Yankee Freedom is featured in the Professional Mariner

photo of the yankee freedom III

New Dry Tortugas ferry is fast, green, comfortable

Apr 28, 2014 12:23 PM
Photos and story by Brian Gauvin

On a winter’s day, the 70-mile crossing from Key West, Fla., to Dry Tortugas National Park — Sunshine State or not — can be a cool and rough one. The high-speed catamaran ferry Yankee Freedom is fast and, on a brisk day in January, fast was good.

photo of the yankee freedom III
Yankee Freedom is the only ferry between Key West, Fla., and Dry Tortugas National Park.

“With the ride control it’s very comfortable for the passengers,” said Capt. Rick Gauron. At a cruising speed of 28 knots, the new boat makes the crossing in two hours and 15 minutes.

The 111.5-foot Yankee Freedom, owned by Yankee Fleet of Gloucester, Mass., was built to replace Yankee Freedom II in order to meet updated National Park Service requirements. The new boat is on a 10-year contract as the official — and only — ferry on the Tortugas run. Both vessels were designed by the Australian firm Incat Crowther and built at Gladding-Hearn’s Somerset, Mass., yard.

Yankee Freedom, equipped with the automatic Vosper/MDI ride control system that dampens pitch and yaw, is powered by a pair of Caterpillar 3512, 1,650 hp, Tier II mains with 2.5:1 twin disc, quick shift gears and Bruntons five-blade 47-inch propellers.

As expected, the new boat is bright with green features including a vinyl wrap that is lighter than paint, requires less maintenance and is more friendly to water. Other features favored by the Park Service include high-efficiency LED lighting, zero discharge of graywater and blackwater, an onboard oil boom that will circle the hull if a spill occurs, solar-charged emergency batteries and metal-free bottom paint.

photo of yankee freedom crew
Mustering on a gangway are Gauron, park guide Michael Guyet, mate Jeff Jannausch, mate Tom Mangum, mate Ryan Grandcourt and Capt. Andrew Urquhart.

The boat, which carries campers and day-tripping snorkelers to the island, also has an SK 400 watermaker that makes 400 gallons of water every 24 hours. “It keeps up with the usage, mostly for the snorkelers, that use the showers,” said Gauron.

The 255-passenger ferry is limited by the Park Service to carrying 150 people per trip in order to control the number of visitors to the sensitive habitat. The result is a roomy ride with plenty of Beurteaux seating with tables in the interior lounges on two decks, and exterior seating for 56 on the upper aft deck. Day passengers have four hours ashore on Garden Key. There is a wet bar and the buffet galley serves breakfast and lunch, included in the trip fare.

“We don’t throw caution to the wind,” said Gauron at the port console as Yankee Freedom approached the Fort Jefferson dock in a stiff wind. “We put an extra line up just in case.”

photos of yankee freedom in professional mariner