Hamilton, Bermuda — For reasons that quickly become obvious to first-time visitors, the sleek passenger ferries operated by Bermuda’s SeaExpress are one of the most efficient ways to shuttle between the major cities and attractions that dot this postcard-perfect island in the Northern Caribbean.
Local laws preserving the natural beauty and laid-back British Territory vibe that make Bermuda a tourist magnet also make an affordable and reliable government-owned ferry service very attractive. Tourists aren’t permitted to rent cars to navigate the winding roads covering the thin, G-shaped island, and taxis and buses, although as plentiful and efficient as any you’d find in downtown London, spend a lot of time crawling through high-season traffic. And then there’s the cost to consider: a taxi from Hamilton to the Royal Naval Dockyard can take almost an hour and cost over $30. SeaExpress’s appropriatelynamed Serenity zips straight through Bermuda’s crystal-blue Great Sound and makes the same trip in less than thirty minutes for $4, while passengers enjoy a sightseeing opportunity no land-bound vehicle can match.
Throngs of tourists and many Bermudans rely on SeaExpress to get them where they need to be on time. Who does SeaExpress rely on? mtu.
Remote but not alone
Today, as it’s been since SeaExpress opened for business in 1999, every SeaExpress ferry and a variety of fleet support vessels is powered exclusively by mtu and Detroit Diesel engines. “We’re 100 percent mtu here for several good reasons,” explains Francis Richardson, Bermuda’s director of marine and ports. “First, the engines themselves have proven to be very reliable. One of our six catamarans, Serenity, for example, runs every single day up to 15 runs a day, and we’ve never had a problem with an engine. The same is true for all the engines we’ve purchased from our mtu distributor, Atlantic Detroit Diesel-Allison (Lodi, NJ, USA), from the old Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle Series 71s to the mtu Series 2000s we use in our newer boats.”
Richardson continues, “Second, the service we get from Atlantic and (director of technical services) Ken Houle is excellent. They’re responsive and very prompt when we need support. Because Bermuda is so remote, we have our own substantial parts and service operation here ourselves, but we depend on Atlantic to help us whenever we need them.”
With multiple degrees in marine engineering and maritime management, an eight-year stint in the Merchant Marines and more than 20 years of working his way up the ladder from machine shop apprentice, Richardson has an insider’s deep knowledge about every vessel in his fleet and their crews. From his office in downtown Pembroke, he has overseen the growth of SeaExpress over the last 12 years and with it, the strengthening of the unique transoceanic business relationship between the ferry service and mtu. During those dozen years, SeaExpress has purchased a total of 20 Series 2000 engines from Atlantic. Two high-speed catamarans— Serenity and Resolute—were launched in 2004 and are each fitted with twin mtu 12V 2000 engines. Two other cats—Warbaby Fox and J.L. Cecil Smith—are powered by quadruple 12V 2000 engines and were introduced in 2006 and 2007, respectively, when SeaExpress increased its east-west ferry route service. Five additional single-engine catamaran and monohull ferries that utilize either mtu Type 8V Series 2000 or Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle 12V Series 71 engines round out the roster of passenger vessels.
“We keep one spare engine of each configuration in stock and rebuilt, ready to go at all times,” notes Richardson. Engines are changed out in rotation when they hit their allotted runtime.
In addition, all nine of SeaExpress’s support vessels—three tugboats, a cruise ship tender, a buoy tender, two pilot boats and two line boats— are fitted with Detroit Diesel 2-Cycle engines. A new pilot/rescue boat, built by Gladding- Hearn/Duclos Corporation, the same shipyard that built Serenity, joined the roster in 2011. The 61‘ vessel is powered by twin mtu 12V 2000 engines producing 1,055 horsepower.
“Besides the great personal and business relationship we have with the people from Atlantic and mtu, our ferry service has always had a very positive experience with Detroit Diesel engines dating back to the 2-Cycle engines we started with in the 1950s,” explains Richardson. “When it was time to upgrade our fleet to expand our service, we compared the mtu Series 2000 engines to competitors’ engines. The mtu features won us over. The 2000 is a true marine engine, not an engine just adapted for marine use.”
A ferry true to its name
According to SeaExpress Senior Ferry Pilot Giovanni Burrows, piloting the 87' Serenity is exactly as it should be: predictable and uneventful. Leaving the no-wake zone outside of SeaExpress’s Hamilton dock, Burrows throttles up from a two-knot crawl to Serenity’s 23-knot cruising speed and the transition is so smooth it’s almost imperceptible to passengers. Other than a slight surge that lasts a few seconds, the ferry’s twin 975 horsepower mtu 12V 2000 engines make little more than a purr from their starboard side engine compartment. Mopeds and bicycles in bow deck racks barely move; passengers continue their conversations uninterrupted. Other than a jaw-dropping landscape passing outside Serenity’s windows of pastel architecture, blue water and impossibly beautiful pink sand beaches framing it all, you could be riding a city bus.
“The prop-drive cats like Serenity have a bit more bite in the water and get up to speed a little faster than the jet-drive cats do, but the cruising experience is very similar,” Burrows says. “Stable, smooth and reliable. She (Serenity) does up to 15 runs a day from about six in the morning to midnight, and the engines are excellent performers.”
It may seem odd that an island famed for its relaxed pace is also home to a fleet of hugely popular ferries that can cruise at up to 32 knots. The irony isn’t lost on Francis Richardson. “It’s easy to understand why people may ask, ‘It’s a beautiful island. What’s your hurry?’” he says with a smile.