Circling the Big apple


The new 165-foot excursion boat Circle Line Manhattan , in the East River, transits the Brooklyn Bridge.

On a crisp March morning, a new vessel — presenting the pleasing lines of boats from a bygone era — slips its moorings. As it does twice a day from Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises at Pier 83 at the foot of 42nd Street, the tour boat eases into the Hudson River.

The 165-foot Circle Line Manhattan is the first of three new vessels joining the Circle Line fleet. It was delivered in September 2008, followed by Circle Line Brooklyn and Circle Line Queens. Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding of Somerset, Mass., built all three vessels.

The sightseeing vessel sails in front of the Statue of Liberty and a Staten Island ferry.

Circle Line, now New York Circle Lines, has been circumnavigating Manhattan Island since 1945. The new vessels are being integrated into, and replacing, the aging fleet of World War II landing craft and 1930s-era U.S. Coast Guard cutters.

Andy Lebet, of DeJong and Lebet in Jacksonville, Fla., was presented with some serious engineering challenges. The vessels had to adhere to a 22.5-foot air draft restriction, addressing the low bridges spanning the Harlem River at the north end of Manhattan. This required a Coast Guard exemption regarding the positioning of the masthead light. Even so, the captains must be conscious of the high spring tides.

Capt. Keith Poissant at the helm, checking in via radio.

Another requirement was to match the freeboard to the existing dock, allowing the loading and unloading of passengers without rebuilding the dock. Lebet also had to keep the vessels under 100 gross tons to qualify for Subchapter K certification. Another challenge — an aesthetic one — was to match the pleasing lines of the older vessels, so familiar to residents and visitors watching from such vantage points as Battery Park and Pier 17.

The new vessels are visually pleasing from shoreside, and pleasing to be on board as well. Specially designed beams allow both the main deck and upper-deck passenger cabins to have an expanse without pillars. The upper cabin also has an atrium-style roof affording great under-bridge views and a flood of natural light. The older boats, with their 25-foot beam, carry 350 to 400 passengers. The new vessels assure that as many as 599 passengers per trip will be much more comfortable riding a 36-foot beam.

Senior deck hand/engineer Harry Fenion with one of the two Cummins KTA38M1 diesel main engines.

“She’s a lot more stable,” said Capt. Keith Poissant. “This one rides like a Cadillac.”

Circle Line Manhattan does 16 knots, propelled by two Cummins KTA38M1 mains and ZF W3350 gears at 4.497:1 ratios, delivering 2,200 hp total. The hotel load is provided by a pair of Cummins 6CTA generators, which also feed a 140-hp electric Wesmar dual prop bow thruster.
“Her maneuverability is 100 times better coming into the slip and on the Harlem River,” said Poissant. “The speed is exceptional. We can make up time if we get stopped at the railroad bridge in Harlem. With the old boats we couldn’t stop at the statue. With this one we can slow down, stop, stay around, and then make up the time.” •

Fenion takes tickets from passengers.
A Cummings KTA38M1 engine is soft-mounted to reduce engine room vibration for passenger and crew comfort. A ZF W3350 gear is in the background.
Passengers taking photos of the Statue of Liberty. The speed of the new vessel allows the captain to idle longer below the statue.
The main deck passenger cabin has folding chairs that can be rearranged or removed for private charters. Large windows provide dramatic views.