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Repowered Long Island ferries take on weather, seaweed, The Race

Oct 1, 2013 04:51 PM

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“We use foam pre-filters over the Caterpillar (air) filters. These engines will probably last longer because they are a heavier-duty oil filter system, and there are more fuel filters than we had before,” Moore said. “After 12,000 hours, all we did was change a couple of injectors that went bad.”

The Cross Sound auto ferries can accommodate tourists’ cars and commercial trucks — large and small. The boats regularly have carried fresh Long Island produce to farmers markets and grapes to New England wineries, then gravel for construction contractors on the return trip to New York.

A seafood delivery truck boards the 240-foot car ferry John H. at New London. Cross Sound Ferry’s fleet transports fish and agricultural and quarried goods as well as tourists back and forth between Connecticut and Orient Point, N.Y.

Sea Jet was built in 1989 at Nichols Bros. Boat Builders near Seattle, originally for service to and from California’s Catalina Island. It later operated from Boston to Nantucket, and then returned to Catalina service again before Cross Sound purchased the fast ferry in 1995. The vessel transited the Panama Canal a total of three times as its duties shifted between West Coast and East Coast trade.

As Sea Jet approaches its landing at Orient Point, N.Y., the master retakes the controls from the helmsman. The dock is near the end of a tip of land that faces Block Island Sound to the east in addition to Long Island Sound to its north.

“Orient Point is pretty unique because it’s very exposed,” Spector said. “It’s like a beachhead landing. There’s just a couple of dolphins there. In an easterly wind, you’re basically going to get ocean conditions at the dock.”

Ensuring that his Long Island-bound passengers arrive safely, Spector turns the vessel and inches it astern, taking all precautions until it can be tied up at the berth.

“I back into the dock and the guys get a spring line on,” he said, “and we work in from there with a couple of stern lines just in case something should happen.”

After unloading at Orient Point, the Sea Jet crew prepares to welcome a long queue of New London-bound customers, most of whom plan a day of casino gambling at either Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun. The casinos offer free bus connections from the Thames River ferry terminus.

Shortly after Sea Jet departs Orient Point, the crew encounters one additional problem with operating a ferry on the eastern end of Long Island Sound toward the end of the summer season. The crew apologizes to the passengers for slowing the boat for a few moments. Sea vegetation has accumulated in Sea Jet’s propulsion gear and is inhibiting operation.

A long queue of mostly casino-goers boards Sea Jet.

“Seaweed gets into the impeller and it obstructs the flow. It’s a common end-of-the-year occurrence,” Donovan said. “We simply reverse it and blow it out of there.”

Then Sea Jet is up to cruising speed again, ready for another transit of Plum Gut and The Race.

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