Flying through the nearby seas once again

The Catalina Flyer resumes daily service from Newport Beach to Santa Catalina Island on April 1 with machinery that should give passengers a quieter and smoother ride, the catamaran's owner announced Friday.

The 600-seat passenger boat made in 1988, which runs between the Balboa Pavilion and Avalon, was removed from service in mid-September to have its engines replaced.

To fill in for the catamaran while the new engines were being installed in Whidbey Island, Wash., the company temporarily rented a 149-seat boat to make the daily sea crossings, owner Armen Gugasian said.

The engines had to be replaced to reduce diesel emissions, as required by legislation adopted by the California Air Resources Board in 2007.

Additional upgrades were also made to the boat's hydraulic system, thereby providing a smoother trip, Gugasian said.

Gugasian declined to say how much it cost to overhaul the boat.

Mike Donegan, the company's marketing director, said ticket prices would stay the same in spite of the repairs. Adult round-trip fares are $68, with discounts for seniors and children.

To have the repairs made, five crew members piloted the boat back to its home port from Washington state.

"Cosmetically, the boat has not changed, just mechanically," Gugasian said.

"It just benefits everyone all around," he added. "We have a boat that is more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly, and it benefits our passengers by avoiding any problems or troubles in the future."

Although the smaller 149-seat boat was just a temporary measure, Gugasian liked how it performed for the company.

Catalina Flyer is the company's only vessel, but with the temporary boat's success, Gugasian may look into buying his own model.

The small boat was more cost-efficient for ferrying passengers during the off-season, he said.

The Catalina Flyer typically scales back its schedule after Thanksgiving and shuts down in January. Daily service normally resumes in March, but this year it was delayed due to the engine replacements, Gugasian said.

None of the roughly 14 employees lost their jobs due to the suspended services, he said.

"The temporary boat did well," Gugasian said. "But, now it's time for the big boat to come back and do its job."

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