passengers, vehicles and occasionally freight are very popular in Alaska serving as a vital link between an island and the mainland. In this case, the Oral Freeman serves the Ketchikan Airport located on Gravina Island across Tongass Narrows. The route is one of the shortest and busiest in the State of Alaska. A round trip is 30 minutes. Running time each way is only five minutes with 10-minute periods on each end for loading and unloading. The existing ferry had been on the route for many years and with increasing passenger and vehicle loads, the Alaska DOT opted to build a new vessel. The 116-ft. double-ended ferry was the first vessel built in its entirety at Alaska Ship & Drydock. Kvaerner Masa Marine in Vancouver, B.C, designed the vessel. A pair of Cummins KT-38 MO engines rated at 850 HP drives 70-inch fixed pitch propellers through Twin Disc gears. Cummins Northwest of Seattle supplied the engines and associated equipment. Two 55KW gensets powered by Northern Lights diesels provide ship’s electrical power The vessel, named for a state legislator from Ketchikan, is laid out conventionally with a center island flanked by vehicle parking on both sides. The vessel is open at both ends to expedite vehicle loading and unloading. Auto capacity is 22 cars. The island structure is three levels high with levels one and two dedicated to passenger seating for 147 persons on bench seating. The third level is the pilothouse with forward and aft facing control stations. In this configuration, the vessel needs not turnaround in the short, busy channel. Steering and engine controls and other pilothouse gear are always facing the direction of travel. The vessel was commissioned October 13 and went into service immediately. The Oral Freeman has twin tanks holding 7,908 gallons of fuel, and single tanks of 500 gallons each of potable water and sewage. Fresh water ballast capacity is 5,541 gallons.

Name: Evening Star Type: Excursion Builder: Bay Shipbuilding Owner: Shoreline Sightseeing The City of Chicago has invested millions in its Lake Michigan waterfront, renovating famous areas such as Navy Pier and other landmarks. As a result, tourist visitors to the area have grown dramatically. A beneficiary of this increased visitor interest has been companies such as Shoreline Sightseeing, a company offering excursions, luncheon/dinner cruises, charters and water taxi service. To keep pace with their growing business, Shoreline ordered a 300-passenger vessel from Bay Shipbuilding, up Lake Michigan at Sturgeon Bay Wisc. Called the Evening Star, the 83 x 23 ft. excursion boat is based along with the company’s other vessels at Navy Pier. Designed by Sturgeon Bay naval architect Timothy Graul, the vessel features an enclosed main deck and an open second deck that can be canopied. Tandem Caterpillar 3306 diesels provide propulsion power. They drive Michigan Wheel 34-inch by 28-inch propellers through Twin Disc gears. A pair of Northern Lights 30KW gensets provides electrical power for the vessel. The improved infrastructure along Lake Michigan has been a mixed blessing for Shoreline. More visitors are very much in evident, but so is competition. No less than three other dinner cruise vessels and several tour boats now offer waterborne entertainment. Also in the competitive mix are several excursion/dinner cruise vessels that operate on the nearby Chicago River. As is the case in many large markets, Shoreline concentrates on private charter business. Weddings, corporate meetings, family celebrations and other such charter events are a growing part of the overall business of Shoreline. So is the water taxi business where one and two-day passes help boost sales.

