Repairing An Icon

Ferry May Be Ready For Service In Fall

A welder is pictured working on the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry this summer. Photo by Jay Kuntz

The Sea Lion Project Ltd. missed its goal of returning the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry to service this summer, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

And, perhaps the best news for ferry lovers, the venerable vessel may be back in service — at least for foot traffic — for a bit this fall.

Volunteers have been working to repair the ferry since April after safety and structural issues were cited by New York Marine Surveyors during the ferry’s out-of-water inspection done every 10 years. The inspection showed some hatches into the bilge compartment needed new covers fabricated to make them watertight, many existing bolts and pipes had to be ground down and removed to make the structure between the I-beams flush with the metal deck. Depresssions in the metal deck for the long axel that coordinates the ferry’s two paddle wheels needed to have drains replaced.

While the hull was said to be in good shape, particularly for a 1930s-era hull, many of the 22 I-beams on top of the ferry’s decking running across the width of the ferry needed to be replaced due to age and weather-related deterioration. Three of the beams are to be replaced in 2018 in compliance with the plans made with state marine inspectors. The old beams are cut off the deck with a torch, supports restored and then leveled for the new I-beams. The new beams are to be welded to the metal deck for the entire length of the beam, again meeting specifications set by the state marine inspectors.

Chris Flanders, a member of the Sea Lion Project Ltd. board, which owns the ferry, said in an update to The Post-Journal that the ferry has been in Mayville since May. John Weise is acting as project manager for the volunteer group as it tries to make repairs.

“His attention to detail and strong work ethic have kept a cadre of volunteers working during spare time from their jobs and families most of the summer,” Flanders wrote. “John has taken the time to assure the safety of the volunteers working on the ferry as well as doing as much or more of the preparatory work himself. You want a busy man with multiple facets of his life needing his attention to coordinate a repair like this one for the ferry.

His experience and ability to multitask is proving to be the best fit for us and we thank him for his ongoing efforts.”

Flanders said work this summer has consisted of the removal of several of the I-beams and preparation of the metal deck to have the new steel in place for the welders to attach. The work took hours of volunteer time cutting and grinding the deck surfaces and preparation of the new steel — all of which has taken place.

“The two end I-beams were the most time-worn and were the most complex to replace,” Flanders wrote. “Completion of the replacement of several of the 22 beams this year satisfies the state survey criteria. In future years we will schedule the replacement of others, which can be done while the ferry is in the water at Stow. The removal and replacement of water tight hatches also took time. Brian Ceci, of H&H Machine in Jamestown fabricated the seven redesigned hatches (covers for the openings of the bilges on the steel deck) saving the ferry and Sea Lion Project Ltd., its parent organization, close to $25,000. As one of the volunteers with the most time spent on the ferry this hot summer, we thank him and his family for their hard work and time lost from family and friends.”

In addition to Ceci, Flanders said Sam Genco, an area historian, and Jay Kuntz, a new Sea Lion Project Ltd. board member and professional photographer, have spent more hours working on the ferry than most this summer. The Sea Lion Project Ltd. also received unexpected help from David Hohl of HOHL Enterprises in Buffalo, who offered three certified welders to work on the ferry for at least three weeks and possibly longer.

“David, who has a home on Lakeside Drive in Bemus Point, has made this generous offer saving us tens of thousands of dollars and weeks of time needed to complete the welding this season,” Flanders wrote. “They are doing the above-the-water welding and we thank David for this donation.”

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

All of the volunteers’ work over the summer means most of the seven points raised in the spring marine survey are nearly addresssed. Flanders wrote that the Sea Lion Project Ltd. has scheduled a state marine survey for the week of Sept. 10, with results available to the volunteer group within 30 days. That doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done before winter.

“So, what is left to be done on the Ferry before the snow flies? The short answer is: a steel patch to the bottom of the hull to close up an existing opening that is no longer needed, a bit more welding up on the top deck and the installation of the rest of the hatch covers,” Flanders wrote. “As with renovations of older homes, vintage cars or boats, you start a repair only to find out that what was behind the hole, or under the floor is another just-as-urgent a repair needing more time and work. This is part of the struggle of completing the work on the Ferry. … “After the ferry returns to Stow, safety equipment must be reinstalled, and the wooden deck laid down across the I-beams (no small task). The diesel engine must be checked, and the four corner houses of the ferry reattached to the decking. With your help we still hope to have the Ferry run for a short time, even if it is only for foot traffic, later this fall.”

Flanders said the Sea Lion Project Ltd. has done well with fundraising this summer through its GoFundMe page and with two anonymous donors who have offered a challenge grant of $10,000 if the non-profit organization can generate $10,000 in donations from the public. Flanders wrote sending donations — either through GoFundMe or by sending checks to the Sea Lion Project Ltd., P.O. Box 339, Bemus Point, NY 14712 — is one of the most important ways the public can help preserve the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry this year.

“Please help us meet these new offers and take us over the top of our $50,000 goal,” Flanders wrote. “These challenge grants take on more importance when you total up the cost of the man hours our volunteers have put in as well as the donated welding time and fabricated parts for the ferry repair. A conservative estimate of this cost would be in the $250,000 range. Making the goal of $50,000 will allow us, because of the above volunteer help and material donations, to cover these costs. Lastly, please come ride the ferry and celebrate with volunteers and friends the completion of this long hot summer of hard work. It is only with your support and help that we will be able to get her back to Stow and back to crossing the narrows of Lake Chautauqua again and for many years to come.”

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