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Sandy Island: New school boat has familiar design

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The New Prince Washington is due to go into service carrying students across the Waccamaw River from Sandy Island when school resumes this month. The 26-foot pontoon boat will replace a steel hulled boat that went into service in 1968. Local officials also hope it will open the way for ferry service for island residents.

The state-owned boat, named for a longtime island leader, is certified for 12 passengers, the pilot and a crew member. There is also a handicapped access ramp and space on board for wheelchairs.

The boats are similar in appearance, with a pilot house above the main cabin. That’s no coincidence, according to the builder of the $124,500 New Prince Washington.

The pontoon boat meets concerns for handicapped access and safety, School Superintendent Randy Dozier said. It’s well ventilated and heated, he added.

The boat was built for the state by Florida Marine Trading Co., one of only two manufacturers of speciality workboats certified by the Coast Guard. The company is owned by a former Hagley resident, Robbie Cunningham.

He got the order from the state Department of Education in June. It called for delivery in 60 days. During the bid process, Cunningham paid a visit to Pawleys Island, where his daughter still lives. He took a look at the Prince Washington.

“I designed it to look like the old boat as close as I could,” he said. “It was important for me to give them something nice.”

The state only specified a trailer and handicapped access. “I think they were surprised,” he said.

In 17 years, he’s built about 500 boats, but none for clients in South Carolina. The school boat was his second delivery in Georgetown County this year. Marlin Quay Marina just bought a ferry.

After passing a Coast Guard inspection, Cunningham took the pilot, Timothy Tucker, out from Hazzard Marine in Georgetown for a trial run.

Tucker has skippered the school boat for 30 years, Dozier said. “Mr. Tucker’s done an outstanding job. He’s never missed a day of work,” he said.

He would like to provide Tucker with some backup and that could help as Georgetown County looks for funds to provide additional trips on the boat for island residents.

“We have been pursuing and will continue to pursue opportunities to expand the service of that boat,” County Administrator Sel Hemingway said. “We think it’s practical to have one boat provide multiple trips.”

Island residents have looked for improved access to the Waccamaw Neck mainland for years. Those efforts gained urgency after three island residents drowned when their boat sank in a storm as they crossed to the island in February 2009. Efforts by the regional transit authority to develop a ferry service came to a dead end.

State School Superintendent Molly Spearmen met with island residents in February and was supportive.

With the new boat at the dock, Hemingway said the county will push for answers in its search to fund additional trips. “Now that it’s here and available, it would be nice to take advantage of it sooner rather than later,” he said.

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