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Tuesday, November 28, 2023


A venerable Boston ferry company will have two obstacles facing it when its new 150-foot, high-speed high-tech ferry arrives in Charlotte Amalie Harbor in early April: 40 miles of open sea and the belief among many V.I. residents that a ferry run between St. Thomas and St. Croix just isn't feasible.
The Salacia is the newest addition to Boston Harbor Cruises' fleet and will begin a one-month trial next month with an eye toward regular daily service between the islands from December through April. The company's operations director, Kevin Matthews, is optimistic.
"This vessel has a catamaran hull with a Z-design bow that just chops right through the waves," he said. "But the main thing is the computerized ride control system, which uses automated sensors that weigh the boat's pitch and roll and adjust the ride for a high comfort level. This is a million-dollar piece of technology that has already proven itself again and again."
Matthews said the boat has already handled open ocean well on the company's regular 50-mile Boston-to-Provincetown route. "We're going to come down there in April to show the boat off and make sure it can handle the seas, and more importantly, to prove to people that this run is really feasible," he said.
Certainly, Boston Harbor Cruises has a lot of experience with this sort of thing: It's the city's oldest and largest provider of scheduled and chartered sightseeing, whale watching, cruise entertainment, special function cruises and commuter services, in operation since 1926.
A number of operations have tried and failed to make a go of the St. Thomas-St. Croix run, but Matthews said he is "99 percent sure" he has the right boat for the job.
Even with a passenger capacity of 600, the Salacia is capable of speeds up to 40 knots, and can go from full speed to a dead stop in less than two boat lengths. Its engines pump 30,000 gallons of seawater per minute through each of four water-jet engines, two per hull.
Salacia is outfitted with GPS navigation, and cutting-edge communications and safety equipment. Her range is 300 nautical miles, and her engines are so efficient that they use only about a quarter of a gallon of fuel per passenger per mile. On the inside, Salacia has airline seating, climate control and two food and beverage galleys.
Matthews said that for the trial month the Salacia will charge $40 round trip and $25 each way for locals, $50 and $30 for nonlocals. He said he expects to charge perhaps $20 to $25 more beginning in December, a price he feels is quite competitive compared to airfares.
The Salacia will run from the Edward Wilmoth Blyden IV Marine Terminal to Gallows Bay landing in Christiansted, about a 75-minute trip.
Matthews said that after seeing how successful the St. Croix-St. Thomas run is, the company will consider expanding to other routes, perhaps to San Juan.
One thing is for sure, though: for the April trial, "it's not a matter of if, but how much money I'm going to lose. This is pure marketing and research-and-development expense, but we expect to make that up five- to tenfold."
Matthews said he expects the Salacia to arrive around April 3. A routine inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard is on tap, and Matthews is hopeful to have the appropriate local permits lined up from the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs and the V.I. Port Authority, which controls the Blyden and Gallows Bay terminals.
So far, he said, "Port Authority has been very accommodating. I've met with them and with Tourism Department officials and local businesses, and I know what the perception is. We're going to try to get as many people on board in April to do the run as we can, so people can be assured you can do it."
And do it with style.

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