Two years of work paid off Tuesday for Gary Sommerfeld when the rebuilt 114’x33’ fast catamaran Bravest backed out of the Yank Marine shipyard in Tuckahoe, N.J.
Riding high on a tide brought up by the full moon, the former NY Waterway commuter ferry cruised down the Tuckahoe River, into Great Egg Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean for sea trials, testing out the new MTU engines and upgraded Marine Jet Power waterjets.
“This is the third of the big boats,” said Sommerfeld, manager of marine operations for Phillips Cruises & Tours LLC, a growing cruise and sightseeing operator based at Whittier, Alaska. Sommerfield spent the last several winters in nearby Ocean City, N.J., overseeing the project. “We were in the market for used boats three years and there was nothing available.”
But then NY Waterway got two new 400-passenger ferries, the Molly Pitcher and the Betsy Ross, built by Yank Marine to replace the Bravest and sister ship the Finest, built by Derecktor Shipyard at Mamaroneck, N.Y., in 1996. The Finest went to Kitsap Transit in Washington state, but the Bravest was available, mothballed at the Yank Marine yard.
“They had the speed and capacity we wanted” in the Derecktor-built ferries, said Sommerfeld. “Yank did a good job building the Molly Pitcher and Betsy Ross. We thought they could do a good job with the Bravest, and they did.”
Located about an hour from Anchorage, Phillips Cruises & Tours takes customers on guided tours in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, close to tidewater glaciers and within sight of sea otters, whales, bald eagles and other wildlife. The company’s trademark product is its 26 Glacier Cruise, a day-long excursion on the 137’x34’ fast catamaran Klondike Express that accommodates up to 332 guests.
The addition of the Bravest “will really allow us during the busy months in June, July and August” to increase capacity on the popular route, a big part of Phillips’ average 45,000 passengers annually, said Sommerfeld.
Reconfiguring the Bravest from a 396-passenger commuter ferry to 284-seat ecotourism excursion vessel required much more than just new seating and tables.
“We wanted heavier engines that would give us reliability, so weight was one factor,” said Sommerfeld. To open up the interior cabin so every seat has a clear line of sight outside, bulkheads and the interior stairs had to be moved. Updating and upgrading the aluminum hulls and structure required replacing about 80 sections.
“It was a lot of structural work,” he said.
On Tuesday morning the gang of Yank Marine craftsmen and technicians from Pacific Power Group, Kent, Wash., prepped the Bravest for sea trials of its MTU 4000 series engines and waterjets. “After two years of working on this I finally get a boat ride,” one man quipped.
With the trials complete, the crew tied up the Bravest at the Golden Nugget casino on Absecon Inlet in Atlantic City, to await a return to Tuckahoe on the next morning’s tide. Sommerfeld was happy with the results.
“We made 32 knots, which is the design speed,” turning 2,700 hp on each engine for 91% power, said Sommerfeld. Soon the Bravest will be on a boat ride itself, carried by ship, bound for Alaska.