Hawaii Ferry Saga: One Door Opens Wide, Another Slams Shut

Hawaii Ferry Saga: One Door Opens Wide, Another Slams Shut

The final vestige of the grandest try ever to link the Hawaiian islands by ferry has come to an end on Kauai. The state recently issued a bid request to remove the Hawaii Superferry ramp at Nawiliwili Harbor on Kauai. It’s anticipated to cost up to a quarter million dollars to remove the ramp and chain fence link components.

The Hawaii Superferry tried hard but, in the end, was not successful in combining passenger, frieght, and vehicle ferry service. It’s a concept that was discussed, planned, and tried for decades as a way to improve critical interisland travel for passengers and cargo.

While the Hawaii Superferry was a bust, there is something new on the horizon that may open another opportunity and offer a smoother ride. It too, however, isn’t without controversy. Hopefully, the history of the Superferry may lead to a better experience.

Hawaii Superferry

The start and end of the Hawaii Superferry.

The first time we learned about the Hawaii Superferry was in the late 1990s. The company was formed in 2003 and acquired and modified two high-speed catamarans. One launched in 2007 and ended service in 2009. The catamarans were then sold at auction to the US Navy.

While in service, there were problems and controversies. In addition to that, the ride was not always smooth. As one rider said, “Loved it when the water was nice and flat. It was a nightmare when seas were rough. I knew it would be rough so I was usually drugged up for those segments. But it was borderline comical watching attendants following passengers with barf bags as the ship rocked back and forth for 2-3 hours.”

It was argued, among other things, that the Superferry threatened humpback whales and posed other environmental threats, including vehicles bringing with them invasive species and potentially worse. While the ferry planned to service Kauai, it abruptly changed plans after the 2007 maiden voyage made news nationally as surfers and others protested into Nawiliwili Harbor, and effectively blocked the vessel from landing for hours.

The Hawaii Legislature passed a law that permitted the Superferry to run as an environmental impact statement was being readied. However, legal battles ensued, demanding it be done prior to operations and not concurrent with them. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that allowing Superferry to operate without a second complete environmental study was unconstitutional.

Japan Airlines Joins Hawaiian Airlines On Seaglider Fleets

Exciting developments are on the horizon for ferry-like Hawaii transportation.

In a groundbreaking move last year, Hawaiian Airlines announced its investment in the Regent Monarch, a cutting-edge, all-electric Seaglider with a 100-person capacity. This move sparks intriguing questions and opens up a new chapter of possibilities for ferry-like interisland transportation in Hawaii. It remains to be seen if Alaska Airlines will continue with the project if they can complete the acquisition of Hawaiian Airlines next year.

Earlier this year, Regent unveiled a full-scale mock-up of its revolutionary Seaglider. The company also announced the addition of “Aerospace Titans Dennis Muilenburg and David Neeleman to (its) Board of Advisors.” That while Miami-based Surf Air revealed plans for Seaglider service and the US Marines and Regent will demonstrate Seaglider technology in the Littorals.

The Regent Monarch, is set to commence commercial deliveries in 2028. It represents a mesmerizing hybrid ferry/aircraft designed for the latest Hawaii harbor-to-harbor service. It aims to address the void left by the failed Hawaii Superferry and could revolutionize travel within the islands.

Once airborne, the seaglider utilizes a phenomenon known as the “ground effect,” rising just above the water’s surface for efficient lift. The manufacturer emphasizes its ability to maneuver within harbors like a boat and transition to plane-like operation in open waters.

Hawaiian Airlines is not the sole player in this ambitious, modern sea ferry venture.

Southern Airways Express, Mokulele Airlines’ parent company, made a substantial $250 million purchase of 15 of Regent’s 12-passenger Viceroy seagliders and 5 of the 100-seat Monarchs. This strategic move positions Seagliders as potential replacements for traditional interisland flights.

The overarching goal is to provide Hawaii with interisland transportation that is more cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and less noisy than existing options. Regent envisions seagliders as a game-changer for regional transportation, addressing Hawaii’s unique interisland needs. These all-electric vehicles boast speeds of 200 mph with the operating cost of a boat, aligning with the goal of convenient, comfortable, and environmentally sustainable travel.

While this presents an exciting prospect for travel in Hawaii, questions abound.

Are these considered TSA-secured flights or boat travel? How will they impact Hawaii’s wildlife, including humpback whales? That and navigating rough water are perhaps the two most widely discussed concerns. Despite these queries, the potential benefits include similar travel times to current air travel experiences while avoiding airports, and the prospect of a unique ocean travel experience.

Notably, this isn’t the first attempt at interisland ferry service in Hawaii. Far before the Superferry, SeaFlite operated for nearly three years with and technical and financial challenges leading to its early demise. Now, as Hawaii dreams of a reliable ferry system, the Regent Seaglider initiative raises hope for a successful and transformative transportation alternative.

Even before Superferry, there was SeaFlite.

Operating for nearly three years, the SeaFlite service utilized three vessels before ceasing operations primarily due to financial challenges. Subsequently, the boats found a new purpose in Hong Kong. During its existence, the service offered up to 12 daily runs but eventually folded, with a substantial $20 fare for each one-way trip.

The Boeing Jetfoil 929-100 hydrofoils were acquired by Honolulu-based SeaFlite in 1975 for service between the Hawaiian Islands. They operated until the company folded in 1979.

Seasickness has always presented problems on Hawaii ferries.

At the time of SeaFlite, these were supposed to be smooth riding since they skimmed just above the waves. That turned out to not be the case, however. There was also a fire on one of the boats, as well as a collision with a Coast Guard boat. The Boeing 929 turned out to not be reliable and cancellations were frequent. There were concerns about Hawaiian humpback whale collisions back then as well, although we are not aware of any that actually happened. Superferry suffered from seasickness issues as well. That problems is supposed to be eliminated from the Regent vehicle however, since it primarily operates above the water.

Please share your thoughts on Hawaii ferry service, future and past.

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28 thoughts on “Hawaii Ferry Saga: One Door Opens Wide, Another Slams Shut”

  1. I rode on one of these in the late ’70’s when Boeing tested them in Seattle. When we pulled away from the dock, the vessel bobbed in the water like a cork until it turned around and got going fast enought to get up it’s skis. I was shocked how quickly it was possible to get sea sick.

    The problem was that the hydroflil cost as much as a 737 and was a massive gas hog. All of the energy nessary to keep it up on the skis came from the fuel. It’s possible the wing of the Seaglider will provide enough lift that the fuel use problems will be better.

    The hydrofoil never made any business sense. It was developed after the recession in the mid-’70’s basically to give the engineers some to do and in hope to land a navy contract

  2. We should have a ferry like Alaska’s Marine Railway System that is owned by the state. The ferries are capable of moving large construction vehicles, regular cars and people to the different towns/ports. These ferries are regular ships that can handle different ocean conditions. You can ride one from Bellingham WA and go to Juneau and Anchorage. I had an enjoyable trip.


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