Fifty Years of Sydney's Public Ferries - Part 2 by Graeme Andrews / Three of the four inner harbour catamaran classes are shown here with Dawn Fraser inbound in 2005.
  Last month I discussed the transition of the inner harbour and Manly ferry services from privately-owned to State owned and operated.
  I suggested that, generally, governments of either political persuasion had, by and large, done well for about 25 years.
  Towards the end of 1974 the Coalition government of Sir Robin Askin took over the Manly ferry service. I don’t have room to discuss the story of the manner by which Brambles forced the government’s hand, suffice to say by then there were only two old Manly ferries still in (spasmodic) use and the hydrofoils had been sold and then leased back, a fact the Public Transport Commission (PTC) seemed to be unaware of at the take-over.
  With the conventional ferry services almost defunct the hydrofoils were worked hard with 43 return trips on each working day. The PTC quickly added a six-year-old hydrofoil from Hong Kong. Palm Beach brought the ’foil fleet to five carrying about 1.7m people a year. Another used ’foil was bought from Naples. Long Reef brought the fast fleet to six in 1975.
  One of the more important aspects of the PTC’s tenure was the construction of a graving dock at the Balmain ferry base. At 53m it was able to handle all the PTC’s inner harbour ferries. Docks for the Manly ferries were at that time still available to the big ferries. It was later to be invaluable when Sydney’s slips and docks became ‘Real Estate.’
  In 1978 the PTC transmogrified into the UTA. The State Labor government of Premier Neville Wran had come to power in 1976 with a mandate to ‘fix’ the ferry services. The Urban Transit Authority of NSW (known to ferry workers as the Underwater Travelling Association) got to work.
  During the next six years three new large Manly ferries were designed and built. These vessels were physically larger and faster than the South Steyne of 1938 but carried many fewer passengers and were very much livelier in a seaway.
  They were designed with twin diesels that could provide 18 knots. Unfortunately at such speeds they created just as much wave disturbance as had the South Steyne at 17 knots.
  As a result the new ferries continued to run the 32 minute schedule using one main engine – the other engine becoming, effectively, expensive ballast.
  In 1985 and 1986 new, large 235 seat hydrofoils came into service. These big boats could run at 38 knots, about five knots faster than the older 150 passenger craft. The famous ‘seven miles from Sydney and one thousand miles from care’ provided major problems for any hydrofoils.
  These vessels had been designed for service runs of perhaps 50nm to perhaps 100nm whereas the constant ‘landing’ and ‘takeoffs’ of the ’foils in Sydney provided heavy engine use every 15 minutes or so. This is not the kind of thing that diesel engines like and they showed it.
  Because of their greater speed, load and power the two new ’foils suffered even greater maintenance problems than did the older boats.
  In 1987, over nine months, 35 percent of ’foil journeys were cancelled.
  In the mid-1970s the hydrofoils had paid their way and made a profit. The big ferries had not. By mid-1988 the situation had reversed and about $12m a year was needed in ferry subsidies.
  In 1988 another government came into office. New Premier Greiner had made much of the Wran/Unsworth Labor government’s transport problems. Transport Minister Baird made frequent public announcements about a new fast ferry type. They were to be water jet propelled catamarans carrying 250 people at speeds up to 34 knots. Great play was made about ‘reliability’ and performance but only three craft were ordered, guaranteeing service unreliability. The various unions pointed out that just three vessels left no redundancy for repairs, survey, maintenance. There had been six hydrofoils at their peak. No-one was listening.
  The new vessels were an Incat design, built in Cairns by North Queensland Engineers and Agents (NQEA).
  Blue Fin, the first one arrived in July 1990. The Greiner government was exultant. Then, during trials, one engine failed completely. Sir David Martin and Sea Eagle duly arrived and went into service and all started breaking down and suffering major malfunctions. The Transport Minister became almost invisible.
  One of the major problems was that to run at 34 knots the jet craft engines were running flat out. At that speed, the ’foils were running at cruising revolutions and using much less fuel. The government was dismayed when someone ‘leaked’ that the three JetCats were using about 30 percent more fuel than had the much-maligned foils.
  There was major embarrassment when two of the old 150-passenger ’foils went back into service to replace the JetCats, all three of which were in the repair yard.
  The Greiner government ordered a fourth of the Freshwater-class large Manly ferries. Collaroy provided additional outer seating and was intended for weekend use as a coastal cruise ferry. Unfortunately, it did not have the easy roll of the famous South Steyne and when the ferry’s crew demanded ‘spew money’ for cleaning up the mess it was not long before Collaroy became permanent on the Manly service.
Lady Street 1979-2005 was of the ‘iconic’ traditional type Sydney ferry – only two remain at work in Sydney.
  If the JetCats were on a success par with the old ’foils, another class of ferry ordered by the Coalition government became a durable success, despite a confused gestation.
  Nine medium speed catamarans for harbour and river use were ordered from Carringtons of Newcastle in 1988.
  The new ferries became the First Fleet class (missing two of the original First Fleet names) and were intended to be capable of about 14 knots along the Parramatta River.
