Feb. 20, 2006 – Thousands of folks from St. Thomas and St. John enjoyed the 35th annual Agriculture and Food Fair on St. Croix this weekend, but none of them traveled on the Island Lynx ferry service, which was slated to begin inter-island service last week.
The company has experienced one delay after another. On Thursday, Island Lynx announced that its scheduled start up for that day had been cancelled. At that time, according to a published report, Island Lynx managing partner Bob Siebengartner announced the vessel would be able to sail by Saturday.
While advertisements were heard on radio stations announcing the weekend service, the vessel, the Royal Miss Belmar, actually pulled into Gallows Bay on St. Croix late Sunday afternoon. It is still not ready to be put in service.
Siebengartner said Monday that the vessel will be in operation "probably at the end of the week, or on the weekend."
He said the vessel didn't arrive on time because it had experienced mechanical problems on its trip to the territory from New Jersey. It was delayed in West Palm, Fla., for repair to a leaky waterjet.
And, after finally arriving in St. Croix, Siebengartner said, "It has developed a leak on another waterjet."
On top of that, the boat must travel to St. Thomas to be repaired. "It has to come out of the water in St. Thomas," he said. "There's no dry dock on St. Croix to handle that big a boat."
Siebengartner said he has made arrangements with Haulover Marine Yachting Center for the work.
"We will know tomorrow when we're going to St. Thomas," he said. "We have to buy a new waterjet and the company that sells Hamilton Waterjets on St. Croix is closed today. We have to see if they have it in stock and we have to get a Hamilton Waterjet tech to do the work."
Siebengartner had his hands full this weekend covering the passengers Island Lynx had booked.
"To the best of my knowledge, it would appear all the ticketed people got here," he said. "Basically, we reimbursed them, or we got them tickets on Boston Harbor Cruises. We just stopped selling tickets. Everyone will get their money reimbursed. We just bought tickets and gave them out to the ones who had already bought tickets."
Siebengartner said Monday, "Nobody was stranded. Some people said they didn't mind leaving Tuesday morning, but if they wanted to come back today, they got back today."
When Island Lynx Ferry Company announced in August its plans to start ferry service between St. Thomas and St. Croix, its target date for operation was November, using the 308-passenger M/V Quelbe, which was then, and still is, in Egypt.
Siebengartner said Monday that it should be in St. Croix at "the end of March, or the first week in April. It still has a bit of work, which will speed up the approval process when it gets here."
He said it is being put on a heavy equipment ship for transport to the territory.
Siebengartner is optimistic about the U. S. Coast Guard inspection on the Royal Miss Belmar. "They are ready to do the inspection as soon as the boat is back in St. Croix," he said.
USCG Lt. Kevin Reed, commanding officer on St. Croix, said Monday, "The biggest thing is we've been kept in contact. He is keeping it abreast of what's happening. As soon as he is ready for us, we will conduct an inspection. When we last spoke, he was making plans for it to come to St. Thomas.
"I don't want to speculate on how long, but generally the inspection can be done in a couple of hours, if all is in order, or if there are outstanding deficiencies, it can take longer," Reed said.
He added that Island Lynx has been "pretty proactive about getting things done; I am hoping they will be completely ready when they call us for inspection."
Meantime, the Virgin Islands Fast Ferry, owned by Boston Harbor Cruises, provided inter-island service between St. Thomas and St. Croix – from Feb. 15 through Tuesday – in time for the Agriculture Fair.
In November, operators of the V.I. Fast Ferry said that they would not resume inter-island service because of competition. (See "V.I. Fast Ferry Suspends Service in the Wake of Competition".)
Alison Nolan, BHC general manager, said Monday the company had "excellent ridership, a wonderful response." The company took the Athena off its regular Puerto Rico route for the service, but it will leave the Virgin Islands after Tuesday.
Nolan said the vessel made three round trips Wednesday and Thursday, and four round trips on the other days. "Nine of those trips were full," she said. The vessel carries 249 passengers.
"We are still very seriously looking into providing year-round service," she said. "We have made a commitment."
Nolan said the company would use a vessel of a similar size to the 600-passenger Salacia, the vessel it has used for the past five seasons, but with capacity for passengers as well as freight.
Asked whether the company had experienced any problems accepting tickets from the Island Lynx, Nolan said she had "no comment."
Though neither company could provide final figures, both Seaborne Airlines and the V.I. Fast Ferry did a lot of office business over the past four days.
Omer ErSelcuk, Seaborne chief marketing officer, said Monday that the airline had run about 40 flights each day between St. Thomas and St. Croix. "We operated on about a 90 percent capacity," he said. "Of course, that's one-way traffic, the return flights aren't full."
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