MANILA, September 6, 2003  (MALAYA) In the mid-1990s, fastcrafts - possessing new, sleek, modern and fast features - redefined the country's inter-island travel. With cruise speeds of about 32 to 35 knots (60 to 65 kilometers per hour), these hydrofoils and catamarans cut travel time by more than half. Some propeller boats, still fastcrafts, travel a bit slower at about 25 knots.

The Supercats are probably the most known among these fastcrafts boats with "a night vision capability that allows navigation at night even at speeds of 32 knots because of powerful camera lenses that amplify objects by 250,000 by an image intensifier."

At first, they were fascinating novelties in the domestic travel scene which needed some upgrade. Later on, they became de rigueur, changing - as in the words of one of its operators, "inter-island travel as we know it."

These days, there are four daily fastcraft trips from Tagbilaran to Cebu - with schedules arranged for the convenience of different types of passengers: university students who leave just in time for their first class of the day, Tagbilaran businessmen who have lunch meetings in Cebu, and shoppers who cross the strait to go around Cebu's malls. The advent of fastcraft created day-trippers - those who go to Cebu for a short visit and return home a few hours later. Of course, the trend is two-way - Cebuanos can now make quick-day trips to Bohol and come back just in time for dinner. And tourists can now base themselves out of Cebu and take a one-day sample of the tourist attractions that Bohol has to offer. Yes, the hurried and harried times have arrived.

Fastcrafts have also overtaken travel in other busy ports of the South, among them: Larena, Dumaguete, Dapitan and Ormoc. For a longer time, they have served trips between Calapan in Mindoro and Batangas City. Marge Navarez, a businesswoman who manages several souvenir shops in Ormoc, Dumaguete and Tagbilaran says, "These fastcrafts have made it easier to do business. Before, travel between the islands made inter-island business difficult. These days, travel is not a problem anymore."

Most fastcrafts are equipped with modern systems that eliminate the motions of waves, so one does not feel so much like traveling on water. One just feels like traveling comfortably and safely in a huge car.

One noteworthy fastcraft is the SuperCat under the SuperCat Fast Ferries Corporation (SFFC), a subsidiary of the Aboitiz Transport Group (ATG). SuperCats have twin-hulled fast ferry catamarans that cuts travel time between the ports by more than 50 percent. All SuperCat vessels boast of comfortable airline-type seats, are fully air-conditioned and have wall-to-wall carpeting. It also has a canteen/mini bar to delight passengers' cravings while onboard. A 50-meter tricat has an average seating capacity of 403 passengers and a 42-meter SuperCat can carry as much as 306 passengers.

Fastcrafts have also become standard at the start of each trip to have safety and evacuation demonstrations, much like those in airplanes. And like airplanes, fastcrafts also have attendants who are trained to assist passengers during the trip. So, yes, one does feel like traveling by air.

The coming of airline-like travel has, in fact, become standard: comfortable airline-type seats, full air-conditioning, wall-to-wall carpeting, and video screens. Long gone are the days of uncomfortable cots, unforgiving heat (or cold) and tarpaulin window covers.

With all the advantages offered by fastcrafts, it has become an essential component of the country's inter-island industry. As one website has advised, "If you'd like to save a few pesos and aren't in a hurry, you can take one of the regular cargo and passenger ships. If you are impatient, take a catamaran." The online advice goes on to describe cargo stored below and passengers in the upper deck, tarpaulins and cots, and ships that are often late for departure. The slow and simple romance of the Sweetheart is still alive in the age of fastcrafts.

WG&A SuperFerry is the largest shipping company in the country serving 22 ports of call nationwide. Thru WG&A Jebsen, its strategic partner specializing in ship management, its entire fleet was certified and awarded the International Safety Management (ISM) Code standard. WG&A SuperFerry is also one of the recipients of the prestigious "Hewitt Best Employers in Asia Award."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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