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All Aboard — Next Year

PAUSE Order Delays Relaunching Of Bemus Point-Stow Ferry

Sea Lion Ltd. board members and volunteers are pictured on the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry on Monday. The vessel won’t operate this year while repairs are finished, but officials are eyeing a possible 2021 return to Chautauqua Lake. Photo by Randall Burt

STOW — The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed yet another summer mainstay — the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry.

There was originally hope that the ferry could return to the narrows between Bemus Point and Stow this summer, but required patching to the vessel’s hull has been delayed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s PAUSE order.

The news isn’t all bad, however.

On Monday, as the long Memorial Day weekend ebbed away, ferry board members and volunteers gathered in masks, with appropriate social distancing, to cross the narrows on the ferry for the first time in 2020.

“The air was warm, the clouds were spectacular and you could feel the excitement of the volunteers vibrating the air as they left their cars and walked to the landing at Stow,” wrote Chris Flanders, board member and treasurer of the Sea Lion Project Ltd., which owns the ferry. “American flags were flying along the railings, in the hands of the volunteers and on the flagpole of the ferry, the American flag on top and the American flag from 1811 below, representing when the ferry first crossed the narrows of Chautauqua Lake. This was our celebration for two years of hard work and dedication to the future of the ferry.”

Over the last two summers, Sea Lion Ltd. officials and volunteers have installed new I-beams; welded the ferry’s perimeter and repainted the historic vessel. All places where rain, waves and melting snow got into the bilges are closed as well. There are also new pumps in all the bilges with alarms, and the bilges are painted for weather and rust protection. Three of the hatches down into the bilges are new and all hatches are fitted with new, tightly sealed covers. There are new supports for the paddle wheels on both sides. There is also a plan to do the cosmetic touches to the buildings and covers to the paddle wheels.

Roughly 90% of the repairs needed since the vessel failed a maritime inspection in 2018 have been completed. The last repair is the most complex and requires the services of David Hohl of Hohl Industries in Buffalo, who Flanders said has done a considerable amount of marine welding on the ferry over the past two years. Hohl is coordinating the hull repair and Sea Lion Ltd. officials have submitted several grants to help cover the cost of this final repair.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hohl Industry work has backed up to only essential projects, which canceled the ferry’s scheduled May repair. It still may happen in September or spring 2021.

“The timetable is uncertain,” Flanders wrote. “We were initially sad and disappointed, hoping that we would be certified by the New York Maritime Survey Team in Buffalo to run our normal 2020 summer schedule at last, but that was not to be. We decided we were lucky to have such a solid plan in place to complete the full repair and still have enough money to be able to maintain the Ferry in the future. When the repair occurs, it will be a real happening at the Stow Landing.”

“There will be one or two cranes positioned to lift the ferry out of the water and place it on specially designed scaffolding for the replacement of part of the center portion of the hull, the big lift. It will be repaired with new steel, marine welded into place. When it is completed, she will be returned to the lake with the cranes, the big splash. The new deck will be built in sections and fitted onto the steel decking so that any section may be lifted for the repair of the steel deck or maintenance of the moving parts of the ferry. There will be much reconnecting of pieces and parts and painting of the railings and the houses before she is ready to go.”

Once that work is completed a state inspector will reinspect the ferry. That inspection will determine if the vessel receives an operating license.

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