Crossing a Continent by Water to Another City by the Bay
The tourist-laden ferries shuttling between Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty cover about three miles in the round trip. But one boat that may soon be plying that short circuit is traveling almost 8,000 miles to do soA ferryboat named Freedom left San Francisco last month bound for New York Harbor. When it arrives, it will join a fleet that is being cobbled together by Hornblower Yachts, a California company, to replace the Circle Line boats that have carried sightseers to the statue for decades.
The first of the boats arrived on Thursday from New Orleans, where it had served on plantation and zoo tours. Three more ferries are expected to sail down from New England later this month.
“They’re making a pilgrimage to be part of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island,” said Cynthia Garrett, the superintendent of those two national monuments, which are operated by the National Park Service.
The new ferries are scheduled to begin service on Jan. 1, going to the statue and Ellis Island from Battery Park and from Liberty State Park in New Jersey. The fleet change is the result of a decision by the park service last summer to replace Circle Line Downtown as the exclusive ferry operator on those routes.
The January opening means that the Freedom will have only about three weeks to complete its journey from California. The ferry, which is 117 feet long and can hold about 450 passengers, had been a backup on Hornblower’s service to Alcatraz Island, another property of the National Park Service.
The Freedom still has to pass through the Panama Canal, cross the Gulf of Mexico, curl around the Florida Keys and chug up the Eastern Seaboard.
Barring any severe storms along the way, the boat should arrive in time, said Terry MacRae, Hornblower’s chief executive. “In the ocean, anything can happen,” Mr. MacRae said.
He estimated the cost of the Freedom’s extended cruise at $135,000, an expense that he said was necessary because his company had not been able to reach an agreement with the owners of Circle Line.
The park service contract called for Hornblower to buy part of Circle Line’s fleet, but did not set a price. After failing to strike a bargain, the companies took the dispute to an arbitrator who will decide the matter.
Mr. MacRae said he hoped that if the arbitration dragged on into the busier spring season, he would be able to lease some of Circle Line’s boats temporarily “so I don’t have to bring boats from other places while there are some right there in the harbor.”
J. B. Meyer, the president of Circle Line, said yesterday that he expected the matter to be resolved by spring. But that still leaves a few months in which Hornblower will have to use other boats.
To bridge that gap, Hornblower bought two boats, rented two and decided to send the Freedom on its extended voyage. This is not the Freedom’s first oceangoing tour. Before its stint taking visitors to Alcatraz, it ferried summer-vacation crowds to and from Nantucket. It made the long haul from Nantucket to San Francisco Bay in April 2006, Mr. MacRae said, so it has proven its seaworthiness. “It’s been in the ocean its whole life,” he said.
Some of the crew members from that Nantucket voyage are aboard the Freedom now, he said. Yesterday, about three weeks into their trip, they were near the western end of the Panama Canal, waiting to cross over to the gulf, he said.
The journey has been leisurely enough to allow the ship’s captain, Ed Jerbic, to post a blog about it online, sort of a modern version of “The Old Man and the Sea.” Mostly, he has chronicled his exploits as a fisherman, including his landing of a seven-foot blue marlin and a 50-pound dorado.
“We constantly remind ourselves to enjoy these few days,” Mr. Jerbic wrote from Acapulco. “Soon we will be looking at the Atlantic Coast in winter.”
By PATRICK McGEEHAN