  As the architect, the late Alan Payne told me, the intention was to have a crew of two on a length of about 25m carrying 150 passengers.
  The hulls were designed to this length and load factor to produce minimum wash patterns. Mid-contract it became obvious union resistance to a Master/ engineer being three decks away from the twin engines would result in a three man crew. The plans had already been reduced to have a hull length compatible with two-man ferry regulations. The three man decision came after the shorter hull design had been settled.
  The result was a ferry shorter than intended which now made a very large wash at its designed speed. Another round of executive decisions resulted in the latter ferries being given greater load capacity at 12 knots. The early vessels were altered to the same standard.
  As 400 passenger, 12 knot vessels, the First Fleeters have been the backbone of the harbour service for many years. As soon as (yet another design) the RiverCats appeared in 1992 the First Fleets were retired from the river runs.
Friendship shows Sydney Ferry Corporation’s new logo which features an ‘iconic’ style ferry. Nick Baker photo 2005.  Overall, the Coalition government from 1988 to 1995 can be considered to have made a fair job of operating Sydney’s ferries with the JetCats and the RiverCats not being, perhaps, as effective in their roles as have been the First Fleets.
  Almost anybody who writes, or waffles, on about beautiful Port Jackson will eventually drop the phrase “Sydney’s iconic ferries” or something similar.
  Yet the First Fleets introduced the almost total conversion from monohulls to catamarans on the inner harbour and rivers. The Coalition introduced the RiverCats so as to provide a passenger service from the heart of Parramatta to Sydney. It was politically expedient to be able to show a Labor electorate that the Coalition government was thinking of them, with an election coming on.
  The RiverCats were ordered in 1990 and the first of them Dawn Fraser entered service May 1992. Although these craft were touted as being an important part of the Parramatta- Sydney commuter network, their limited 150-passenger capacity and the need to proceed at low speeds on the upper river has meant that they are, at best, a tourist service disguised as a commuter service. RiverCats have no rudders, steering by means of a steerable propeller in either hull.
  When one engine fails, seemingly quite regularly, steering becomes almost impossible. This class of ferry is regularly reported as hitting wharves or small boats.
  The seven River Cats were in service by 1995. Their only outdoor seating was in the bows which, at 22 knots was only popular with the young. The vision from inside was worse than from the old Kooleen.
  In 1995 Premier Robert Carr brought the Labor party to office. From this time it seems as if the ferry service executive spent more time packing and unpacking than in running the ferries! Twelve CEOs were employed in 15 years and all very well paid.
  The first new ferry decision seems to have been to buy two smaller cats – the HarbourCats – with an even lower passenger capacity. These were mainly used on the tourist run to Darling Harbour, mostly through an eight knot zone.
  The Carr government’s Transport Minister Carl Scully then fell into the trap of ‘one size fits all’ when he apparently doodled a new catamaran ferry design and then contracted the naval architect that designed the RiverCats – Grahame Parker – to make it work. The result was the SuperCat – shades of the Kooleen!
  The first of possibly 20 of these wondrous vessels, Mary McKillop, came into service in 2000. Carl Scully was prominent, telling the public that these craft could replace the JetCats on the Manly run and the other ferries on the rivers. It was akin to inventing a bicycle that could tow a caravan and act as a bus!
  There were to be only half a dozen days when the SuperCats could not work the Manly run. Those days all came in the first month and the new ferry retired hurt with wet and angry passengers. Carl Scully became less visible.
  The fourth of the class arrived and it seems her owners could find no-one willing to have their name on it. My suggestion it should be named Carl Scully was ignored!
  Since 1988 governments have been attracted to relatively cheap fast ferries with small crews. The fact that they also have small capacities produced situations in which ferries were leaving wharves full of angry passengers behind.
  During this period no capacious ferries were built and five of the roomy 500-plus passenger Lady class were disposed of, for reasons that were never adequately explained. Three are still working in Victoria and Tasmania, while the 800 passenger Lady Wakehurst – sold in 1998 as not worth repairing, sailed to Auckland, where it worked for several years. It then sailed back to Sydney and late in 2008 was in use as a charter vessel. The penultimate embarrassment applied when the state ferries were forced to charter it to fill in on the Manly run – it did just that back in 1974 after the PTC took over!
  So, how have governments performed running the Sydney ferry fleet?
  Askin/Lewis/Willis Coalition – 1965-1976. New vessels improved services. Generally competent. Wran/Unsworth Labor – 1976- 1988. New vessels of excellent standard – competent.
  Greiner/Fahey Coalition – 1988- 1995. Uneven performance with the ‘Iconic’ Sydney Ferry being replaced using cheap engineering solutions.
  Carr/Iemma/Rees Labor – 1995 - present. Political micro-management and dodgy decisions have created a dysfunctional ferry service with Private Enterprise seemingly the only answer.
  That’s where we were before 1951!

NB: The Jet Cats were retired in December 2008 and, in February 2009 a private enterprise fast ferry, Eye Spy, began a peak hours replacement service.