Metal Shark’s Franklin, La., shipyard was the scene last Friday when two new 86'x29'x11'6" aluminum high-speed catamaran ferries for New York’s Citywide Ferry hit the water.

The first of six 149-passenger ferries being built at Metal Shark, the boats are part of an ambitious new ferry service linking neighborhoods in the New York area by water. (Horizon Shipbuilding, Bayou La Batre, Ala., is also building 13 ferries to the same design for the program. Horizon put its first New York ferry in the water on Feb. 13.)

“We’re referring to the moves as splashing the boats,” said the yard’s vice president of marketing, Josh Stickles, as he prepared a drone to record the movements of the first boat. “I think that our people, all the teams that have worked and continue to work on these boats are proud to show them off.”

New ferry crawls across Metal Shark's Franklin, La., shipyard. Ken Hocke photo

New ferry crawls across Metal Shark's Franklin, La., shipyard. Ken Hocke photo

Designed by Incat Crowther, the new high-speed passenger boats will service six routes and 10 new ferry landings. San Francisco-based Hornblower Cruises & Events subsidiary HNY Ferry Fleet LLC will be the operator of the new Citywide Ferry service.

But Friday’s moves were dependent on two operators of a different kind — New Iberia, La.-based Berard (mega-transport specialists) and Eunice, La.-based H. Brown Inc. (crane operators). At 7 a.m. the first boat was sitting on steel cans/stands/pedestals as Berard workers moved the transporter/crawler between the catamaran hulls under the watchful eyes of shipyard personnel. For the first time, they were entrusting someone else to carry their baby.

“It’s a proud moment for all our teams,” Carl Wegener, the yard’s director of commercial sales, said, surveying the route the boat would take to the water. “Everybody in this yard, the people here and the people you hear working in the background on the boats coming behind these two are fully invested in this project.”

The crawler now positioned, the transporter was raised until the boat was clear of the steel cans, and the ferry crawled to the waiting arms of the crane operators at the water’s edge. After a couple of tight turns the crawler operators moved the boat into position between two cranes. The steel cans were positioned under the hull once again, and the transporter lowered, crawling off in search of the second boat.

Transporter crew guides ferry in tight turn. Ken Hocke photo

Transporter crew guides ferry through a tight turn. Ken Hocke photo

Straps were placed fore and aft on the first boat, and for the next two hours the crane staff did its prep work. Finally, the crane operators were ready. In the background could be heard the sounds of a commercial shipyard, but those watching the move were silent, holding their collective breaths. Whatever apprehension some in the crowd might have felt minutes before, however, evaporated as the new ferry was placed in the Charenton Canal with the benevolence of a parent lowering a baby into a bathtub. The first Metal Shark Citywide Ferry was safely in the water. By 4:30 that afternoon a sistership had joined it.

Though no specific delivery dates have been released, some of the ferries will be delivered this year as Phase I of the new routes is planned for this summer. An unspecified number of boats will be delivered in 2018. It’s an ambitious schedule and one naysayers claim can’t be met successfully.

“We’re accomplishing our goals for this project so far,” Chris Allard, Metal Shark’s CEO said as he watched the yard’s workers prepare the second boat to be moved from the final assembly tent. “The first two should be the toughest. They have to stay on schedule.”

While two of the ferries were being moved to the water, work in the shed continued. Ken Hocke photo

While two of the ferries were being moved to the water, work on other New York ferries continued in the shed. Ken Hocke photo

About three years ago, Metal Shark opened the Franklin yard in an effort to attract contracts for larger vessels like the New York ferries. “Yes, I had this type of project in mind. I can’t say it was exactly the market I expected to build in, but that is what presented itself,” said Allard. “We appreciate the opportunity, and we put together the planning team and the workforce to accomplish our goals.”

The deal is paying off for the yard. Since planning and construction began on the Citywide Ferry contract, Metal Shark has been awarded two separate contracts to build passenger vessels for the Alexandria, Va.-based Potomac Riverboat Co. and for the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA).

For Potomac Riverboat, Metal Shark will produce four 88', high speed/low wake, 149-passenger aluminum catamarans. The new passenger vessels will provide commuters in the Washington, D.C., metro region with service between Old Town Alexandria, Va.; National Harbor, Md.; and Georgetown and The Wharf in Washington, D.C. For the New Orleans RTA, Metal Shark will build a pair of 105'x25', high speed/low wake, 149-passenger aluminum catamaran ferries. BMT Designers and Planners, Alexandria, Va., handled design responsibilities for both projects.

To accommodate increased production needs, Metal Shark is building a fully enclosed 200'x80' large vessel assembly building that can handle boats up to 180'. In addition, a new stand-alone office building will provide more than 4,000 sq. ft. of space for the yard’s executive, engineering, project management, and administrative personnel. Metal Shark’s team will be growing along with its physical footprint. Stickles said that employment at the Franklin facility would jump from 65 workers to 100 by the second quarter.

A new 150'x80' final assembly tent was built last year and is now fully operational. Additionally, a new 160-ton marine lift transporter will arrive to facilitate the movement of boats around the 25-acre yard. Both were funded in part by a Department of Transportation Maritime Administration Small Shipyard grant awarded last year.

Props enter the water first as the ferry is lowered. Ken Hocke photo

Props enter the water first as the first ferry is lowered. Ken Hocke photo

In addition to carrying 149 passengers (three crew), the new Citywide ferries will be equipped with Wi-Fi, and feature concessions and space for bikes, strollers and wheelchairs. The vessels will be ADA and Local Law 68 (Accessible Water Borne Commuter Services Facilities) compliant.

Main propulsion for the ferries will come from twin Baudouin 6M26.3, Tier 3 diesel engines producing 815 hp at 2,100 rpm each. The mains will connect to 5-bladed, NiBrAl, 38″ Michigan Wheel propellers through ZF 2050 marine gears with 2.519:1 reduction ratios. The propulsion packages will give the ferries a running speed of 25 knots.


Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.