Name: Prince of Wales Type: Passenger/Vehicle Ferry Builder: Dakota Creek Industries Owner: Inter-Island Ferry Authority At the end of 2001, a new passenger/vehicle ferry went into service in Alaska running between Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island. Called the Prince of Wales, the vessel will make one round trip daily between the two points carrying as many as 150 passengers and 30 automobiles or a combination of 10 large freight trailers and cars. This area of Alaska does not enjoy frequent ferry service and the residents of Prince of Wales Island will see a marked increase in service to the mainland, according to the Inter-Island Ferry Authority, owner of the vessel. Dakota Creek Industries, Anacortes, Wash built the 198-foot ferry. Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG) of Seattle designed the Prince of Wales. EBDG also served as the Owners Representative on the project. The vessel was launched in October and delivered in December 2001. A pair of Caterpillar 3512B diesel engines rated at 1,500 hp each supplies propulsion power for the vessel. The engines drive controllable pitch propellers through Reintjes gears. The vessel also has a 200 hp bow thruster to aid in docking and undocking maneuvers. A pair of Caterpillar 3406 gensets producing 250 kW of ship’s power provides electrical power. The two gensets are located in separate engine rooms on the vessel. One genset is located in the main engine room while the second is in an auxiliary engine room. A bulbous bow and rolling chocks help reduce motion and improve passenger comfort. Computer modeling analysis conducted by EBDG optimized the hull form. The vessel can load vehicles from both a side-loading door on the starboard side only and through the stern loading doors. Above the vehicle deck is the passenger deck with inside seating for 157 and outdoor seating for 30.

Name: Harrah’s Casino Joliet Type: Dockside casino Builder: Halter Marine-Port Bienville, Miss. Owner: Harrah’s Casino Harrah’s was the first major Las Vegas casino company to recognize the potential of casino gaming on riverboats. They opened their Chicago area facility on the Des Plaines River in Joliet in 1993. One boat became two vessels and later the standard amenities of a hotel with a variety of restaurants and an entertainment venue were added. Now with dockside gaming legal in Illinois, Harrah’s made a bold step to replace their two riverboats, the Northern Star and the Southern Star with a huge barge based casino measuring 200 x 200 ft. The project started with Halter Marine in Port Bienville, Miss constructing a pair of 200 x 100 x 16 ft. deep. Designed by the naval architect firm of DeJong & Lebet, Jacksonville, Fla., the barges were built of steel except for the main deck which was 10.5-in. of poured concrete. Construction costs were saved by eliminating the main deck steel plate since the concrete deck is required even with a steel deck. The construction and installation scenario was made more difficult because the customer wanted no casino downtime. That meant as one boat was removed from its slip, one of the 200 x 100-ft. barges was put into its place and gaming continued on the boat. When the first barge was ready to be opened, the second boat was closed and the other barge move into its spot while gaming continued on the first barge. A temporary wall was erected between the two barges while finish work continued on the second barge. When the second barge was complete and all final connections made, the wall between the two barges was removed and a 200 x 200 ft. casino with 20-ft. high ceilings was the result. Now Harrah’s has a casino with all of the open space of one of its land based facilities. There is a seamless passage between the hotel and other land based facilities and the floating casino. Harrah’s Joliet was the 21st building/barge casino project for DeJong & Lebet.

Name: Velocity Type: Passenger Ferry Builder: Kvichak Industries Owner: Lake Mead Cruises Kvichak is one of the most active builders of aluminum passenger vessels on the West Coast. In 2001, they build several excursion and ferry boats for customers throughout the west. One such vessel was a 57 x 17-ft. fast catamaran for Lake Meade Cruises. Aptly named Velocity, the vessel speeds along at 30 knots, so it can cover its 130-mile round trip route up Lake Meade and the Colorado River to the edge of the Grand Canyon in six and one-half hours. Powered by a pair of Caterpillar 3196 diesels that develop 660 hp each, the engines are coupled to 28-in., five bladed stainless steel propellers through ZF gears. Morreli & Melvin designed velocity on a displacement hull design. The vessel is U.S. Coast Guard approved for 68 passengers and a crew of three. The vessel features a walk-through windshield, raised pilothouse above the main deck, and a refreshment bar and an aft deck.

