Cowes ferry comes to Connecticut

William Raynor looks at a unique, and rather ironic, transatlantic partnership

A Shipbuilding yard on the south coast of England has signed a deal that could help to revolutionise the passenger ferry industry in one of the world's biggest and, in this context, most backward, markets - the United States.

As a symbol of resurgence on both sides, and a way of burying an old and bloody colonial hatchet, the deal also has other intriguing connotations. The signatories are FBM Marine, of Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, and Pequot River Shipworks, of New London, Connecticut.

Pequot River Shipworks is owned by the 340 remaining descendants of the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Tribe whose territory, until European settlement in the early 17th century, covered 250 square miles of Connecticut's

south-east coastal belt, and whose population of 10,000 to 15,000 was decimated by epidemics of settler-borne disease and massacre at the hands of the English in 1637. The survivors were then exiled, and their river was renamed the Thames.

"In the circumstances, the Pequots teaming up now with an English shipyard may seem slightly ironical," concedes former full-time FBM executive Mike McSorley. As Pequot River Shipworks' vice-president (Sales & Marketing), with a salary paid 50-50 by each company, he heads the joint-selling venture they have set up with the clear intention of becoming US market leaders.

Specifically, their deal concerns "fast ferries", vessels generally defined as being able to carry more than 50 passengers at average speeds of more than 25 knots (28.5mph), and constitute one of the fastest-growing sectors of maritime transport.

Because of the Jones - or "Foreign Bottoms" - Act, which Congress passed in 1924 to forbid the use on internal routes of vessels built elsewhere, the US has, according to Mr McSorley, been largely unaffected by advances made in 1950s or 1960s. "In fast-ferry terms," he says, "it's a Third- World country."

In terms of the deal, Pequot River Shipworks, formed for the purpose, has been granted a licence to build a single FBM Tri Cat - a futuristic, 45-metre catamaran, seating 320 passengers and able to cruise at 50 knots.

With further irony, at the invocation of the tribal shaman, Slow Turtle, the Tri Cat was named Sassacus, after a legendary Pequot chief. "When it's completed next summer," says Mr McSorley, "it'll be the biggest and fastest fast-ferry ever seen in American waters, and we're planning to demonstrate it all round the coast."

Then it will be used to whisk punters - "in airline comfort, club class plus" - over Long Island Sound on a 90-mile, two-hour run between Manhattan and Foxwoods Resort, described by its literature as "the largest casino in the western hemisphere".

At its own yard on the River Medina, FBM has built five sister craft during the past three years, is currently working on a further two, and has orders for three more on its books, all for service in Hong Kong.

FBM has also granted Pequot River Shipworks full access to its technology and the specifications of its seven other fast-ferry designs.

For FBM, the immediate financial gains will be small. From keel to fit- out, the Tri Cats it builds in Cowes normally cost $10m to $11m (pounds 6.3m to pounds 7m). With start-up expenses, Sassacus is expected to cost approximately $14m, of which FBM will receive a standard 5 per cent as licence fee. Even with the extras it is providing, it is therefore unlikely to make more than $1m.

"But that's only for starters," insists Mr McSorley. "We're already looking to secure orders in the US for three further Tri Cats and six other boats during the next year, and with each one that comes through, the fees will stack up. Then there's Canada, South America, and serious interest in the Caribbean. The potential is fantastic."

If so, the obvious question is whether Pequot River Shipworks or FBM will be able to cope. With a turnover of pounds 35m and direct workforce of 260, FBM may be a big fish in its home pond, but is still a minnow in the pool of international shipbuilding. Being new, with 65 employees and no turnover to show, its US partner has still not begun to swim.

Yet outward appearances can be deceptive, and underlying reality suggests that Mr McSorley's confidence may not be entirely misplaced. Each of the companies has a reservoir of the necessary expertise on its doorstep; behind both are expanding empires with enough financial muscle between them to prove him right.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
music

News
Russell Brand at an anti-austerity march in June
peopleActor and comedian says 'there's no point doing it if you're not'
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
i100
Voices
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice
music

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior Pensions Administrator

£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Administrator

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...

Customer Service Executive / Inbound Customer Service Agent

£18 - 23k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Customer Service Executiv...

ASP.NET Web Developer / .NET Developer

£60 - 65k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a ASP.NET Web Developer / ....

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album