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Hydrofoil ferries to test home waters

Futuristic-looking vessels could begin Baltimore-Rock Hall crossings of Chesapeake Bay by summer 2007

Futuristic-looking vessels could begin Baltimore-Rock Hall crossings of Chesapeake Bay by summer 2007

A Baltimore company says it hopes to begin high-speed ferry service between the city and Maryland’s eastern shore by the summer of 2007 with two hydrofoil vessels it will design and construct. Maritime Applied Physics Corp. says by 2008, it could be “flying” passengers across the Chesapeake Bay in an advanced ferry that would use both hydrofoils and a wing-shaped hull to skim above the water.

“With the congestion on the roadways and on the [Chesapeake Bay] Bridge in the summertime, and the discussion of new bridges across the Bay, we started thinking about ferry options,” says Mark Rice, president of MAPC, which designs and builds military and commercial vessels. He says hydrofoil ferries could cut the travel time from Baltimore to Rock Hall from two hours to 30 minutes.

The market for the ferries does not yet exist, Rice notes. But his company believes tourists can be encouraged to travel to Rock Hall, and residents of KentCounty can be enticed to use ferries to visit Baltimore for shopping, entertainment and airline flights. He sees no market delivering commuters to and from Baltimore and the eastern shore.

“The summertime routes have been run in the past as recently as last summer on an infrequent basis,” says Rice. “I think the key to that demand is advertising and coordinating with KentCounty and Baltimore [tourism agencies]. … It’s a market you have to go out and create, based on advertising.”

Rice says his company has “six months worth of detailed design and Coast Guard review in front of us and about 12 months of construction. We’d actually start with two vessels.”

The first of the vessels would be monohulls, rather traditional in appearance and costing about $2.4 million each. They would employ two or more hydrofoils — T-shaped appendages below the keel composed of a vertical strut at the bottom of which a horizontal, wing-shaped foil would be attached. The foil would function precisely as an aircraft wing, Rice says, providing lift that would raise a ferry’s hull out of the water.

At the dock, the hydrofoils would draw 7 feet. Within 90 seconds and a couple of hundred yards from the dock, the ferry would be traveling at 35 knots, creating no wake and drawing only 3 feet, according to Rice. The ferries would carry 80 passengers and, even in the most severe conditions on the Bay when waves reach 7 feet, the ride would be smooth because the hull would ride out of the water, Rice says.

MAPC’s second generation of ferries is envisioned as a “flying-wing” type of craft, a vessel that would rely on the same principles that keeps an airliner skimming above the runway for a long distance before it lands. The hull of a hydrofoil boat creates drag as it is pushed through the air, he explains. MAPC tried designing

a new hull shape that would reduce drag, he says, and it tested that shape in a University of Maryland wind tunnel.

“The question for the … test was whether we could convert drag into lift that would reduce the drag on foils and improve overall efficiency of the boat.” The university announced in December that the tests were successful.

This was welcome news to P.A.M. Schaller, the KentCounty director of economic development. “The plan is for people in KentCounty to get some of the jobs that will be developed as a result of this service,” she says. “I think from the standpoint of visitors coming over here [from Baltimore] it’s going to be a win-win. As far as people from KentCounty being able to go over to Baltimore, I think it’s also a very positive win.”

Rice says there are no hydrofoil ferries operating in the United States. The Jones Act requires that commercial vessels traveling between ports in this country be built in this country, and Rice says that no United States company is building them. The Boeing Company has built offshore hydrofoils, but they are necessarily expensive to construct, Rice says.

“The intent is to learn from our recent experiences building boats for the Navy to try to design a boat that avoids the major cost issues,” Rice says. “That would represent the first boat we put in service. In the optimistic world, the [second generation of ferries] would be in service in the second summer of operations, 2008.

“What we’re trying to do is go through the incremental improvements that allow efficiency gains in high-speed marine passenger transportation,” Rice says.