M/V Munnatawket: A 7.5-Hour Tour

by Jane Ahrens

January 15, 2014
By Jane Ahrens

The Fishers Island ferry boats receive routine maintenance by the District’s mechanics throughout the year, but each winter one of them goes into dry dock for a time to get a thorough check of the external hull and other items on a pre-assembled punch list.  This winter it is the M/V Munnatawket’s turn.

The Fishers Island Ferry District (FIFD) received three bids from shipyards on the east coast for this year’s work and selected Fairhaven Shipyard’s bid after Management completed extensive research and gathered references.

RJ Burns, FIFD’s Manager, Marine Operations, determined the date of the journey after a careful study of weather forecasts and tides, and yard availability.

The Munnatawket trip plan held to the schedule, “Depart New London, CT: 0500, Jan 9, 2014”.  The route had two options – travel due east past Watch Hill Pass, or circumnavigate The Race.  The latter was selected and the boat departed the New London slip at 05:03 am.  With the lights of Groton’s General Dynamic plant glowing on the dead flat, ice coated Thames River she headed for The Race.  Few lights were visible on Fishers, save the streetlights on the west end.  One could barely make out the silhouette of Race Rock Lighthouse, until the lamp turned our way.  Taking the Lighthouse to port, the Munnatawket turned east toward the Point Judith “R2” buoy.

Needless to say, there were next to no lights on the south side of Fishers, which made it possible to notice beautiful falling stars from the pilothouse.

The sky became lighter about 06:11 and as the sun began to rise Block Island came into view to starboard, followed shortly by Martha’s Vineyard on the distant horizon.  From “R2” off Point Judith, Captains Jesse Marshall and John Haney drove the Munnatawket on a generally northeastern route across Rhode Island Sound to Narragansett Bay and into Buzzards Bay, using the pre-plotted course and running parallel to the shipping lane.

FIFD Commissioner Peter Rugg followed the trip remotely with the Marine Weather app, reporting at 09:44, “Munnatawket: 8 miles south of the entrance to Sakonet River, east side of Newport, headed ENE at 9.3 knots. Wind W@ 16, Temp 24, water temp 40. Seas 2 feet.

In Buzzards Bay, Captain Marshall communicated with various nearby fishing vessels and kept tabs on repeated radio announcements on the timing of the vessel Kracken doing blasting of bottom ledge in the Acushnet River’s harbor.

Meanwhile, Captain Haney and Mr. Burns plotted the trip progress on the charts using various tools including a Nautical Slide Rule, Parallel Rulers, Dividers, Watch, Tide Tables, and calculator. They also practiced taking a noon sight with a sextant.

During our transit Senior Mechanic John Paradis kept a close eye on all the machinery systems. As we neared Fairhaven he pumped out our ballast water tank to make it easier to lift Munnatawket and put less stress on the hull when out of the water.

The customary Buzzards Bay wind picked up and the temperature dropped as the Munnatawket turned northeasterly to the New Bedford entrance channel at the mouth of the Acushnet River.  Followed closely by a large commercial fishing trawler, she passed the 115 year-old Butler Flats Lighthouse and Captain Marshall reported into Buzzards Bay Control (an extension of Cape Cod Control). The Munnatawket then passed through the New Bedford Hurricane Protection Barrier that protects the New Bedford and Fairhaven harbor. Extending across the harbor entrance, this barrier is a 20 foot-high, 4,500 foot-long stone wall with a 150 foot-wide gated passage allowing boats of all sizes to enter and exit.

Once inside the harbor, it was a short transit to the Fairhaven Shipyard on the river’s east side.  Ice blocks were floating around her as the Munnatawket was steered into the slip, coming face to face with the enormous blue lift that would take her to dry dock.

With minimal winds, running in a strong ebb (Fair Tide) from New London, and catching the flood into Buzzards Bay, a very competent FIFD crew made the 67 nautical mile trip from New London to Fairhaven, averaging 10 knots in 7.5 hours, and landing at 12:32.  At 13:24 Captain Jesse Marshall locked the pilothouse door.  The Munnatawket was lifted out of the water and driven, by remote control, to her spot in the yard for the evaluation and work to begin.

An interesting maritime fact – the only time a captain gives up command of his or her ship is in dry dock­ – and when navigating the Panama Canal.

The Munnatawket, commissioned by the Fishers Island Ferry District, was designed and built by Blount Marine in Warren, RI and was launched in March of 1978.  In the coming weeks, the Munnatawket’s hull plates and external machinery, including the bow thruster, can be inspected, worked on, and repaired where necessary.  RJ Burns and John Paradis will oversee the yard work.

Manager, Marine Operations RJ Burns
Joined the FIFD: November 2013 as Assistant Manager for Marine Operations.
Merchant Marine License: 100 gross ton, Near Coastal, with sail and towing endorsement.
Experience: 23 years USCG, Chief Warrant Officer (ENG); Tours include Bering Sea, North Atlantic, Gulf of Maine, Lake Champlain, and Chief Engineer USCG Academy Waterfront Facility. Captain, Schooner Quinnipiac; Chief Mate, Top Sail Schooner Amistad; Business Owner, Bluewater Marine Consultants.
Memorable Experience: First time as rescue and salvage team leader and preventing commercial fishing vessel with a hole in it’s bottom plate from sinking offshore in the winter at Georges Bank.

Captain Jesse Marshall
Joined the FIFD: July 1994 as a Deck Hand and is now Senior Captain.
Merchant Marine License: 150 gross ton, Inland, with towing endorsement.
Experience: Private yacht Captain and boat deliveries, 1999-present. Chairman of the New London Port Authority.
Memorable Experience: 52’ sailing yacht delivery, Gulf of Maine with gale October 2001.

Mechanic John Paradis
Joined the FIFD: March 2002 as a Mechanic and is now Senior Mechanic.
Experience: 28 years experience marine/diesel mechanics; 1986-1989 Block Island ferries onboard engineer; 1989-1997 Thames Shipyard diesel engine shop; 1997-2002 Atlantic Detroit diesel service tech and marine specialist.
Memorable Experience: Bringing the Anna C. (Block Island Ferry) from Panama City, FL to New London, CT – 5.5-day transit. Cape Hatteras gale was particularly exciting.

Captain John Haney
Joined the FIFD: February 2013 as a Deck Hand and is now a Captain.
Merchant Marine License: 100 gross ton, Near Coastal, with towing endorsement.
Experience: Owner, Rockaway Sportfishing Charters; Captain, CT/NY Pilots (transferred deep draft ship pilots to and from large vessels in all weather and off shore).
Memorable Experience: Catching and landing a 15′ 497lb thresher shark 50 miles off shore in 10-12 foot seas when other charter boats cancelled their inshore trips to the Race.

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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