Gulf Coast shipbuilders Metal Shark and Horizon Shipbuilding Inc. will build the first in a series of Incat Crowther-designed aluminum catamarans for New York's Citywide Ferry Service, the companies said Friday.

The announcement marks the start of an aggressive production cycle for New York City and HNY Ferry Fleet LLC, operator of the new citywide service and a subsidiary of San Francisco-based Hornblower Cruises & Events, to quickly build out a fleet based on Incat Crowther’s 26-meter, 149-passenger high-speed design.

“We are putting the first four into production right now,” said Josh Stickles, director of marketing for Metal Shark in Jeanerette, La. The builders have been working closely with Crowther’s design team and Hornblower. “We’ve been hand-in-hand with them for the past year.”

Hornblower’s contract with the city calls for 19 new ferries. The 85’4”x26’3” catamarans are being designed for service speeds of 25 knots with minimal wake. Propulsion will come from Baudouin 6 M26.3, EPA Tier 3-compliant diesels.

Shin-Jung Hong, a spokesman for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), the lead agency developing the system, would not reveal the contract price for each shipyard, calling it proprietary information. However, each vessel costs close to $4 million, he said.

When fully built out the fleet will serve six routes and 10 new ferry landings, offering commuters one-way fares of $2.75 comparable to the city’s subway system. Mayor Bill de Blasio has made the ferry a premiere project for his administration, aiming to connect more people in the city boroughs to good jobs and easing pain on other congested subways and bus routes.

“I see this as the beginning of a long and successful relationship between Horizon and Hornblower, and I am pleased that Hornblower has placed its trust in us,” Travis Short, president of Bayou LaBatre, Ala.-based Horizon, said in announcing the deal. “The ferry delivery schedule is ambitious, but we’re no stranger to these type of projects and do not foresee any problem delivering these vessels on time.”

Hornblower’s ability to get new boats on schedule has been questioned by skeptics – not the least of which were disappointed bidders among private New York Harbor ferry operators who were surprised by the city’s choice of Hornblower.

Tom Fox, an original founder of New York Water Taxi who left the company in 2011, laid out the doubters’ case in a June 26 op-ed column in Crain’s New York Business. Among other objections, Fox questioned why Hornblower is not using shipyards that have previously built similar high-speed ferries.

“The citywide service is supposed to start next June with nine new ferries,” Fox wrote. “How will that be possible?”

Route map for the proposed NYC ferry service. Image courtesy City of New York.

Route map for the proposed NYC ferry service. Click to view larger.

Hornblower says it looked for shipyards capable of fast turnaround. The first ferries delivered will serve the South Brooklyn, Astoria and Rockaway routes starting in summer 2017, with more routes to begin in summer 2018.

Horizon has a record of delivering big orders under tight schedules, recently including 40 aluminum 42’ crewboats built and delivered in 20 months.  During the Deepwater Horizon oil recovery operations, the company built 10 barges in one month. In the years since Horizon expanded its facilities and production capabilities to handle such large orders, and is planning to use an assembly-line type roll-out to have the first boat ready for delivery in the first quarter of 2017.

Horizon also uses its GORDHEAD management software that allows the shipbuilders and clients to remain closely connected throughout the process, another reason Hornblower chose the yard.

Metal Shark president Chris Allard likewise said the partners are confident of a first-quarter 2017 delivery. The company builds a wide range of custom monohull and catamaran patrol boats, fireboats, pilot boats, passenger vessels, and other specialty vessels up to 250’.

A Small Shipyard Grant from the Maritime Administration helped the yard expand its capacity with the opening of a new 25-acre facility in 2014 at Franklin, La. It now has “the necessary technical capability to efficiently produce passenger ferries while meeting the aggressive schedule requirements of the project,” the company said.

“We are confident in our ability to meet the timeframes and deliver on this challenging and exciting project from the first vessel to the last,” Allard said in announcing the contract.

“The tremendous support we received from Incat Crowther helped make this project a reality,” said Carl Wegener, Metal Shark’s director of commercial sales. “The entire collaborative process between Hornblower, Incat Crowther, and Metal Shark has been outstanding, and we’re proud to be a part of one of the largest domestic ferry builds in the past decade.”

Days before, Maria Torres-Springer, president of NYCEDC, answered skeptics with her own June 30 op-ed in Crain’s. City officials see the Gulf shipyard contracts as ensuring the aggressive schedule will be met, she said.

“EDC and its partners have enlisted multiple shipyards to ensure that the boats will be delivered on time for launch. We’re leveraging yards throughout the Gulf of Mexico, which in recent years have expanded their capabilities in response to major disasters and can now construct as many as 40 boats in 20 months,” Torres-Springer wrote. “The engines are being built by a manufacturer with over a century of experience in engine technology, and a world renowned track record in performance, reliability and fuel efficiency.”

For the shipbuilders, it is a huge prestige project as well.

“We’re excited as a company to be expanding into this market,” said Metal Shark’s Stickles. “It’s a great opportunity all around.”


Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.