The coronavirus has killed the entire 2020 season for the Rhode Island Fast Ferry’s Martha’s Vineyard service and various sightseeing tours a staple in Rhode Island tourism.
Charles Donadio, president and owner of the North Kingstown ferry service, said that it’s the first time in its 17-year history the ferry service had to cancel an entire season.
Various rules, limits on numbers that can board the boat and general fear of being around large numbers of people pose a serious potential problem for assuring volume of enough customers to pay for operating costs this year, he said.
“The layout of high-speed ferries is such that, even with socially distant seating arrangements and substantially reduced capacity, close interaction with other passengers and our crew is unavoidable. For the safety of our extended family and yours, we believe this is the right decision,” the company said in a posted announcement on its website.
He also noted that seats would have been limited this year on that hour and 45-minute trip to the island off Cape Cod. He also anticipated reductions in capacity of 30 to 50 percent may hold through the summer.
The Rhode Island Fast Ferry, based in Quonset Point, was not scheduled to resume trips until at least June 22 or possibly later.
The cancellation of all trips from North Kingstown means that those wanting to take a ferry there would need to either board in Massachusetts in New Bedford, Falmouth, Woods Hole or Hyannis, depending on whether transporting a vehicle. Service also is available from New Jersey and New York City for a more than five-hour trip to the island.
“If a vaccine had come out last month, we would be running right now. But, there is a lot of uncertainty in the coming months,” he said Tuesday in an interview.
Primarily the ferry serves many out-of-state customers as well as local senior citizens for Narragansett Bay cruises around landmarks and lighthouses. They are most affected by ripple effects from precautions and restrictions related to the coronavirus, he added.
“I had to make a very difficult decision that was best for the company, our employees and our passengers,” Donadio added.
He was clear, however, that the company will remain in business and expects to open a year from now for the 2021 summer season.
“We are sound, we are on good footing, we are keeping and not laying off our 10 full-time employees,” he said, but acknowledged he will not be hiring for the more than 30 seasonal jobs he often offers.
Another issue complicating his ferry business this year was a continuing legal battle that slowed development of its Block Island service. Stalls in legal proceedings effectively earlier this year shut off any attempts to launch it this spring, he said a few months ago.
Lighthouse sightseeing and other cruises with the high-speed ferry have also been canceled. These were narrated cruises past 10 Rhode Island Lighthouses in Narragansett Bay along with a complete Newport Harbor Tour.
This 30-mile cruise also included 10 island as well as the Newport and Jamestown bridges, mansions, historic Fort Adams and many other famous Rhode Island landmarks.
However, Donadio said that he would be continuing his private charter business and transportation for workers and equipment from the mainland to the offshore wind farms near Block Island.
Earlier this year he received a state grant up to $30,000 to help with costs associated with preparing his Quonset Point docking and service area for more associated vessels with the Block Island wind farm and others that may be built.
In addition, this creates opportunity for his wind farm operations — known as Atlantic Wind Transfers — to prepare for future expansion. It is the only company in the United States that has the specially-rigged boats to dock at a wind turbine, he said.
Then last week he announced that his Atlantic Wind Transfers has secured its second long-term operations and maintenance offshore wind transportation contract for Dominion Energy.
“Our current new-build Chartwell Marine Ltd-designed vessel under construction at Blount Boats will go directly into service later this year to support the Siemens Gamesa offshore wind turbines for the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project,” he said.