North Carolina’s newest transportation option, a passenger ferry called the Ocracoke Express, made its maiden voyage on the Outer Banks Monday morning, with six total crossings on the Hatteras to Ocracoke village route.
At 9 a.m., 57 women, men and children, and a dog named “Cotton” boarded the Ocracoke Express in Hatteras Village and arrived a little over an hour later in Ocracoke Village.
The Ferry Division stated in a press release that 284 people took the passenger ferry in its first day, based on head counts for the first two round trips and bookings for the third round trip.
“It came together so fast,” said Julie White, Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation for NCDOT. “From the time we identified the [ferry] lease opportunity to today has been about 45 days.”
The Ocracoke Express finished its trial runs last week, and in the days before the May 20 launch, ferry personnel were busy making finishing touches, such as extending the boarding ramp, or painting the entry with skid-free material.
The ferry offered concessions to its first wave of passengers – including bagels, drinks, and snacks – and White reported that most of the passengers enjoyed the ride aboard the sunny top level deck. “That has been a popular place to be today,” she said.
“The reviews have been very positive,” said Harold Thomas, director of the N.C. Ferry Division. “We’re excited to have the passenger-only ferry service available this summer as an additional travel option for people on the Outer Banks.”
The N.C. Ferry Division will continue to offer the passenger-only ferry service seven days a week until Sept. 5. The passenger ferry supplements the regular vehicle ferries the state agency operates.
“I think it’s great,” said Leslie Lanier, an Ocracoke resident who took the first trip. “I came over to go on the inaugural run this morning to see what it is all about. I think it is going well. So, come on down, they are ready to take you.”
The Ferry Division is offering free service aboard the Ocracoke Express during its first two days. Starting Wednesday, passengers will pay $1 per trip. The Ocracoke Express Passenger Ferry will depart from the Hatteras ferry terminal at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Departures from the Ocracoke Silver Lake Terminal are scheduled for 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“I think this is a great adventure,” said Hatteras resident Judy Banks. “29 knots. It’s scooting right along. It holds a lot of people. I think it’s really well set up.”
Ferry Captain Brandon Adams said that the ferry was able to cruise at an average of around 27 knots throughout the day, and that all crossings took a maximum of 65 minutes.
Patrick Steven Dely, who works on the new ferry, said that the crew received a number of great suggestions throughout the day from the first wave of passengers. “Everyone has loved it so far. One lady suggested that we do a fireworks cruise on the Fourth of July,” he said. “It’s been fantastic, and we’ve had really great weather today, too… It has gone off without a hitch.”
Adding alcohol sales to the concession options was also a popular comment from new passengers, and a North Carolina state bill is currently being considered to allow the sale of alcohol on the route from Hatteras to Ocracoke village.
The Ferry Division is leasing the passenger ferry this summer from a New Jersey-based company. The division continues to work with the boat builder to deliver the passenger ferry under construction.
The public can learn more about North Carolina’s new passenger ferry service on the ferry system website.