After using the same boat for nearly a half-century, ferry service to Maine’s Isle au Haut is via the new Otter, a Wesmac Super 46 launched July 9.

The 46’9”x17’1”x4’11” vessel displacing 20 tons can carry up to 78 passengers and two crew. Built of solid fiberglass laminate by Wesmac Custom Boats, Inc., Surry, Me., the vessel is Subchapter T certified by the Coast Guard.

It is a big step up in speed and capacity, able to carry 30 more passengers than the 50-year-old, 47’ wooden “mail boat” Miss Lizzie, retired in October 2015. A second freight and passenger vessel, the 42’x15’ Mink, will remain in service alongside the Otter.

“Wesmac was our first choice for a builder because we know their reputation for very high quality boats which are also suitable for Maine waters in all weathers,” George Cole, president of Isle au Haut Boat Services, said by email. “Also, even though most of the Maine coast builders are very busy, Wesmac was able to find a spot in their schedule for our project.”

Wesmac president Steve Wessel is married to fishing captain and author Linda Greenlaw, who does much of the sea trialing for Wesmac boats. Both have longtime connections to Isle au Haut too.

“The last boat (Miss Lizzie) would not pass muster with the Coast Guard,” said Bill Grindel, general manager at Wesmac. The company has built many T-certified passenger vessels, but engaged a naval architect to ensure success on the job.

“Our 42 and 46 have all been Coast Guard approved. But this is our first Coast Guard approved Super 46,” Grindel said. Changes included the bilge pump and firefighting systems. From starting on the hull in September 2015 the project took 11 months, working closely with Coast Guard inspectors.

“We have a very good relationship with the Belfast (Me.) district office. They would be here every week to 10 days during the project,” Grindel said. As the first Super 46 for passenger service, plans went through the Coast Guard Marine Safety Center for approval, he said.

Propulsion comes from a C18 Caterpillar diesel developing 803 hp at 2,100 rpm, turning a 32” left-handed 5-blade Nibral propeller on a 3” double taper Aquamet shaft, through a ZF 500 gear with 1.964:1 ratio.

In sea trials the setup yielded 24.2 knots at 2,070 rpm, twice the speed of Miss Lizzie and useful during threatening weather or medical evacuations to the mainland. A Zipwake dynamic control trim tab system – a first-time installation for Wesmac boats – improves performance.

“The trim tabs were added at Steve's suggestion because bringing the bow down a bit at cruising speeds might improve the passenger experience,” Cole said. “During sea trials we saw that we can have just about any cruising attitude we might choose.

“We'll have to wait until the boat is in service to learn the exact relationships between trim, speed, and economy.”

Fuel capacity is around 700 gal. in two 350 gal. fiberglass tanks, with two 25 gal. poly tanks for potable water. .

At the port side helm station a Raytheon navigation suite with radar, GPS and touch screens was supplied by Blackmore Electronics, Stonington, Me., with Standard Horizon VHF radios and loud hailer.  A Fusion entertainment system is used for recorded safety announcements and narrating excursion cruises. Light emitting diode (LED) lighting is from Atlantic LED and Gear, Swan’s Island, Me.

After easily passing stability tests July 18, the Otter is to be inaugurated into service between Stonington and Isle au Haut with demonstration rides July 31.

Isle au Haut Boat Services is a 501 (c) (3) not for profit corporation, and most of the project’s $800,000-plus cost was funded by more than 40 supporters, and a grant from the group Friends of Acadia. Additional support from the Maine Department of Transportation helped minimize the size of a bank loan needed to complete the project, Cole said.


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.