ROCKLAND, Maine — James MacLeod said he was excited about the newest addition to the Maine State Ferry Service family — a 494-ton addition.
The E. Frank Thompson, the first new ferry in 19 years for the state ferry service, arrived Friday at the terminal in Rockland. The Thompson will serve the Vinalhaven route, replacing the 1968-built Governor Curtis.
The new ferry has been a long time coming, said Ferry Service Manager MacLeod. Talks about the ferry have gone back 12 years.
Construction has taken two years and three months at C&G Boatworks in Mobile, Ala. The Alabama shipyard was the low bidder for the $9.25 million project, MacLeod said.
The vessel, at 154 feet, is larger than the two current ferries that serve Vinalhaven. The E. Frank Thompson can carry 22 motor vehicles and 250 passengers. This compares with the 130-foot length of each the Governor Curtis and the Captain Charles Philbrook which now serve Vinalhaven and each can carry 17 vehicles and about the same number of passengers.
The Philbrook will continue to operate on the same run, while the Governor Curtis will be kept as the primary backup vessel when another ferry is out of service.
The vessels will continue to make three runs a day each to and from Vinalhaven and Rockland.
The Vinalhaven route is 15 miles one way and takes one hour and 15 minutes. Last year, the ferries carried about 150,000 passengers back and forth from Vinalhaven.
The cost of a round-trip ticket from the mainland to Vinalhaven is $17.50 for an adult and $49.50 for a vehicle and driver.
The Margaret Chase Smith, which serves Islesboro and measures 166 feet long, remains the largest state ferry service vessel.
Over the next 10 days to two weeks, the Thompson will be outfitted with supplies. Starting Tuesday, the crews will become familiar with the vessel and begin training on operating it. The U.S. Coast Guard will inspect the vessel and conduct drills with crews before the state is given the final approval to begin running the Thompson on the Vinalhaven route. MacLeod said he expects the ferry to begin carrying passengers by the end of the first week of April.
The current ferries to Vinalhaven carry a crew of four while the ferry service hopes to be able to operate the Thompson with a crew of five, MacLeod said. The Coast Guard will make its determination during its inspection of how many people will be needed to operate the vessel.
The new ferry has a lot more interior seating, and three lanes for vehicles. The Thompson also meets handicapped accessibility requirements with larger bathrooms, a place for wheelchairs to be secured in the seating area and an elevator.
The vessel can hold 6,000 gallons of low-sulfur diesel fuel and is more fuel efficient than the older ferries in the fleet, MacLeod said.
The Thompson can reach about 12 knots (about 13 miles per hour), slightly faster than the Curtis or Philbrook.
The last ferry built for the state ferry service was the Captain Neal Burgess, which began operating in 1993 and serves North Haven.
Vinalhaven Selectman Penny Lazaro said that residents had wanted a newer ferry and a backup vessel with a larger capacity. The arrival of the Thompson will meet those needs, she said. The current backup vessel is the 1960-built Everett Libby at 110-feet.
Vinalhaven has a year-round population of about 1,200 but the number of people on the island can quadruple during the summer.
The Thompson is named after longtime ferry Capt. Edward Frank Thompson of Vinalhaven, who died in 2003.
Thompson’s namesake will be captained by Capts. Peter Drury and Daniel Martin. Each will work one week on and one week off.
The ferry terminal in Rockland serves Vinalhaven, North Haven and Matinicus. The Lincolnville terminal serves Islesboro. The Bass Harbor terminal serves Swan’s Island and Frenchboro.
For information and a complete schedule of all ferry runs, visit the Maine State Ferry Service website at http://www.maine.gov/mdot/msfs/.