Restoring To Service

Plans Outlined For Return Of Ferry To Chautauqua Lake

A welder works on one of the beams that runs across the deck of the Bemus Point Stow Ferry. The famed ferry could be back on Chautauqua Lake and in service by July as about $50,000 is sought in fundraising efforts. Photo by J. Kuntz

The Bemus Point Stow Ferry could be back in service in July while volunteers go about raising $50,000 for a two-year repair project.

A news release from the Sea Lion Project Ltd., the organization that runs the ferry, detailed some of the work needed to get the ferry back on Chautauqua Lake.

“The good news is that we think we can have the ferry back in service in July of this year, 2018,” volunteers wrote. “We can’t miss a summer of great stories, conversations sunsets and fresh air. … A big thank you to all who have offered support: hugs and offers to do grunt work, offers of specialty skills, ideas for fundraising and sharing of your own Ferry stories. Even to those of you who might think restoring the Ferry to service is a waste of time and money, we appreciate your input but want her back in the water in the center of the community as soon as we can.”

“We thank all the volunteer members of the ferry and especially those who have consistently worked long hours in the repair and maintenance of the vessel. Without them the ferry would only be a paragraph in Chautauqua County history.”

A number of the 22 large I-beams on top of the ferry’s decking running across the width of the ferry need to be replaced due to age and weather-related deterioration. Three of the beams will be replaced this year in compliance with the plans made with state marine inspectors. The old beams will be cut off the deck with a torch, supports will be restored and leveled for the new I-beams.

Pictured are some of the bolts and other metal pieces from the ferry that have been removed as part of a repair project. Photo by J. Kuntz

The new beams will be welded to the metal deck for the entire length of the beam, again meeting specifications set by the state marine inspectors.

“Each task is hours and hours of work by the volunteers even before the removal and replacement of the beams is started,” volunteers wrote.

Some of the hatches into the bilge compartment need new covers fabricated to make them watertight, many existing bolts and pipes must 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 need to have drains replaced. There is also other work to be done, but perhaps the best news volunteers could have heard is that the steel hull is in pretty good shape for a 1930s-era hull.

“We took the ferry off her cables last summer, a season before the every-10-year out of the water inspection by New York state, to hire our own marine inspector to look at the hull,” the volunteers wrote. “He felt that it was still surprisingly sound for its age, purchased in the 1930s. The New York state inspection on May 30 agreed with our marine surveyor. No steel needs to be replaced at this time, but grinding and scraping, pressure washing and applying an expensive tar/epoxy resin paint need to be completed.

“A portion of our funds from your donations is now being used to start the repairs needed to get the ferry back in service. More than repairs are being done, as our annual maintenance projects are going on at the same time. We are taking full advantage of her time out of the water.”

The Bemus Point Stow Ferry pictured docked in Mayville prior to an inspection last month. The ferry could be back on Chautauqua Lake by July as repairs are made. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

That bit of good news doesn’t mean volunteers don’t need help. Volunteers estimate they need to raise $50,000 in the next two years for required work, though they note donations have been streaming in once word of the needed repairs began to spread. Donations can be made on by selecting Sea Lion Project Ltd. Donations may also be mailed to The Bemus Point/Stow Ferry, PO Box 339, Bemus Point, NY 14712. To keep abreast of developments, find the ferry’s page on Facebook at Historic Bemus Point-Stow Ferry page or our sister page Friends and Fans of the Bemus Point Stow Ferry.

“We need your continued generosity and support to get her done and back into service crossing the lake between Bemus Point and Stow,” organizers wrote. “Her history of continual service since 1811 is a significant part of our county, town and family history through the years. She is one of only a couple cable ferries in the U.S. still in service. Because of your generosity we have been able to keep her running and hope to for another 200 years.”