American ferries carry approximately 200 million passengers annually, according to the Passenger Vessel Association, and that number is likely to rise significantly as urban areas like New York, Seattle and San Francisco add new ferry lines to help combat congestion. That’s good news for Arcadia Alliance, a new partnership between Front Street Shipyard in Belfast, Maine, and Brodrene Aa of Hyen, Norway, which will produce the first-ever CFRP ferries for the U.S. market.

The new catamaran-style, high-speed passenger ferries will travel at speeds of 25 knots or more and carry up to 149 people. Larger ferries are out of the question for now, according to J.B. Turner, president of both Front Street Shipyard and Arcadia Alliance, because Coast Guard regulations only allow composite hulls on these smaller ‘T-class’ vessels.

Front Street and Brodrene Aa’s partnership began last summer, following conversations between Turner; Steve Von Vogt, executive director of the Maine Composites Alliance; and Martin Grimnes, a Norwegian-American composites manufacturer who has long been interested in building CFRP ferries in the U.S. Last June, Turner and Craig Picard, lead designer at Front Street, visited Brodrene Aa and liked what they saw.

“It was pretty clear right away that their philosophy on building and our philosophy on building are very similar. They like using vinyl ester resin systems. They infuse much like we do. The way their company is structured is a lot like ours, and generally, the personalities fit,” Turner recalls. In July, the two companies signed an agreement of mutual understanding, followed by Brodrene Aa’s first visit to Front Street in October.

Brodrene Aa has been building CFRP ferries for the Norwegian market since 2001 and will deliver its 50th CFRP ferry later this year. Recently, the company has begun looking to other markets and won a contract to build two high-speed CFRP ferries for Hong Kong and China. It has not been able to enter the U.S. market because the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 requires ferries and other U.S. port-to-U.S. port vessels to be constructed in the United States. Arcadia Alliance is located in Belfast, Maine, with 80 percent ownership by Front Street Shipyard and 20 percent by Brodrene Aa. 

The ferries will be built at Front Street’s 82,000-square-foot indoor shipyard. Brodrene Aa, which translates into ‘Brothers O’ in English, will provide the design and engineering, as well as the molds for the first few ferries.

The entire outer shell of the ferries will be CFRP, including the hull and the ‘superstructure’ – everything above the hull, such as decks and the pilot house. Interior areas will have composite and aluminum seats, lightweight aluminum interior panels, carpeting and other traditional components. Turner says that it will take 13 to 14 months and hundreds of CFRP parts to build each ferry. The parts will feature a carbon fiber sandwich fabricated using a lightweight structural foam core and several layers of carbon fiber structural material that are vacuum infused with a vinyl ester resin system.