Powhatan joins fleet

Published 7:11 pm Tuesday, October 1, 2019

By Frederic Lee

Staff writer 

SURRY — First Lady of Virginia Pamela Northam christened the Powhatan ferry on Monday, just hours before it took its first public passengers across the James River. 

According to Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine, who toured the new vessel with a group of Virginia officials Sept. 30, the new ferryboat will be a part of the fleet for the next 70 years, describing the ferry system itself as a “lifeline” for the area. 

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“It’s just the perfect word,” she said, adding that she was quoting locals when she used it in a speech aboard the ferry. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The Powhatan was modeled after the Jamestown-Scotland ferry fleet’s Pocahontas, which went into service in 1995, according to Kevin O’Sullivan.  

O’Sullivan was the program manager overseeing the construction of the Powhatan at VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Miss., and said in an interview on Sept. 30 that, while the outside of the ferry looks similar to the Pocahontas — which he referred to as the Powhatan’s sister ship — the internal is modernized to today’s standards. 

Ferry crew steered it around Florida and up the coast “right through hurricane season,” said O’Sullivan, setting to the seas several weeks ago once Hurricane Dorian had dissipated.

One challenge in the design of the ferry was that it was required to be up to date with VDOT safety regulations that change continuously, said Serco’s Dan Rolland, the design project manager of the Powhatan.

The boat accommodates 70 vehicles, according to O’Sullivan.

On tech features, Valentine noted that navigational updates included two joysticks instead of a steering wheel — the steering mechanism of the Virginia, built in 1936 and formerly the fleet’s oldest ship before it was retired.   

Jamestown-Scotland Ferry Training Captain Mario Rente said that, between the Powhatan and the retired Virginia, “There’s no comparison.”

Along with the joysticks, the Powhatan comes with touchscreen digital map and radar navigation in the captain’s lodge, along with live internal ferry monitoring technology that indicates — among other information — which doors are open and when and also includes data-sharing capability linked to the engineer’s control center located in the engine room below deck.   

The Jamestown-Scotland ferry system runs all day every day and started in 1925, with operations taken over by the state of Virginia in 1945.  {/mprestriction}