Amy FeiereiselIt’s been a wild winter for the Lake Champlain ferries. Here’s why
If the weather has seemed a little frenetic to you this winter, lots of low lows and high highs, you’re not alone. Tyler Shafer has worked as a deckhand for Lake Champlain Ferries for the last four years, and he’s noticed it, too.
“It’s just weird weather. We were just in the fifties. And then we’re going to be in the teens tomorrow. It’s just it’s a back and forth. It’s whiplash. Seesaw, for sure.”
He says rough days have been really common this winter, and so have ferry closures and changes. Shafer confirmed it’s been happening a lot more than ‘normal’, especially for the 24 hour service between Plattsburgh and Grand Isle.
“The northern crossing has actually had a really rough time. The ice has built up and made it pretty much impossible to drive the boats through. [This is] the most the ferry has closed in the past 20 to 25 years. [The Northern] crossing usually never closes. So it’s very rare.”
The culprit isn’t the extreme cold, as the ferries are used to running through a frozen Lake Champlain. It’s the cold days mixed with the warm spells we’ve been experiencing, and all the wind that comes with big temperature shifts.
“It’s the winds. It’s just like this heavy north wind, heavy south wind, and back and forth. No calm days at all this winter. So anytime ice would form in the bays, it would just all get blown out the bays and pushed all the way north. So it’s just compacted like four feet deep of just chips of ice that you can’t get through.”
I’m taking the southern ferry, from Charlotte, VT to Essex, NY. It seems pretty choppy to me: big waves sloshing up against the boat, and we’re hitting ice chunks left and right. But Shafer laughs when I call the waves big. He says this is a pretty mild: “Oh, this is a light day. I will say that. [There’s a] north wind actually coming right now, soon. And we’ll get four or five footers [waves] out here.”
He says working the ferries in the winter, especially in conditions like these, can be pretty intense. “You’re out in the weather, even if it’s pouring, blizzarding. I mean, if there’s water coming on the boat and turning into ice instantly, chipping ice all day. It’s rough.”
But Shafer is undeterred, because he loves being out on the water. He drove a ship in the navy, has his captain’s license, and will soon be taking over one of the captain’s slots for Lake Champlain Ferries. Then making these tricky crossings will be his job.