Great fanfare greeted the MV Islander ferry when it completed its maiden voyage from Wood’s Hole to Martha’s Vineyard on May 18th, 1950. A crowd of more than 3,400 people came out for a ride, and the local chaplain blessed the boat. For more than half a century, the MV Islander shuttled passengers to Martha’s Vineyard and became a beloved part of summers on the coast of Massachusetts. After it was retired and replaced by the Island Home, the MV Islander made its way to New York. Unfortunately, the ferry didn’t fare so well in the Big Apple.
The MV Islander was constructed in Baltimore in 1950 by the Maryland Dry Dock company. It stretched over 200-feet long and could carry nearly 800 passengers along with fifty cars. It was bigger and faster than its predecessor, an older wood and steel ferry called the Hackensack (renamed Islander when it went into island service). Historian William Ewen notes that the Islander was the first “true ferry boat” because it was the first built as a double-ender for the island service. Cars could drive in at one end and drive off the other.
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The MV Islander was in service for fifty-seven years, and it’s this longevity that Ewen credits for the fondness people feel towards it. “She carried the memories of several generations of families traveling to Martha’s Vineyard. Those who were excited kids heading to the island for vacation are now adults and the memories of those times are likely very sweet. In actuality, her passenger accommodations were kind of sparse and somewhat lacking in comfort, especially compared to the other vessels,” says Ewen.
Blogger Joan Boyken remembers her rides aboard the ferry fondly: “There was just something about this tub of a boat that endeared her to all who sailed on her… she wasn’t a great beauty, but she had a regalness about her. The Vineyard is many things to many people, and in many hearts, the Islander was the emotional connection.” The MV Islander even made a quick appearance in the Steven Spielberg movie Jaws, filmed on Martha’s Vineyard.
After the Islander’s retirement in 2007, the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation bought the boat for $500,000. The intent was to have the Islander serve as a back-up vessel to the Governors Island ferry. In 1998, a reverse deal was made when the Governor – a Governors Island ferry – went to Martha’s Vineyard. The 1954 vessel originally sailed between San Diego and Coronado and in Washington State before making its way east to New York City and eventually to Martha’s Vineyard.
At first, Islander fans rejoiced over the prospect of their favorite ferry, gaining a second life in the big city. However, after a six-month inspection, the Islander was deemed unseaworthy. The inspection revealed that an additional $6 million in repairs were needed to make the ferry fit for service. The Governors Island Preservation and Education corporation decided to put the boat up for sale rather than take on more cost. The Islander sat docked at Yankee Pier on Governors Island, awaiting its fate.
The 2009 eBay auction for the Islander started at just $10. After 19 bids, the ferry sold for $23,600 to Donald Slovak, a farmer, and trucker from Valatie in upstate New York. Slovak hoped to sell the boat in whole or in parts, and again fans of the Islander hoped the vessel might find a new life, maybe even in a new country. Unfortunately, their hopes were dashed once more.
After the auction, the Islander was caught up in a storm of legal drama. Slovak threatened to sue for lost profits and additional costs, including dockage fees, insurance, maintenance, damages, and penalties, which he accrued due to the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation’s delay in issuing a bill of sale. The Corporation said that it could not issue the bill of sale because Slovak did not have the proper insurance for the boat. There was even an investigation into the ferry’s original purchase conducted by Senator Craig Johnson’s Standing Committee on Investigations and Government Operations. That investigation concluded that “flawed judgment resulted in a significant waste of taxpayers dollars” when the Islander was purchased.
The Donjon Marine Company of New Jersey finally was able to purchase the boat and move it to Port Newark. There, the Islander was scrapped. The Islander’s hull was found in a boat graveyard off the coast of Staten Island in 2014. “Islander Woods Hole” was still visible painted onto the side. The Islander joins a long list of Martha’s Vineyard vessels, including the Nobska, New Bedford, and the Uncatena, that have met their end in the scrapyard. Though the Islander never went into service in New York City, the Governors Island ferry runs daily, shuttling passengers to the island from the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan, and from Red Hook/Atlantic Basin in Brooklyn on the weekends.
Uncover more secrets from Governors Island’s past on our upcoming walking tour, The Hidden Gems of Governors Island!
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