The feeling across the island is that the summer of 2021 could be one for the record books, with pent up demand for travel and the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions combining to make the season a juggernaut. Reservation numbers disclosed by the Steamship Authority this week are signaling that feeling may be spot on. Advanced vehicle reservations at the Steamship Authority for the Nantucket route have already eclipsed the pre-pandemic year of 2019 for this June, July, August and September.
“The demand is insane and the numbers are through the roof. I don’t know how else to describe it,” said Rob Ranney, Nantucket’s representative on the Steamship Authority’s Board of Governors. During the Steamship’s board meeting this week, the sharp increase and the lack of available reservations for island residents were topics of discussion. But there are few options to immediately increase capacity. “There’s not a lot the Steamship can do to provide relief,” Ranney said. “There’s not a spare boat just waiting to get subbed in. The only option is to perhaps run an extra trip, but that means getting a new crew to do that because the crew that’s been running all day is timed out. There are limits to that. And we’ve had an agreement with Hyannis for 20 years or more that we’re not going to run boats 24/7. So there’s a limit, and we’re at that limit.”
The idea that the Steamship can remedy the problem by switching over to the summer schedule earlier is simply not accurate, Ranney said, as there is not much difference between the off-season schedule and the summer schedule. During the off-season, the Steamship Authority runs the M/V Eagle and two freight boats he said. During the summer, the boat line subs in the M/V Woods Hole for one of the freight boats, so that does add some additional capacity for vehicle reservations, but there are still just three boats on the Nantucket route he said.
“It’s not like we can call in a reserve vessel like the airlines used to do,” Ranney said. “This has been building for the last five or six years at least to where now, everything is full. Some people like that because they don’t like to see all the cars on the streets. And other people say ‘I need a reservation.’ It’s a finite resource. What I tell people is, the farther in advance you can try to do your travel plans, the better. This is what we’ve been seeing over the years. If you start planning your summer trips in January, you’re fine. But as you get closer to your date, it’s harder and harder to get.”