By early spring 2017, the first of four New York City ferries taking shape in south Louisiana should be ready for its sea trials.
The New York Citywide Ferry system is planned to have its first passenger services running by June, so it will be the final phase to shake down the first 149-passenger aluminum catamarans and work out the bugs.
So at the moment, a lot of attention is focused on builders Horizon Shipbuilders Inc., Bayou La Batre, Ala., and Metal Shark at its new big-boat production facility at Franklin, La.
“It’s been a pretty smooth building process,” said Carl Wegener, Metal Shark’s director of commercial sales, as he showed WorkBoat editors around the yard Tuesday before the start of the International WorkBoat Show in New Orleans.
Horizon invited New York news media to its facility earlier in November, and Metal Shark extended invitations to check out its contribution to what could be a new model for big-city ferry startups.
Construction programs like this one commonly deliver boats one at a time over years, but the EDC and Hornblower are looking to carry passengers a little more than 18 months after announcing the plan. They say the Gulf shipyards were selected partly on their record of delivering vessels on tight schedules.
This stretch of coast has companies and workforces skilled in aluminum boatbuilding, developed with years of serving the offshore energy industry and military and government customers.
“Some yards really have to ramp up for a job like this,” said Josh Stickles, Metal Shark’s director of marketing. “A lot of our people have been with us for years and years.”
“We take it to a whole other level. That comes from our military expertise,” Wegener said.
“It’s like building Liberty ships,” Wegener said, evoking the standardized construction and fast turnaround that enabled the U.S. Merchant Marine fleet and its gigantic sealift of World War II. “They used a design and systems to get it done.”
The first four of six Incat Crowther-designed catamarans Metal Shark is contributing are in stages from framing and plating to finish work. In some hulls, the metallic-blue Baudouin M26.3 diesels are in place, tightly wrapped in plastic to keep grit and dirt at bay, and stay ready for their French manufacturer’s major commercial debut in the North American market.
The ferry system’s backers in the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city Economic Development Corporation have a big bet on their operator, HNY Ferry Fleet LLC, a subsidiary of San Francisco-based Hornblower Cruises and Events.
In the city’s maritime community, there has been skepticism that the $325 million system can be delivered on time – so much still that Stickles got a call from the New York Times, and invited them down to see the progress. The resulting story noted that more than commuters would be riding the ferries in June. So too will be the political career of de Blasio, who is standing for re-election next year.