Ferry halts for third day
» Engine trouble cancels TheBoat rides
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Just two weeks after restarting its long-stalled service, the Hawaii Superferry has canceled its Oahu-Maui trips for the third straight day today because of high seas and strong winds.
The weather and sea conditions were expected to continue into tomorrow, and Superferry officials plan to decide by this afternoon if their ship will stay in port for a fourth day.
The operators of the fledgling ferry business say they knew December is a rough month for traveling Hawaii waters. They said most customers have been taking the cancellations in stride, but one Makaha man said his holiday vacation has been "skunked" by the cancellations.
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Strong winds and high seas have pushed the Hawaii Superferry back into port for the third straight day today and could keep it there tomorrow, officials said.
The Superferry will decide by 2 p.m. today whether sea conditions will allow the 349-foot Alakai to safely sail tomorrow.
While ferry officials canceled hundreds of passengers' trips between Maui and Oahu this week, they say that they expected days like this during the month of December.
"When we came into this market, we knew that there would be days that we would be canceling due to sea conditions," said Terry O'Halloran, Superferry director of business development. "From the data we've gathered, December historically has the highest sea conditions."
The National Weather Service issued a gale warning yesterday that was in effect until 6 a.m. today, meaning 39 to 54 mph winds are imminent or occurring. It said vessels should be operated by experienced personnel and in properly equipped vessels.
Tom Birchard, forecaster at the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said gale warnings are in effect only a couple of times a year, usually in winter. He said December and January have the potential for the highest seas.
The current winds, caused by a strong high-pressure system about 1,200 miles to the northeast, will remain until Saturday before gradually easing, he said.
Wind speeds on the open ocean are about 28 mph but increase as they are funneled through the channels, and can reach 40 mph with 16-foot-high seas in the Pailolo Channel east of Molokai, part of the Superferry's route to Maui, he said.
David Bess, a University of Hawaii professor at the Shidler College of Business who specializes in transportation, said weather cancellations for the Superferry are no surprise.
"We have some of the roughest channels in the world," he said. And hazardous weather conditions are more of an issue for the ferry because of its human cargo, which is not a problem for container vessels.
"Freight can handle (it), you don't have to worry about people not feeling good on board the vessel. When you're dealing with passengers, you're dealing with your passengers' comfort," he said. "It's a different issue."
Large passenger liners in Hawaii use stabilizers to reduce the ship's roll and often schedule voyages through rough channels by sailing at night, he said.
"They try to do that at night when people aren't up," he said.
O'Halloran said the Superferry has a "ride control system" for stability. "This vessel was designed for Hawaii waters," he said, adding that the vessel has a limit of 20-foot seas.
About 240 passengers and 80 vehicles were affected by the cancellation each way yesterday.
"Most customers are very understanding that the weather is outside of our control," he said. "They understand we're making a decision based on safety issues."
But Makaha resident Evan Davis, who was a Superferry supporter, said he had hoped to travel to Maui for a five-day vacation.
"We basically got skunked," he said. "We only got so much time for the holidays, so now I'm not going to go."
Davis said he drove down twice to find out the ferry was not sailing.
"I find it disheartening," he said. "I'd rather get to Maui with a stomachache rather than not get to Maui."
Superferry officials said they are calling, e-mailing or texting customers about the cancellations. Customers can also call the phone center or visit the Web site hawaiisuperferry.com for updates.
The Superferry is waiving cancellation fees and rebooking or refunding passengers. For stuck passengers with vehicles, officials are making arrangements for the owners to retrieve their cars at a later date.
O'Halloran declined to say how much money the Superferry is losing because of the cancellations.
The Superferry started sailing briefly in late August but was shut down by court challenges and protests. On Dec. 13, after the state Legislature passed a law that allowed it to sail, the Superferry restarted service with one round trip a day between Maui and Oahu.
Engine trouble cancels TheBoat rides
The city canceled rides yesterday and today on the Rachel Marie, one of TheBoat's two commuter ferries, which has been plagued with engine problems, prompting concerns about reliability and lower ridership.
The 6 a.m. ride from Kalaeloa to Aloha Tower and 5:20 p.m. ride in the opposite direction have been canceled while mechanics examine the 19-year-old catamaran's left engine. City officials will decide over the weekend on whether the boat will operate Monday.
The other 149-passenger catamaran, the Melissa Ann, is running as scheduled.
Crew members felt strange vibrations on the Rachel Marie and decided to cancel rides yesterday.
The Rachel Marie has caused problems for the city since the yearlong pilot project began Sept. 17, with officials recently canceling rides for three weeks for repairs.