The Capt. Richard G. Spear is currently under construction and will be added to the Maine State Ferry Service fleet this spring. Credit: Courtesy of Maine State Ferry Service

Update: The timeline for the new ferry to begin operations to Vinalhaven has changed to July 2020.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Maine State Ferry Service will unveil a new $9 million ferry to serve the island of Vinalhaven beginning this summer. It will replace the Capt. Charles Philbrook, which has serviced the route for the past 30 years.

The Capt. Richard G. Spear has been under construction for two years at Washburn and Doughty in East Boothbay and is expected to be completed in July, according to Maine State Ferry Service Manager Mark Higgins. It will join the E. Frank Thompson vessel, which also provides year round service to Vinalhaven, the largest of the six island communities served by Maine State Ferry Service.

The new 160-foot long vessel can accommodate 23 vehicles and 250 passengers, compared with the current ferry which can accommodate up to 17 vehicles and 221 passengers. The vessel was originally expected to be completed in April, but the progress has been delayed.

Once the Capt. Richard G. Spear is incorporated into service, the old ferry will be used as a spare. As a ferry approaches the end of its 30-year lifespan, the ferry service tries to replace it.

“Some of the maintenance costs skyrocket when you get to the end of a boat’s lifespan,” Higgins said. “You kind of get to a point of no return.”

Within the next 10 years the ferry service will be working on a plan to replace the Everett Libby, which services Matinicus island. The vessel is pushing 60, and Higgins said a substantial amount of maintenance has been done on it in recent years.

Maine State Ferry Service recently received a $150,000 federal grant to implement a program to better track preventive maintenance of its fleet. Higgins said this will help keep maintenance costs down.

The next ferry being eyed for replacement is the Capt. Henry E. Lee, which services Swans Island. The ferry service will be sending out a request for proposals on the construction of a new ferry to serve the island this summer.

During a rate-setting process over the past two years, island residents have urged the ferry service to use more efficient propulsion technologies for ferries to keep fiscal and environmental impacts low. Higgins said the Capt. Richard G. Spear was already under construction when the hybrid idea was suggested, but it’s something the ferry service is looking at for the new Swans Island ferry.

“The [ferry] industry is moving in this direction,” Higgins said.

The Maine State Ferry Service, which is part of the Department of Transportation, provides ferry service from the mainland to the islands of Frenchboro, Islesboro, Matinicus, North Haven, Swans Island and Vinalhaven.

The Maine State Ferry Service Advisory Board, which is made up of representatives from each of the islands served by the ferry service, is responsible for naming the ferries. The new ferry is named after Richard G. Spear who served as the Maine State Ferry Service manager for 30 years, from 1959 to 1989.