On May 7, a U.S. Army transporter is scheduled to anchor in Narragansett Bay, just off Newport R.I., drop its slings and then hoist aboard four 75'×18'4"×5'3" passenger ferries for the U.S. Army.
The destination is the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific, part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. On the atoll is the U.S. Army’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, which supports ballistic missile testing and space operations.
“The Army said we need newer, modern, safer boats to transport the Marshallese islanders to work on the island,” said Bob Pelletier with Blount Boats in Warren, R.I., which built the ferries.
For those boatyard operators that question the value of the Internet, there’s a lesson here. The Army went to the Blount website (www.blountboats.com), clicked on the product line, found a ferry similar to what they wanted and asked for a “quick ball park price figure on a T boat and a K boat,” said Pelletier. “We didn’t think anything of it.”
But two weeks later, Blount received a request for information on ferries, and a month later, Blount received “a purchase order, not even a contract,” said Pelletier.
The T-classed 150-passenger boats have Corten steel hulls and aluminum superstructures. The aluminum saved weight, but corrosion resistance was also important. “It’s a very high salinity area,” said Pelletier, noting that Corten steel also has high corrosion resistance.
The ferries are sparsely furnished with just main engines and no generators in the engine room. Each ferry has a pair of 475-hp MTU Series 60 main engines matched up with ZF 550 marine gears with 1.833:1 ratios. On the end of 2.5" shafts are 32"×28" bronze, 4-bladed wheels from H&H Propeller. That power arrangement produces 16 knots maximum speed and 13 knots cruising at 1,500 rpm when loaded.
Originally the Army wanted the boats outfitted with generators, but when Pelletier asked why generators were necessary, since the ferries would only be making a 25-minute run and would not be outfitted with bathrooms, air conditioning or heat, the Army said they thought generators would be needed for the steering system.
Pelletier told them they could go with cable steering. Blount Boats has used stainless-steel cable steering on many of the passenger ferries it has built. “On all the boats we’ve built for Fire Island [N.Y] in the past 28 to 30 years, there’s only been one failure where the cable frayed and snapped,” he said.
To ensure there are as few problems as possible with cable steering, Blount Boats makes its own cable sheaves. “You can’t beat stainless-steel cable steering for anything. You can steer easily with one hand,” said Pelletier.
Needless to say, the Army liked the idea of not having to pay for and maintain generators.