The design of the new passenger ferry for Hatteras and Ocracoke.

What can be said about another Ocracoke summer without passenger ferry service? Charitably, it will be just like every other summer.

Delivery of the M/V Ocracoke Express, a 98-passenger catamaran-style boat being custom-built by U.S. Workboats in Hubert, near Swansboro, was supposed to be ready earlier this month according to the contract.

But the Ferry Division announced recently the new boat is taking longer to build than planned and wouldn’t be ready for the busy tourist season. 

A worker at US Workboats guides the 48,000-pound hull of the M/V Ocracoke Express during Monday’s hull flip in Hubert. Photo courtesy of N.C. Ferry Division

This jet-propelled boat with an aluminum catamaran-style hull is being custom-built since there are not a lot of used passenger ferries on the open market these days for purchase or lease. Maybe none.

And hiring enough skilled welders in this hot labor market is hampering production, but Jed Dixon, Ferry Division deputy director, said at a community meeting in May that he was optimistic the boat would be finished, tested and certified sometime in the fall. Yesterday’s Ferry Division press release indicated the boat should be completed in September. 

Then, the boat will undergo trial runs. The reservation system will be tested and it will maybe have a few runs with selected passengers in a “soft launch.”

This is a good thing—to test it all out before opening it to the public.

Maybe it will be ready to do runs for Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree Oct. 25 to 28, expected to draw record crowds since this year is the tricentennial anniversary of Blackbeard’s demise Nov. 22, 1718, at the hands of Lt. Robert Maynard.

On its best behavior, October can be one of most pleasant months of the year. But it can also yield volatile weather. In the seven years of the Jamboree, three of the events were canceled due to Hurricanes Irene, Sandy and Maria.

Launching the one-hour passenger ferry from Hatteras into the village during beautiful weather can be an unforgettable experience. Cool temperatures and high winds can also be an unforgettable experience.

The idea of adding a passenger-only boat to the busiest Hatteras-Ocracoke run came about in 2015 after the long route across the Hatteras Inlet was officially sanctioned.  This one-hour ferry ride has resulted in fewer runs between islands and therefore fewer cars and day-trippers journeying to the island.

Islanders’ concerns with this prompted the Ferry Division to explore the purchase of a passenger ferry to help relieve the traffic lines at Hatteras.

Many have put a great deal of thought and effort into making this pioneering endeavor a success. But there are also some “I told you so” remarks by skeptics.

Yes, this is a setback and a disappointment. It is not the first time a monumental project missed a launch deadline and it won’t be the last.

On the bright side, more planning and thought can be put into the launch to avoid some, if not all, of the kinks that will be needed for a successful new endeavor.

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  1. It’s taking a long time to “berth” this baby. I hope I am able to be aboard for one of the shakedown runs this fall. I feel the frustration of Ocracoke and hope there are no further delays.

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