Chi-Cheemaun service weathers second COVID-19 sailing season

ALL LOCKED UP—The Owen Sound Transportation Company has reported that the MS Chi-Cheemaun, which links the Island to its southern connection at Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula, had a remarkably good year, all COVID-19 considered. The ferry is pictured here entering the locks at Sault Ste. Marie on its way to drydock for its five-year inspection in Thunder Bay. Dorothy Anstice alerted The Expositor to the ferry’s transit last week. photo courtesy of Dorothy Anstice

2021 deemed a successful year for ferry service

MANITOULIN – Despite the significant passenger capacity limits and a shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) reports that the past sailing season has been a good one.

“The good news is that even though we had significant passenger limit numbers on the ship again this season and had to start the season later than normal again this year, we did okay,” stated Susan Schrempf, president and chief executive officer of the OSTC, in an interview with The Expositor on Tuesday of last week. Ms. Schrempf explained, “In a normal season we would have 171 sailing days. In 2020 we lost all of the month of May so we had a total of 140 sailing days. For this (2021) season we were one week worse, having been asked to stand down again in May and not being able to start the season until June 8. So, for the 2021 season we had a total of 132 sailing days.”

“The good news is that we improved traffic numbers this season,” said Ms. Schrempf. “We saw a 17 percent increase in passenger traffic over 2020, and an 11 percent increase in vehicle traffic over 2020.” The Chi-Cheemaun carried a total of 121,596 passengers this year.

The total traffic carried by the Chi-Cheemaun this season equaled 60 percent of traffic carried in the 2019 season (pre-COVID). “We are pretty pleased even though we lost five weeks on the sailing season,” said Ms. Schrempf. 

Ms. Schrempf continued, “We have received nothing but compliments from passengers on our COVID protocols and screening program. And I’m very happy to report that we have had no report of any passengers or crew members who have been ill with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. And I’m hopeful that next season that with vaccination rates being good we will be able to open more widely to  the public in terms of passenger numbers and provide more of our normal services like food and entertainment in place.”

The Chi-Cheemaun is now just outside of Thunder Bay for its mandatory five year out of water inspection and maintenance. 

“Another notable point about this year’s season is that we only lost one trip on the ship (between Tobermory and South Baymouth) due to a minor mechanical issue on the ship. Losing one day’s trip (sailing) due to a mechanical minor issue on the ship is nothing like losing five weeks due to the pandemic. But safety comes first, and it is better to be safe than sorry, which is always at the forefront in our thought process,” added Ms. Schrempf.