90 Years of the Block Island Ferry, Part 4
In our last blog, we explored the evolution of Interstate Navigation from the 70s to the 90s. Ships were retired and new ships were introduced. Management changed hands and everyone got the “Sail Away on the Block Island Ferry…” tune stuck in their heads. In this final part of our 90th Anniversary series, we’ll be looking at the new millennia and Interstate Navigation’s roll in the area at that time.
Renovations and High-Speed Additions
The 2000’s saw some significant changes to the Block Island Ferry fleet. A few of the older ships we brought in for repairs and updates to put them on-par with more current ships. In 2004, the CAROL JEAN went down to Panama City, FL to get an extensive refit which included new propulsion engines and drivelines as well as a remodeled primary passenger cabin with a focus on passenger comfort. The ANNA C was brought to Fairhaven in 2020 to undergo renovations including the passenger cabins and updated, greener Tier III propulsion engines.
The fleet also gained new members: two high-speed ferries. In the spring of 2006, Interstate Navigation acquired the ATHENA which introduced a new run from Pt Judith to Block Island that would cut the usual travel time in half. The other ship, the ISLANDER, was introduced in 2012, replacing the NELSECO and establishing a new high-speed service from downtown Newport to the island.
The purchase date of the ATHENA would turn out to be a fortuitous coincidence. In 2009, the ATHENA was being rented as a charter vessel on the Hudson River in New York. While preparing the ship to head out on January 15 around 3:25pm, engineer John Verissimo informed Capt. Carlisle Lucas that a commercial plane had landed in the river. He called out to fellow captain, David Martin, and they took the ATHENA out to help.
They were one of the first ships on site. They helped pull 18 passengers out of the frigid water as well as Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Taking Capt. Sully to the wheelhouse of the ATHENA, they coordinated with the other ships that came in for the rescue to ensure that all of the passengers had left the plane safely and everyone was accounted for.
Interstate Navigation wanted to conduct a trial. On June 21, 2014, the ISLANDER began its trip from the State Pier in Fall River, MA. It would make the journey to Newport to pick up additional passengers before setting off to Block Island. This 3-year experiment proved to be successful. The company decided to continue the run from 2017 onwards. Unfortunately, due to declining passenger numbers and the widespread outbreak of COVID-19, the Fall River run ceased operations in 2020.
Starting operations in December of 2016, the Block Island Wind Farm was the first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States. Soon after the completion of the 5 turbines, Block Island Ferry started conducting boat tours to check out the structures up close and personal. Interstate Navigation ended the tour in 2022.
Interstate Navigation has been deeply ingrained with Southern New England since 1933. We’ve seen wars and peacetime. We’ve made trips from Martha’s Vineyard to Connecticut and everywhere in between. There have been highs and lows. But one thing is for certain: the Block Island Ferry is truly a Rhode Island staple. We don’t know what the future may hold but we look forward to seeing what the next 90 years might bring!