Last summer, we had a number of discussions about the two Island Beach ferries, built in 1937 and 1948, respectively, and the need to replace at least one of them. Today comes news that the 1948 ship, after leaving dry dock in Bridgeport, almost immediately suffered a broken water pump and "had to limp back to the shipyard".
“It’s unfortunate that this had to happen, but when you run boats this old, this stuff does happen,” [Jeff Freidag, supervisor for Marine and Facilities Operations for the town’s Parks and Recreation Department] said.
The mechanical problem with The Islander II comes after repeated interruptions of town ferry service in the 2016 season. The Indian Harbor, the ferry that goes to Island Beach and that was built in 1937, had to be taken out of service several times last year for repairs, cutting down weekend trips to Island Beach by half.
At the time, town officials said the boats were old but sound.
The new town budget, which goes into effect on July 1, includes $50,000 to determine how much a new boat would cost and whether service could be improved with a smaller fleet.
I know Jeff from his previous job as Dock Master at the Riverside Yacht Club and, though I have only seen him occasionally since he accepted his job with the town, I still consider him a personal friend, and know him as an exceptional, highly-qualified expert on all things nautical (Merchant Marine grad, as I recall), but he has no authority to order up a new boat, so he can only point out the obvious. These boats are so old that, when a part breaks and a new one is needed, it must either be custom made, or scavenged from other old junks scattered around the country: either way, it's expensive.
If the town doesn't want to buy a new boat (or even an older boat, but newer than the two presently in service), that's fine with me: we have limited resources, and priorities must be set. But spending $50,000 to determine what a new ferry would cost, and whether we could do with "a smaller fleet"? Come on: we have only two boats in our "fleet", so I assume that means, "can we use one boat, instead of two?"
For just $25,000, I'll call around to a few ship builders around the country and ask them how much a new ferry would cost, and I'll throw in a solo head-scratching session for free: I'll look at the number of passengers who head for Island Beach, and compare that to the (tiny) number who head for Great Captain's, then recommend we either eliminate service to Great Captains, which needs a shallower-draft boat than the 1937 boat used to serve Island Beach, or scrap both boats for a newer, shallow-draft model that can land at both bits of rock. Hell, for that same $25,000, I'm even willing to ask those ship builders how much two boats would cost, and the RTM can decide how they want to spend our money: one new boat, two, or none.