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SF Bay Ferry debuts new vessel, called ‘Cadillac of ferries’

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Colorful outdoor seating is seen aboard San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority’s newest ferry vessel, Hydrus, in San Francisco, Calif. Monday, March 20, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

During the Monday fog the San Francisco Bay Ferry’s newest vessel, the Hydrus, took its fourth-ever trip on San Francisco Bay, but it still wasn’t quite its maiden voyage.

A champagne bottle will finally break against the Hydrus’ hull Tuesday for its christening ceremony, and its first passenger run will wait until April.

That will not only be the Hydrus’ maiden voyage, but the first run of a new fleet of new ferries bought by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which runs SF Bay Ferry.

As of April there will be 13 vessels in its fleet, and as older vessels phase out over the next three years, the fleet will rise to a total of 16. WETA’s strategic plan calls for a total of 44 vessels by 2035.

These commuting vessels aim to ease the crush load of drivers on Bay Area freeways, and BART’s cramped and ever-filling train cars.

All of this is music to the ears of Captain Al Lewis, who piloted the Hydrus for a bevy of reporters Monday.

Standing on the ship’s bridge, which resembled a sleeker version of one seen on the fictional starship Enterprise, Lewis remarked, “It’s the Cadillac of ferries.”

He nudged forward a shiny black lever and the boat glided along San Francisco’s piers. Lewis corrected himself. “No, wait, it’s the Mercedes Benz” of ferries.

Whichever luxury car the ferry most resembles, the 135’ catamaran corrects a number of features on earlier vessels. Most of the seats are forward facing, though some older models had round tables for people to chat (that no one used, apparently).

It also is one of the first of the SF Bay Ferry fleet to feature touch screen controls on its bridge, Lewis said.

WETA is investing $465 million in capital expenditures, $175 million of which is toward new vessel construction. Though its four routes which connect Mare Island, Vallejo, Alameda, Oakland and Harbor Bay only add up to seven terminals and 7,583 daily riders, the number of riders is expected to multiply by a factor of five by 2035, with 16 terminals and 12 routes.

Though more boats may mean less car traffic for the Bay Area, Lewis said no commuter can ever truly escape it.

He pointed to seven or so cargo ships on the choppy, morning waters.

That’s his version of bumper to bumper, he said, which is why his favorite route to pilot is to Oakland.

“It’s a straight shot,” he said. “No traffic.”

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