Ice cover delays the start of Chi-Cheemaun season

GEORGIAN BAY—As in 2013, and at the very same time of the year, events have changed suddenly for the Chi-Cheemaun start date. This year, however, it’s because of the ice and not the water levels.

Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC), the operators of the Chi-Cheemaun ferry service, announced early Tuesday afternoon, April 29, that the posted start date for the 2014 sailing schedule, today (Friday, May 2), has been postponed for at least a few days until ice conditions in Georgian Bay are appropriate for the ferry to move from its home base in Owen Sound up to it’s Tobermory sailing terminus.

Readers of The Manitoulin Expositor will have seen on the front page of the April 30 paper the annual headline that reads, “Ferry starts Friday” and the accompanying story. This indeed was true until Monday night, April 28, when winds pushed ice across Georgian Bay, blocking safe passage of the Chi-Cheemaun out of Owen Sound and thus delaying the season start. It was also true “as of press time” when The Expositor was sent off to be printed.

Susan Schrempf, president and CEO of the OSTC, explained that the winds on Monday night were gale force, pushing the ice that lined the shore along Georgian Bay at Parry Sound to the southwestern shore, effectively blocking the ferry’s route from its winter port at Owen Sound, where it is still berthed, to Tobermory.

Ms. Schrempf explained that ice conditions are checked through the Environment Canada ice report site, which posts data 24 hours after the fact, as well as through the Canadian Coast Guard, which also keeps track of ice conditions for its ice breaking operations.

“I also have been in touch with one Environment Canada meteorologist to determine the effects of the combination of the temperature, rain and wind direction on the ice,” she said. The meteorologist told Ms. Schrempf that the most she can look forward to on Friday morning is a light southwest prevailing wind—not enough to budge the ice that is blocking the ferry’s route.

Looking ahead to today, Friday, Ms. Schrempf said the OSTC is hoping it would have enough information as to whether the ferry should remain parked, push through or call for an icebreaker.

As for the Chi-Cheemaun carrying out its own icebreaking, this would only be if the ice had deteriorated to such a level that this activity would cause no harm to the vessel.

“She’s a summer vessel and certainly not built like a lake freighter,” Ms. Schrempf said. “She has very little in terms of icebreaking structure (which is mandated by the government), only in the forepeak.”

“We also don’t want to damage our propellers—they’re bronze and don’t have the same ability to sustain hits as the lake freighters with their steel propellers,” Ms. Schrempf explained, noting that the Chi-Cheemaun’s hull below the rub rail is shaped in such a way that water is sucked down and through the propeller. Should large chunks of ice be catapulted through the screw, this could cause major damage and put the ferry out of service for even longer than the few short days the weather has caused.

Word regarding the ferry’s start will be posted on www.manitoulin.ca as soon as this information becomes available.

The OSTC is contacting passengers with reservations for passage this Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this situation and to help them make alternate arrangements.

For more information, or to book a reservation on the ferry, contact the OSTC at 1-800-265-3163. The ferry’s website is www.ontarioferries.com. The spring sailing schedule from South Baymouth is Monday through Thursday at 11:10 am and 3:50 pm, Friday at 11:10 am, 3:50 pm and 8:15 pm, Saturday at 11:10 am and 3:50 pm and Sunday at 11:10 am and 3:50 pm. There is an additional sailing for the Victoria Day holiday on Monday, May 19 at 8:15 pm.