R.I. Fast Ferry’s Martha’s Vineyard service canceled this year

RHODE ISLAND FAST FERRY's service from Quonset Point to Martha's Vineyard has been cancelled until next year. / COURTESY RHODE ISLAND FAST FERRY
RHODE ISLAND FAST FERRY's service from Quonset Point to Martha's Vineyard has been canceled until next year. / COURTESY RHODE ISLAND FAST FERRY

NORTH KINGSTOWN Due to health and safety concerns there will be no fast ferry from Quonset Point to Martha’s Vineyard this year.

Charlie Donadio, Jr., owner of Rhode Island Fast Ferry, said it was a tough decision to cancel the 2020 summer season, the first time in its 17-year existence. Donadio said the service was scheduled to start operations on June 22 or face cancellation.

“There was a lot of thought that went into the decision, but there would have been a lot of stress in operating the service this season,” said Donadio. “It would have been our 18th season in a row operating from Quonset to the Vineyard.

“Our advanced bookings were off by 91% this year,” added Donadio. He cited health and safety and financial concerns as reasons for making the decision to cancel, as well as the lack of a coronavirus vaccine. “That is commonplace right now with what is going on with other ferry services. They’re experiencing a drastic reduction in ridership.”

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“I run a private company,” he said. “I do not get state and federal funding assistance. So, we would have no way of recouping our losses if ridership is off. It could put the company in a bad situation. This way we control our own destiny.”

A main issue the company was facing, he said, is that his fast ferries would not provide enough room to make operating worthwhile during the pandemic. “We have airline style seating. So, to achieve social distancing on the boat our capacity would go way down, which doesn’t make it economically feasible to operate.”

The fast ferry vessels have a capacity of 150 passengers for the one hour and 40- minute trip to Martha’s Vineyard.

The company announced on its website that, “The layout of high-speed ferries is such that, even with socially distant seating arrangements and substantially reduced capacity, close interaction with other passengers and our crew is unavoidable. For the safety of our extended family and yours, we believe this is the right decision. Our year-round staff is still employed, and we will be keeping busy through 2020 making major improvements to our vessels and facility. We will be better than ever in 2021 and look forward to welcoming you back on-board.”

“We have a core year-round staff of 10 people, including my wife and I,” said Donadio. “We have about 30 to 35 seasonal staff every year, some that have been working with us for a long time. So, there is some disappointment but there is also understanding [among staff].”

Rhode Island Fast Ferry also canceled its local lighthouse and sightseeing cruises, a service it has been providing for 15 years.

“I mentally prepared for this situation,” said Donadio, noting that he has received favorable messages from his ridership regarding the cancellation. “We have other aspects of our business that keep us busy. We have vessels in San Francisco and Puerto Rico. We also have a crew transfer vessel that services the Block Island Wind Farm, and we are building a new vessel at Blount Boats in Warren to service the Siemens Gamesa offshore wind farm located off the coast of Virginia. So, this pause allows us to focus on other aspects of our business.”

Donadio said his new crew transfer vessel will be twice the size of the Atlantic Pioneer, the 70-foot long vessel that transports technicians to the Block Island Wind Farm, which his company built at a price tag of $4 million.

His company, Atlantic Wind Transfers, signed a long-term contract in May with Virginia-based Dominion Energy to service the two six megawatt Siemens Gamesa offshore wind turbines. The vessel will carry three crew members for transporting a maximum of 24 offshore technicians. Donadio said it will have safety protocols in place for social distancing and cleaning.

“The vessel will be launched in the fall and go into operation in Virginia,” said Donadio. “It will be serving the Siemens Gamesa Wind Farm 26 miles off the Virginia coast, which is the same distance from Quonset Point to the Block Island Wind Farm. We are operating the first vessel of its kind in the United States, serving a wind farm in both state and federal waters.”

Donadio said that his company also has another crew transfer vessel in the works, as he sees his operation expanding to provide support to “offshore wind farms up and down the coast.”

As for his quest to operate a seasonal fast ferry from Quonset Point to Block Island’s Old Harbor, something he has been working on since 2003, Donadio said that the endeavor “remains in limbo.”

Block Island been waging a legal battle opposing the service since the fast ferry company was granted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in 2016 by the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, with the condition that the company find suitable dockage for the service. The company has been unable to find dockage at Old Harbor, while also being engaged in protracted litigation with the town.

“The town has appealed again,” said Donadio. “I am not dwelling on it. I am busy growing and diversifying my company.” He added: “One door closes temporarily, and another one opens.”

Cassius Shuman is a staff writer and researcher at the PBN. You may reach him at Shuman@PBN.com.

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