First the important news: the M/V Wabanaki, the newest vessel in Casco Bay Lines’ fleet of island passenger ferries, does not have aluminum seats.

The much-hated aluminum benches on its sister ship, the eight-year-old M/V Aucocisco III, met Coast Guard approval, but left passengers feeling as though their body heat was being drained through the seats.

Passengers on the Wabanaki will have warmer-feeling composite plastic seats that meet Coast Guard standards for fire resistance but also human standards for comfort.

The seats pleased Patrick Nixon, a ferry line worker who sat on the benches Thursday while touring the vessel for the first time.

“Captain, this is real cozy, “ he said, speaking to his tour guide, senior captain Gene Willard.

The ferry cost $4.5 million and was funded by federal stimulus dollars.

So what do federal taxpayers get for $4.5 million besides comfy seats?

How about reliable transportation?

You won’t find carpeting or a coffee bar on this ferry. But it’s a well-built vessel designed to endure stormy winter seas and the numerous forward-and-reverse gear changes that its captains will make on each round-trip journey between the ferry terminal on Commercial Street and the eight islands in Casco Bay.

The ferry is not a Cadillac, but neither is it a Ford Focus, said Nicholas Mavodones Jr., general manger of the ferry service.

Rather, he said, it’s more like a Honda.

“It’s a reasonably priced vessel that is going to last a long time and transport people safely,” he said.

The vessel was built by Blount Boats in Warren, R.I., and has the same superstructure as the Aucocisco III. The ferry line used the Aucocisco’s construction blueprints to build the Wabanaki, thus qualifying for the “shovel-ready” requirements of the federal stimulus initiative.

However, while the ferry looks from a distance like a twin of the Aucocisco, the seating layout has been changed so it’s more similar to the M/V Island Romance, the 41-year-old vessel that is scheduled to be replaced, and likely sold to a private owner, this year.

The seating on the deck is arranged so people can face outward to the sides rather than forward or backward. Also, Mavodones said, there are lots of “nooks and crannies,” so passengers can sit in small groups with some privacy.

The layout will foster the community feeling that many passengers experience, Willard said.

“The boat becomes its own little island,” he said.

A maximum of 399 passengers can ride on the ferry, but designers have left a lot of room for storing bags and carts, and there are two separate rooms set aside for freight.

Down below, the ferry is powered by two 450-horsepower Caterpillar engines.

The 110-foot-long vessel will be the fourth ferry in the fleet with an Indian name.

The name Wabanaki was nominated by an elementary school student on Long Island. Wabanaki, which means “People of the Dawnland,” is the name of the confederation of eastern tribes that include the Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy.

Willard is worried that passengers won’t pronounce it properly. It is pronounced WAHB-uh-nah-kee, with “WAHB” rhyming with “sob.”

The WAHB should never rhyme with “rabb,” as in rabbit, according to Willard. “I don’t want to sound like Elmer Fudd,” he said.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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