Making the connection
The perfect solution was found 600 miles away, sitting idle in a Philadelphia shipyard. The 349- foot USNS Puerto Rico high-speed catamaran utilizes the same hull concept used by the U.S. Navy in its Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport vessels. Capable of transporting 700 passengers and 200 vehicles, its aluminum-hull design and four mtu Series 8000 engines help the vessel travel at speeds up to 40 mph, nearly twice as fast as the Nova Star. The ship seemed like a perfect fit for Bay Ferries.
Previously, the USNS Puerto Rico went by the name of the Alakai. Operated by Hawaii Superferry, the Alakai spent two busy years transporting passengers and vehicles between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Maui. However, due to legal complications, its service was shut down and Hawaii Superferry went bankrupt. The U.S. Navy acquired the Alakai and it was sent to the naval shipyards in Philadelphia for storage and preservation.
Renamed the USNS Puerto Rico, the vessel resided in “mothball state,” awaiting the call to get equipped and deployed for military service. To keep the engines in good condition, the Navy contracted with Seaward Services to perform weekly test runs, upkeep and required maintenance. For five years, the USNS Puerto Rico was ready to run but never left the harbor. It would take a lot of work to get it ready for tourist season, but Bay Ferries had found its ship.
A new lease on life
On March 24, 2016, Bay Ferries announced it had reached an agreement with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Maritime Administration for a twoyear lease of the USNS Puerto Rico. Bay Ferries planned to rebrand the vessel as The CAT, with ferry service to start just a few short months away in June. The ship was towed to a shipyard in Charleston, South Carolina for an extensive refit.
Bay Ferries contacted mtu America Large Engine Service (LES) Group to get the massive Series 8000 engines ready for heavy commercial work again. The ferry operator had one objective for the group—100% engine reliability, every run, every day. Delaying or denying a hard-earned vacation for hundreds of eager tourists waiting on shore would be disastrous for the new ferry service. The captain, staff and crew depend on the vessel, along with the people of Portland, Yarmouth and the province of Nova Scotia. With so much at stake, including a lot of tourism revenue, missing a departure would not an option. The task and deadline weren’t going to be easy. Massive engines like these don’t just roar back to life after sitting mostly idle for five years.
Born to run
The LES Group was up for the challenge, and in May assembled in Charleston to get The CAT ready. This group covers the U.S. East Coast, and travels to service Navy vessels all over the world. James Moore was part of the team of technicians in Charleston. “mtu engines are designed for hard work. Putting loads on the engines helps keep them clean. Most of the basic problems happen when the engines aren’t worked hard enough, and that says a lot for mtu. These engines are at their best when they’re in continual operation,” said Moore. “Mothballed” for five years, The CAT’s engines would need a lot of preparation.
At the dry-dock in Charleston, Moore and other LES technicians meticulously worked on the four engines. With each engine nearly 11-feet-tall, there was a lot to cover. Service included performing inspections, cleaning components, identifying potential issues and making repairs. “We used our resources to go over the engines with a fine-toothed comb. We had to make sure there was no room for error,” says Larry Oberti, service manager, Large Engine Service Group. “If the military asked us for the same scope of work, we would have performed the same process.”
Meanwhile, technicians from Wajax, an mtu distributor in Canada, were on site to monitor the process and train on the engines. The LES Group was contracted to perform day-to-day service duties for the first six weeks after the vessel’s official launch. After that, Wajax was slated to take over. The CAT represented something new for Wajax, since it was the first vessel in Canada to be powered by the Series 8000, the largest and most powerful engine produced by mtu.
While the service technicians were busy deep inside the engine room, workers prepared the rest of the ship for action. The exterior was repainted, replacing the Alakai’s giant stingrays on the hull with The CAT, its new logo, and American and Canadian flags. The interior was cleaned, refitted and updated with a host of onboard amenities.
All the planning, teamwork and hard work paid off. In a few short weeks, The CAT was ready to exit dry-dock and hit the open water. Technicians from the LES Group and Wajax traveled on The CAT from Charleston, South Carolina to Portland, Maine. To save time, the vessel made the 33-hour journey without stopping. After a series of crossings and dockings between Portland and Yarmouth, the Coast Guard certified the vessel for service. On June 15, right on schedule, The CAT made its first official crossing. The entire town of Yarmouth welcomed and celebrated its arrival.
Since the ferry journey is part of the vacation fun, great care was taken to ensure passengers could sit back, relax and enjoy the ocean views, along with the occasional whales and porpoises. The CAT is fully appointed with amenities such as a gift shop, cafeteria, live entertainment, movie area and kids play area. The rear observation deck provides scenic views along with a not-so-gentle hint at the sheer power of the Series 8000 engines rumbling below, blasting four huge columns of water high in the air, like a gigantic Jet Ski.
“Looking over the back at the water jets is quite impressive. People have no idea what’s pushing the ferry at this kind of speed. I always thought they’d attract even more passengers if they offered a tour of the engine room,” says Paul Mitchell, field service technician for Wajax.
The crew makes sure The CAT maintains its schedule without interruptions also works behind the scenes. The CAT departs daily from Power. Passion. Partnership. Larry Oberti, service manager, mtu Large Engine Service “We worked together with Wajax and Bay Ferries technicians, and we removed a power unit, exchanged heads and re-installed it back in the engine, all in a single evening.” The CAT sat idle for five years before it was recommissioned for high-speed ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine. Portland at 2:30 p.m. and arrives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia at 9 p.m., taking only about half the time of its predecessor. After the hundreds of tourists and cars leave the ship, it’s time for the night shift. Working a 10-hour shift, a team of mechanical and electrical technicians services The CAT, providing oil and filter changes, maintenance and inspections. The routine is repetitive, and the hours aren’t great, but it’s necessary to keep the ship running on time, every time. The next morning at 8 a.m., the ferry makes the trip back to Portland.
All hands on deck
One night, during a routine nightly inspection, a technician spotted a coolant leak. A cylinder head needed replacement before it caused bigger problems. “In a matter of a few days, we rounded up resources and parts and tooling and brought them to Yarmouth. It was all hands on deck,” says Oberti. “We worked together with Wajax and Bay Ferries technicians, and we removed a power unit, exchanged heads and re-installed it back in the engine, all in a single evening.”
The call for assistance went out to Dubai, where James Moore, mtu America LES Group, was servicing a Series 8000 for a similar high-speed catamaran built for U.S. military use. As part of the crew in Charleston, the team needed Moore’s expertise. He boarded a flight to Nova Scotia and quickly got to work, joining up with Bill Rinehimer and Dominic Monica from the LES Group and Paul Mitchell from Wajax.
“It was an adventure to say the least,” says Moore. “We got as much done as we could overnight. Then we went along with the ship on its morning crossing. We worked on the way while the ship ran on three engines. By the time we got to Portland, the engine was ready for full usage. And it ran perfectly all the way back.”
A non-stop success
For the rest of the season, it was smooth sailing for The CAT. It never missed a departure. That’s a good thing for thousands of tourists who made the voyage to enjoy the natural splendor of Nova Scotia. And that’s a very good thing for the people of Yarmouth, who are perhaps The CAT’s biggest fans. You can see it in their faces every time the ship arrives at the dock.
While mtu engines may supply the power for The CAT, the ship powers the town of Yarmouth. “The Yarmouth community is rooting for the success of The CAT,” says Moore. “They rely on the income coming off that ship. So every evening, when that ship comes in, half the town gathers on the piers and docks to give it a warm welcome. It’s pretty neat. And it’s been great to be a part of it.”