Un-seasonal ferry delay: Boat repairs the culprit

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Back in service, the Manhansett is one of North Ferry’s two large boats capable of carrying 20 to 25 vehicles.

If you were headed to Greenport via North Ferry during Wednesday afternoon’s rush hour, you might have experienced moments of déjà vu — memories of what it was like at the height of the summer season before the company purchased two large ferries to join its fleet of smaller boats several years ago.

A driver who waited 45 minutes to board a ferry to Greenport said the backup extended almost to Bridge Street.

The problem, according to general manager Bridg Hunt was that the Manhansett, one of North Ferry’s large crafts, was down for repairs, forcing smaller crafts to try to pick up the slack. The repairs had been planned, but foul weather in the past few weeks resulted in it having to be taken out of service about 3 p.m. Wednesday, to make repairs that would ensure it was ready for the onslaught of visitors expected to start heading to Shelter Island on Memorial Day weekend.

Mr. Hunt was apologetic for the delays, but said the boat is back in service today and the entire fleet is ready for what he hopes will be a busy season.

The first quarter of the year was “horrible,” Mr. Hunt said. The fact that cool and often stormy weather persisted through April added to a downturn in ridership.

“We’re starting to get busy,” Mr. Hunt said, expressing optimism that the spring, summer and early fall months will bode well for North Ferry.

The company told the Suffolk County Legislature two years ago that two factors driving a rate increase request were a program to add larger boats to its fleet  that are more expensive to operate, and a slump in ridership that cut revenues.

Testifying before the county in May 2011, Mr. Hunt said without the increase in rates, the company would be unable to fund itself through to the following spring.

“There is no way we can control the volume of our traffic; it has declined significantly over the past six months, amplifying the impact of rising fuel prices,” Mr. Hunt said. At the time, the company was operating in the red for the third year in a row and had a $25,000 deficit in 2011. It  closed the gap in the past with operational cash flow and a loan from Heights Property Owners Corporation.

The downswing in ridership has continued while operating costs have been exacerbated by Superstorm Sandy, Mr. Hunt said.

“The gas shortage was fatal for us,” he said.

Ferry service was down for 15 hours at the height of the flooding during and in the wake of Sandy, Mr Hunt said. Because of weather conditions and deep flooding at the loading ramps, the ferry was forced to close for 15 hours.

“We are hopeful for having a good season” this summer, Mr. Hunt said.

Editor’s note: This article has been edited since it’s original posting. We regret any errors.