Sept. 2, 2002 Despite having to reposition a ramp weighing several hundred pounds about 25 feet up the waterfront apron, Mermaid Ferries executives and crew were upbeat and cheerful Monday morning as the boat arrived in the Charlotte Amalie harbor on its official maiden voyage.
"We're happy to be here," said Chris Elliot, one of the vessel's owners, panting a bit after the unexpected effort. Port Authority officials determined that the Calypso I had to move to accommodate the Tortola ferries which also dock at the Wilmoth Edward Blyden IV terminal.
The ferry brought three passengers on its 8 a.m. trip. Although few in number, they were enthusiastic about the crossing, calling it "really nice and smooth."
Elliot said there had been little time since Saturday night to notify the public that the service would be up and running on Monday. However, word did get out, with the curious coming up for a tour of the vessel, which the four sarong-clad cruise attendants were happy to provide.
The boat is spacious. The interior on both decks looks like a first-class cabin aboard a 747 jet, but roomier by about 500 percent. Round-trip tickets are $65 for the upper Admiral deck and $50 for the Ensign deck beneath. Admiral passengers get a free snack - anything from a pate or rum cake to a zucchini muffin - and a beverage; those traveling Ensign class can enjoy the same amenities for a charge.
Happily relaxed in a plush seat on the Admiral deck was Tortola resident Raymond Blyden. "I've been hearing about this for several months now," he said. "I came over on Saturday, because I didn't know when it would be going." Blyden said he was going to St. Croix for the Labor Day races at the Randall "Doc" James Racetrack. "We've got a couple horses from Tortola in there, so I've got to be there," he said, adding,. "I look forward to the day they come to Tortola."
That's not in the cards for now. Elliot and Joe Thayer, Mermaid general manager, have their hands full with setting up ticketing facilities on St. Thomas and St. Croix. Thayer said the government has been accommodating in letting the service use the Gallows Bay location on St. Croix where construction work is proceeding on the parking lot. "They said they would work around us, and try to let us stay there," he said.
If all goes according to plan, travelers will have their choice of two fast ferry services between St. Croix and St. Thomas come November. That's when the Boston Harbor Cruises ferry Salacia, operating as the V.I. Fast Ferry, is scheduled to resume seasonal service. The 600-passenger Salacia operated for its first season last November through May. Boston Harbor Cruises has not committed the Salacia to year-'round service. Last season, fares on the Salacia were $75 round trip and $42 one way for non-residents and $65 round trip and $37 one way for residents.
Thayer indicated that he thinks the Mermaid as the newcomer will be strong competition for the known entity. "I think people like the idea that we offer year-'round service, and our fares are lower," he said, smiling.
Thayer said Monday's trip took about an hour and 40 minutes, 10 minutes more than projected — but that depends on the seas.
Numerous ferry and hydrofoil operations between St. Thomas and St. Croix have come and gone over the last three decades, ultimately abandoning the inter-island run in large part because of rough seas that discouraged customers.
Both the Calypso I, a Norwegian Fjellstrand fast-ferry catamaran, and the Salacia have sophisticated computer-run stabilizing mechanisms which give passengers a smoother ride. "We've spent a tremendous amount of time traveling around the world looking at designs," Elliot said of the Norwegian-built Calypso I. "It's been designed to handle heavy ocean seas, as in the North Sea."
Quelling some questions as to whether the Salacia would return, Kevin Matthews, Boston Harbor Cruises director of operations, said on Monday that the vessel will be back in the territory "around Thanksgiving." He said it will "stay through the middle of May, the same as last year."
As far as the Mermaid, Matthews said, "Competition will come and go and come again." He added, "We will be doing the same thing we have been doing for 77 years — giving first-class service."
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