SHOREHAM - While the Fort Ti-Shoreham Ferry on Lake Champlain closed for the current winter season Dec. 31, it ran two months past its normal open-water season thanks to the creative engineering efforts of Ferrisburgh-based OSI Industries, home of the Dock Doctors Water Specialists.
The normally frozen lake channel between Shoreham, Vt.-where the ferry is based-and Ticonderoga, N.Y., was kept open since mid November to accommodate thousands of commuters and other travelers seriously inconvenienced by the closure, and final demolition, of the 80-year-old Lake Champlain Bridge.
According to marine specialist Chris Girard of Dock Doctors, the Vermont company was called upon to figure out a way to keep the Ti ferry running past it's summer season.
"Just after the bridge closed, both New York and Vermont state officials contacted us to get involved," Girard said. "Mike Matot, the ferry owner, was asked to keep running past the tourist season. But both states wanted Mike to keep the ferry sailing into December. It wasn't going to be an inexpensive job. And we are the only ones locally that have the lake knowledge to do this sort of thing. So, we were up to the technical challenge."
Dock Doctors was able to demonstrate the means by which narrow portions of Lake Champlain could be kept ice-free during the early winter season. But as Girard said, the 24-hour, seven-days-a-week effort came at a high price-a price the includes both labor, equipment and lots of overtime.
The marine firm responded quickly to the bi-state request by coming up with a two-prong attack on the ice forming on Lake Champlain in November.
The "ice war" on the lake began in mid November and included use of Dock Doctors' special underwater air bubbling system and its custom-built waterfront motor vessel dubbed the "Miss Doc".
The 32'x13' "Miss Doc" was built in Ontario almost entirely out of lightweight marine-grade aluminum. The flat-bottom vessel, which superficially appears to be a John boat on steroids, includes a high-tech pilot house and a heavy lifting crane. The vessel is powered by two 135 HP outboard gasoline engines.
Since before Thanksgiving, "Miss Doc" ran 24 hours a day through thick and thin (ice that is) until last week when the ferry was finally closed for the 2009 season.
Dock Doctors' bubbler system, powered by onshore compressors, blows a constant stream of warm air a foot or so above the lake bottom, to agitate the water creating a submarine upwelling of warm water into the surrounding chilling water. This agitation slows and eventually stops the formation of ice.
Once a channel was opened, "Miss Doc" was used to push back the ice along the channel edges and help build up a wall of thick ice-shore-to-shore-that wasn't going to move much.
Occasional ice calves were pushed back by "Miss Doc" with a screened metal plow on her bow.
"Miss Doc" is also capable of rising up on the ice, or shore, if needed. Her hinged bow opens, a miniature version of the U.S. Navy's amphibious LSTs of World War-II.
Ultimately, the insurance company insuring the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry decided it could no longer insure the ferry past Jan. 3. So, without the insured extension period, Mike Matot closed the Ti ferry until spring 2010.
According to Girard, Dock Doctors could have kept the lake channel open between Vermont and New York for many weeks into January and possibly February but the effort would have been expensive.
"Everyone has been very patient with the inconvenience of losing the old Crown Point bridge," Girard said. "This has been like a lot like working at an airport. We're not sure what Mother Nature is going to throw at us, so we're working to keep the runways open."