Peaceful protests met Hawaii Superferry passengers at both ends of the giant catamaran's first regular voyage after four months of debate, court action and government wrangling.
The ferry gives Hawaii residents and tourists their first daily service to take cars and trucks with them from island to island.
Caryring about one-fourth its capacity of 866 passengers and 282 vehicles, the vessel set sail as the sun came up Thursday in Honolulu, where a small group of protesters staged some sign-waving near the pier.
In Maui, a few protesters paddled with their banners on surfboards and canoes to the edge of a security zone set up by the U.S. Coast Guard for the ferry's arrival. They were joined by about 150 noisy protesters onshore.
Choppy seas gave some passengers upset stomachs. However, few of them complained about the three-hour voyage. Stormy weather earlier had damaged the docking area in Kahului Harbor and delayed the start of the service for several days.
A start for service from Honolulu to Kauai, where protesters blocked the ferry in August, has not been announced. A second ferry is scheduled to serve two Big Island ports and Honolulu in 2009.
Some of the onshore protesters on Maui blamed Gov. Linda Lingle for signing a new law allowing the ferry to operate while an environmental assessment is undertaken. They waved signs saying "Impeach Lingle" and "Boycott the Superferry." A few also shouted to passengers from the main island to "Go home!" One disembarking passenger responded, "Get a job!"
Thursday's rally was organized by the Kahului Harbor Coalition and the Surfrider Foundation.
"We are concerned about the marine environment and the illegal implementation of new technology without proper study first," said Brooke Porter of the Pacific Whale Foundation, who joined about 10 protesters in the water. One waterborne protester carried a sign reading "Save the Whales, Skip the Superferry."
Superferry critics say the new service will spread invasive species among the islands, cause traffic tie-ups and endanger humpback whales. Superferry officials say they've taken steps to alleviate any problems.
Maui County officials said all of the demonstrators remained civil and that no arrests were made.
The crowd meeting passengers also included a small group of ferry supporters who said the protesters do not represent a majority opinion on the island.
"We think it's a great thing for Maui," said Toni Carvalho.
A larger protest rally is set for Saturday on Maui.
The ferry was originally set to start service between Honolulu and both Maui and Kauai in August, but it was delayed after protesters on Kauai and lawsuits on both islands intervened to stop it, pending conduct of a full environmental assessment.
The state had cleared the way for the $300-million ferry service to operate without a report of its impact on the ocean and land environment, but the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that decision was in error.
After Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza on Maui followed the high court ruling with a restraining order against the ferry, the Democrat-controlled Legislature and Lingle, a Republican, stepped in to allow the Superferry to operate while the review is conducted.