January 11th 2007
Teething problems for "Impressive" Maggie Cat
The "Maggie Cat", Sunferries' brand new vessel for the Townsville to Magnetic Island run, carried passengers for the first time yesterday. And, while there was a generally positive impression about the speed and smoothness of the trip, teething problems were evident.
One of the first impressions of the vessel, from a traveller's point of view, is the simplicity of its design. Downstairs is a long seating area unencumbered by staircases and clear of tables with comfortable bucket seating in four main columns.
While large video screens are suspended above the seating it is the view to the water and Magnetic Island which steals the show. The windows are bigger and the whole interior feels light and more a part of the seascape it passes through. Tinting to minimise heat intrusion through the windows has been added so as to maximise comfort and view.
Downstairs on Maggie Cat The windows are bigger
Although there was air conditioning at the rear side seating and the bar area, the large a/c unit for the main cabin was inoperative yesterday. For a very hot afternoon this was not comfortable. When we took the issue to Sunferries' General Manager, Mark McKeon, he agreed, "It's critical and a bit disappointing that we would have an air conditioning problem but we are having extra venting being put in. I expect that to be fixed within a week" he said.
Upstairs the passenger seating area is comprised of rows of aluminium seats beneath an open-backed roof which extends toward a smaller sun deck.
The mostly shaded upper deck
Islander, Daniel Daniel was on board and described the ride as, "Very good, quiet and smooth". Hillary Skeat of Picnic Bay summed up the trip as "Sparkling!" but Sharn Rocco of Nelly Bay was disappointed that (upstairs) seats didn't face (back to) the horizon rather than the bridge.
When asked whether seats could be turned around to face each other, for the sociable Island commuters, Mark McKeon claimed that unfortunately they would lose too much space.
Dr Don Kinsey of Arcadia claimed it was, "a smooth ride over all," and "impressive," however his wife, Barbara, who requires the aid of walking sticks, was concerned that on yesterday's service she had to board via a ramp to the top deck only and had to then negotiate the ferry's stairs to disembark. Mark McKeon was apologetic that this was necessary but that due to the fact that the whole of the wharf/pontoon area was under reconstruction and still a building site, boarding from the Breakwater terminal was restricted to the upper ramp.
Barbara Kinsey's problem pointed to the most difficult issue Sunferries appear to be facing with the new vessel. Maggie Cat sits a higher in the water than the company was expecting. This causes problems unloading passengers and cargo at Nelly Bay Harbour. Mark McKeon said, "We are coming up with an engineering solution. We understood that the tunnel height (space between the cat's two hulls) would be lower so we may have to move the whole loading ramp up by six inches or install a scissors lift. We are working right now to modify that." He was not, however, prepared at this stage to say just how long the work might take but added, "It (the Maggie Cat) could be off-line for three or four days next week. It's a toss-up how we do it" he said.
Mark McKeon went on to say, "It's a $3.5M vessel and they don't turn out 1000 per day - you only get one shot at it."
He was also expecting complaints over the unavailability of alcohol at the vessel's bar. "The liquor licence is yet to be approved. All the application paper work is in but it could take up to eight weeks to get through the pipeline." As for tea and coffee, new machines are to be installed next week.
Once out of the restricted 6 knot speed limit area of Ross Creek the vessel travelled very quickly across Cleveland Bay. Dr Kinsey observed that the overall trip took 22 minutes. The older vessels take 25 minutes. Mark McKeon is convinced however that the time will come under 20 minutes and is also looking to Queensland Transport for ways in which the awkward and time consuming Nelly Bay tie-up, where vessels have to turn around on entry or exit, can be simplified to a forward in and forward out manoeuver.
"We probably brought the (Maggie Cat) service on earlier than we should have but we wanted Islanders to see that it's here and working," said Mark McKeon.
Photos & story: George Hirst
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