Name: Sir Winston Type: Dinner Excursion Builder: Keith Marine Owner: Sir Winston Luxury Yacht Charters The Sir Winston is truly a vessel that is hard to classify. It can carry 325 people as an excursion or dinner vessel and it has 12 staterooms providing overnight accommodations for 24 people. This is the ninth Sir Winston built by owner Winston Knauss. Previous vessels in the series were sold soon after completion and operate as luxury luncheon/dinner vessels. This vessel is unique in the series of nine vessels because of its overnight accommodations. The 120 x 33-ft. vessel has five levels, all-accessible via an elevator. The hull contains passenger and crew staterooms plus engines and other ship’s systems. The main deck holds the galley and a lounge/dining room. The second deck contains more passenger staterooms. These are large 200 sq. ft. spaces, slightly larger than a typical stateroom on Carnival Cruise Lines. Each stateroom features a private bath, king-size bed, central television, central telephone system and large windows. The third deck features an enclosed passenger lounge and a dining area. Deck four is open with a hot tub. DeJong & Lebet, naval architects from Jacksonville, Fla, designed the vessel. Keith Marine, Palatka, Fla. built the vessel. Keith Marine also built Sir Winston #8. Among the interesting and unique features designed into this vessel by DeJong & Lebet is a three point mooring spud system. The spuds allow the vessel to be moored anywhere her 5-ft., 10-in. draft can be accommodated without a dock. She can be moored next to a dock without being tied off and can be moored offshore. A tender is carried to ferry people ashore and a swim platform mounted on the stern allows easy access to the vessel. A pair of Cummins 6CTA diesels rated at 400 hp each propel the vessel via conventional props and shafts through ZF gears. Two 95 KW gensets powered by Cummins 6BTA gensets provide electrical power for ship.

Name: Vallejo Type: Passenger Ferry Rebuilder: Nichols Brothers Owner: Vallejo Bay-Link The San Francisco Bay area was one of the first in the nation to extensively utilize fast ferries to shuttle commuters around the metro area. To date the Vallejo Bay Link commuter system has carried over 800,000 riders. It’s first Incat ferry, Jet Cat Express, built by Gladding Hearn Shipbuilding, Somerset, Mass. has been extensively rebuilt by the other U. S. Incat licensee, Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, Whidbey Island, Wash. The vessel was lengthened by 15 ft. to110 ft., partially to accommodate new Hamilton HM 721 waterjet drives. The vessel was repowered with a pair of Detroit Diesel 12V4000 diesel engines and ZF reduction gears. The vessel, renamed Vallejo, was replated in spots and the wheelhouse was raised and reequipped. The interior was completely replaced with new seats and furnishings. The vessel can now hold 301 passengers. Other items in the refurbishment include new insulation, a new HVAC system and rebuilt Alaska Diesel Electric gensets. The project took six months to complete and the Vallejo went back into service in December.

Name: Cayah Michele Type: Dinner Cruise/ Event Charter Builder: Skipperliner Owner: Fjord Catering & Yacht Charters What’s the most popular excursion/dinner boat design for the past 20 years? An excellent case can be made for that honor going to Island Girl, a vessel whose basic swept-back yacht design has been built by Skipperliner dozens of times and refined with each newbuild. To date, Skipperliner has built 14 vessels named Island Girl. The vessels are build by Skipperliner and operated by Skipperliner-owned Island Girl River Cruises on the Mississippi River at LaCrosse, Wisc. for the summer. At the end of the season, the vessel is sold and another one is built starting the process again. In addition to their numbered vessels, Skipperliner also builds Island Girl-style vessels specifically for operators. For example, Skipperliner delivered the Cayah Michele to Fjord Catering & Yacht Charters, the largest catering operation in Connecticut. This is the third Island Girl vessel Fjord Catering has purchased from Skipperliner and the fourth overall. The Cayah Michele is 117 x 21 ft. and is U.S. Coast Guard certified for 149 passengers plus crew. It is powered by a pair of Caterpillar 3208 diesels rated at 315 each. A pair of Cummins diesels delivers 99 kW each of ship’s electrical power. Fjord Catering uses the vessel mainly for charter work with weddings and other special events being very popular.

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