The first ferry designed and built for the newly established New Bedford, Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamship Authority (SSA), the motor vessel Islander entered service in 1950. For the next 57 years, it operated almost exclusively on the 6-mile route between Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven, making multiple round trips a day with up to 48 cars and nearly 800 passengers on each one.

The Islander was the first Island ferry to be powered by diesel rather than steam, and the second (after the aging Hudson River train ferry Hackensack, which the SSA operated as a stopgap in 1947-1949) to use a “roll-on/roll-off” design with doors at each end. This configuration, which allowed Islander to carry tractor-trailer trucks, revolutionized the transportation of consumer goods to the Island. It streamlined the supply chain for Island merchants, but placed Island cranberry growers and dairy farmers in direct competition with mainland companies like Ocean Spray and H. P. Hood, all but forcing them out of business.

An ugly duckling when viewed alongside the graceful steamers of the 1920s (like the Nobska), the Islander became a sentimental favorite of Island residents and visitors. Whenever the SSA announces plans to build a new ferry, a chorus of “give us another Islander” rises in response. 


Title Islander
Date 1934
Type Postcard
Ref No RU 359
Thematic Collection 100 Years, 100 Stories: Getting Here
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