The Block Island Times

New fast ferry proposed

Docking space possibly in Old Harbor
By Stephanie Turaj | Jul 12, 2013
Photo by: Stephanie Turaj Rhode Island Fast Ferry ran a test run aboard the Ava Pearl to Block Island on Tuesday, July 9.

Rhode Island Fast Ferry, which runs high-speed ferries from Quonset Point to Martha’s Vineyard, has applied to the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers to operate a new high-speed service to Block Island.

Initial reaction to the news has been somewhat mixed, and one other question remains to be answered: where will the ferry dock on the island?

If eventually approved by R.I. Public Utilities Commission (PUC), President and owner Charles A. Donadio, Jr. said that the ferry terminal in Quonset, which is in North Kingstown, R.I., already has the infrastructure to dock the ferry.

In the application, Donadio stated that the boat would dock in “Old Harbor” on Block Island, but was no more specific than that.

“We do not have any definitive docking in Block Island at this point in time,” Donadio told The Block Island Times. “If we’re able to get the license, we’ll look at options for docking in Old Harbor. If you pursue a dock space before the license, it’s putting the cart before the horse.”

He also said he is hoping to cooperate with the town of New Shoreham. “If the town sees this in a positive way, they could play a part,” he said.

Tourism Council Director Jessica Willi called the news “interesting” and added “we’re very interested to see what the PUC has to say.”

“I think this is great,” said Block Island Chamber of Commerce Director Kathy Szabo. “I don’t know what his plan is for docking, but I’m sure he’s looking at all the options. I don’t think he would be pursing this unless he had a plan. Competition is healthy.”

The ferry would compete with several current fast ferry options. One service, operated by Block Island Express, runs between New London, Conn. and Block Island. Ferry company Interstate Navigation has introduced a new high-speed ferry between Newport, R.I. and Block Island. And in addition to its year-round traditional boat between Point Judith, R.I. and Block Island, Interstate runs a summertime high-speed service between these two points.

Josh Linda, vice president of Interstate Navigation, said that the company is opposed to a potential high-speed ferry from Quonset.

“We feel that we’re providing an ample service to the island,” said Linda. “We have quite a few trips from Point Judith, as well as Newport. We feel that any potential savings in driving time [to Quonset] is outweighed by our 30-minute trip. We have trips on an ample frequency, so you don’t have to base your day on the ferry schedule.”

When contacted by The Block Island Times, Block Island Express declined to comment.

The proposed service

Rhode Island Fast Ferry’s application to the division says that “the proposed fast ferry service would depart from our ferry terminal located at 1347 Roger Williams Way located in Quonset Point, North Kingstown and arrive in Old Harbor, Block Island. The aluminum catamaran ferry would have a capacity of 150-300 passengers and operate between 29.5 to 34 knots.”

If approved by the PUC, the new ferry service would operate between two and four round-trips per day, according to a press release issued by the company on Wednesday, July 3. The 30-mile trip would take approximately 45 to 50 minutes, and would cost about $50 round-trip, said Donadio.

Donadio also said that depending on if and when the license is granted, he would hope to start the service next year. It would be seasonal, he said, probably running from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.

The new ferry would be “positive for the island. It will bring a new market of customers from the northern part of the state, and southwestern Massachusetts. More people without cars on the island is a good thing,” he added.

He also added that a new service would be “competitive in nature for the other ferry service. They have a monopoly right now.”

If the license is granted, Donadio said he would probably invest $6 to $7 million to build a new aluminum catamaran for the service, but may use one of the existing high-speed ferries instead.

“The ferry would be built for the open ocean to handle the sea conditions with the latest in trim-tab ride control for the smoothest possible ride, [and] the climate controlled interiors would have business-class amenities,” Donadio said in the press release.

In Donadio’s application to the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, he stated that he has been an owner/operator in marine transportation for 19 years. Donadio said he was the founder of Island Hi-Speed Ferry in 1998, which built and operated the high-speed ferry Athena between Point Judith and Block Island. Donadio said he sold his ownership in 2001 and founded Rhode Island Fast Ferry.

He also owned Southland Riverboat from 1994 until he sold it in 2007. He currently operates various fast ferry charter services throughout the east coast, according to his application.

Donadio’s application to the PUC did not include any financial information, while adding that “if the hearing officer decides it is necessary to provide this information [then] it will be presented at the time of the request.”

Test Run

Early in the morning on Tuesday, July 9, Rhode Island Fast Ferry tested its new potential service. The boat did not carry passengers — only crew members — from Block Island and Quonset Point.

The Ava Pearl departed Quonset at about 6:15 a.m. and entered Block Island’s Old Harbor around 7:15 a.m. It did not dock on the island, but turned around in the harbor.

“The sun broke right when we got to Block Island — it was like a sign,” said Donadio. “It was misty in Quonset, we hit a little bit of fog, and it lifted when we got to the bluffs.”

The purpose of the trip was to test how much fuel a run between these two locations will take. In addition, the trip tested the logistics of running the route.

“We’re going to be a major advertiser of the island,” said Donadio. “We’ll be a great advocate.”

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