By Larry Pearson
The State of North Carolina has the nation's second largest ferry system. Only the State of Washington's system is larger. Its 23 vessels annually carry 2.5 million passengers and one million vehicles. The ferry system is operated by the Ferry Division of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which employs approximately 380 permanent employees. This number increase to approximately 450 during the summer season. There are four ferry routes on three bodies of water connecting the mainland with the offshore islands of Ocracoke, Hatteras and Notts Islands. Three routes cross the Cape Fear, Neuse and Pamlico Rivers.
The Ferry Division also has a dredge, tugs, fuel barge and its own shipyard located in Manns Harbor. The shipyard maintains all Ferry Division vessels
as well as performing major modifications and refits.
Ferryboats are divided into three classes depending on the types of water in which they operate. The Hatteras Class of 11 vessels is used in the shallow waters and shoals of Hatteras Inlet. The five Sound Class ferries plies the more turbulent waters of Pamlico Sound and the River Class of seven boats are used on more protected river routes.
Over the last 15 years, the State has built many ferries in Gulf Coast Shipyards including Patti Shipyard, Halter Marine, Houma Fabricators, Steiner Shipyard and Orange Shipbuilding.
The state takes a long-term approach in the modernization of its fleet. Most of the renovations take place over the winter months when business is slack. The offshore islands of North Carolina are popular vacation destinations so the entire fleet of ferries is used during the summer.
The Sound Class vessel Silver Lake has just finished a three-phase modernization program, which has stretched over a period of three years. The vessel is 220-ft. long by 48-ft. wide and works from Cedar Island to Ocracoke, a 23-mile stretch of water across Pamlico Sound.
Two years ago the vessel was repowered at the Ferry Division's Manns Harbor shipyard
with a pair of Caterpillar 3508 diesels each rated at 850 hp and the installation of an OmniTruster bowthruster. Last year the vessel was converted from single phase to three-phase power in Norfolk, Va. with the installation of two new Caterpillar 3304-powered gensets, a Caterpillar 3304 emergency generator, new main and emergency switchboards and substantial rewiring.
The most substantial changes in the Silver Lake have taken place in the last seven months. The vessel was brought to Steiner Shipyard, Bayou La Batre, Ala. in October 2001 for a complete rebuilding of the Island section of the boat.
The vessels of the Sound Class were arranged with a long narrow island structure built on the center-line of the vessel. A main deck passenger compartment held passenger accommodations with the pilothouse above on the second deck.
The narrow island structure permit four lanes of traffic to enter the vessel at the bow and exit at the stern in RoRo fashion. While the vehicles enter at the bow and exit at the stern, this is not a double-ended design having separate engine rooms at each end of the vessel as is typical with double-ended ferries.
The Silver Lake has a definite bow and stern with two props under the stern.
The vessel has an engine room near the stern that holds both propulsion engines driving reversing /reduction gears and spinning conventional props. A pair of gensets also occupies this space. The vessel also features a jet-type bowthruster located in a forward compartment in the bow. The bowthruster is driven by a diesel engine.
To rebuild the entire island section of the vessel, Steiner first had to totally remove the existing structure. "As is the case with most of our renovation jobs, we salvage as much of the removed material as possible," said Dan Noe, Quality Assurance Specialist for the Ferry Division. Noe is really the owner's rep for the project on-site for the entire construction process. He has an office in the shipyard and spends most of the workday on the vessel to be sure the specs are met and explained where necessary. Noe has also acted in the same capacity for seven of the newbuilds built in various Gulf Coast shipyards for the past 15 years.
Once the existing superstructure was dismantled and salvageable parts stored for either reinstallation on the vessel or shipment back into inventory in North Carolina, the construction phase began.
The new superstructure will give the ferry an entirely different look. It bridges the vessel from port to starboard on decks two and three, but the total length on the main deck remained about the same.
The new main deck portion of the superstructure retains the long and narrow dimensions of the former superstructure so that the main deck is as clear as possible for vehicles. But instead of it being one long cabin, the superstructure is broken up into four units with passageways between the units, allowing passage port to starboard on the main deck without walking to either end of the superstructure.
The most forward section of the new superstructure contains a set of stairs that go up to the second deck and down to the bow thruster room. The down section of the stairs is off limits to passengers. Section two of the main deck superstructure contains a handicap toilet plus the emergency generator room with a switchboard and a Caterpillar 3304 engine driving a 65 kW generator. This genset, its switchboard, battery chargers and other items were relocated from the old superstructure of the vessel.
Module three of the island structure is dedicated to an elevator that serves the passenger deck above plus a storeroom and a toilet. The last section of the center island has a toilet, engine room access and a set of stairs up to the passenger deck and down to the engine room.
The second deck is entirely new and spans from starboard to port. There is a large passenger cabin plus an open deck so passengers can walk completely around the passenger cabin. There are several shipyard fabricated aluminum bench seats in this area that back up to the exterior walls of the passenger cabin. Seating in the cabin is mostly in two passenger and three passenger seats. "These seats are very luxurious compared to the first seats we installed on our ferries that were removed from school buses," Noe added. At the forward end of the passenger cabin are four small round tables each with four chairs. bringing interior seating in the air conditioned passenger cabin to approximately 100.
The passenger cabin also vending machines, a video arcade, four heads and access to the handicap elevator from the main deck.
At the aft end of the passenger cabin, the structure narrows to be even with the width of the island structure below. This area can be accessed from the main deck below via a set of stairs and contains a self-contained aft steering station.
Atop the passenger level is the entirely new bridge level containing the pilothouse structure and crew berthing and a crew galley aft.
The pilothouse controls are another example of how the State of North Carolina combines new with salvaged equipment.
For example, such mundane items as pilothouse window wipers were removed and are to be shipped back to North Carolina with
the ferry. New pilothouse wipers will be installed. Items such as the engine order telegraph system and the general alarm system were removed and stored for reinstallation on the renovated vessel.
Existing VHF radios were also removed from the vessel, returned to the owner and new Icom units provided. Existing radars were removed and new Furuno unit installed. Newer navigation systems such as GPS were installed on the ferry for the first time. All equipment in the pilothouse and elsewhere on the ship was exposed to this rigorous remove and reinstall or remove and return to the owner regimen. Very little equipment on the vessel was discarded.
The entire vessel was repainted using Ameron Devoe products. Surface prep, shot blasting, application of primers and finish coats was done according to established specs enforced by Noe.
There is another ferry of the Sound Class that will undergo this same type of renovation this fall in the Ferry Division's shipyard at Manns Harbor.
Also the State of North Carolina has signed a contract with Orange Shipbuilding, Orange, Tex. to begin construction of a new double-ended ferry that will operate at Hatteras Inlet.