There is finally high-speed passenger only ferry service linking Hatteras and Ocracoke. NCDOT had to jump through some hoops to get it done, but they had told the public there would be service this year, and some out of the box thinking got a ferry to the docks.
A high-speed ferry is being built for NCDOT, and the Ferry Division had hoped to have that craft on the water for the 2019 season. However, construction delays moved the completion date back to fall.
With infrastructure for the ferry and a passenger tram operated by Hyde County from the dock to the Ocracoke Village in place, NCDOT felt they had to initiate service.
On Monday, May 24 the Martha’s Vineyard Express made its first run. Renamed the Ocracoke Express for this year, the ferry, leased from Seastreak, a company operating ferry service in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, will handle passenger service this summer.
Ocracoke, with its compact, quaint village business district is an ideal day trip from the northern Outer Banks. However, when 2013 shoaling closed the main ferry route between Hatteras and Ocracoke, ferry transit time increased by 20 minutes. That may not sound like much, but the result was fewer ferry trips, a drop in day visits and long lines at the Hatteras Ferry dock with reports that some day trippers simply left rather than wait in line.
A 2016 study by NCDOT indicated support for a passenger only ferry that would dock at Silver Lake at the edge of Ocracoke Village. The passenger ferry docks on the north end of the island, 14 miles from the Village.
One year later, in 2017, NCDOT awarded a $4.15 million contract to Armstrong Marine of Swansboro to build the Ocracoke Express, a 98 passenger high-speed catamaran ferry to be delivered in the summer of 2018. Armstrong Marine is now US Workboats.
From the outset there were delays. US Workboats indicated they were having trouble hiring workers with the right skills. Plans to have the Ocracoke Express on the water by the 2018 peak season were scrapped and the launch date was pushed back to the fall of 2018.
The project continued to hampered by construction delays and the launch date was moved back to spring 2019. In the meantime, though, investment in infrastructure to handle the ferry moved forward with the state using $5 million in federal grants to get Hatteras and Ocracoke ready for the ferry.
Hyde County, where Ocracoke is located, began a free electric tram service linking the ferry dock with businesses on the north end of town. Howard’s Pub, one of the most popular restaurants on the Outer Banks is included in the route.
In February of this year, perhaps the most significant delay occurred when a Coast Guard inspection revealed substandard welds on the hull of the catamaran.
Because of the series of delays and concerns about the overall quality of the work being done by US Boatworks, NCDOT has quality control experts on hand at the boatyard. The contract between US Boatworks and North Carolina stipulates penalizes of $1000 per day after August 4 of last year until the Ocracoke Express is delivered.
Initial plans call for three runs daily for the Ocracoke Express. leaving Hatteras at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. The ferry will leave Ocracoke at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. The fare is $1 each way with no charge for bicycles. That is considerably less than the originally proposed fare of $15 round trip.