Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A full day

This ferry stuff? It's exhausting. I'm not lifting weights all day, and I'm not solving world hunger. But the combination of the odd hours, moments of intense concentration followed by 2 minutes of utter boredom, leaves you exhausted by the end of the shift.

I got to work at 5, to start at 5:15. I woke up almost every hour, worried I'd oversleep. I hope I don't do that tonight. I think I drank about 5 cups of coffee this morning, too. By the time we started up the boat at 5:30, there were two or three cars waiting on either side. My trainer this morning said that they're regulars, and are almost always the first customers of the day.

I drove a lot today. My trainer was very easy going and laid back, which is a lot easier for me. His preferred method is to let the boat coast into the landing, rather than going in fast, then putting it into reverse to slow down. I had quite a few perfect landings, which made me proud. At the same time, a few times, the boat had to be backed up to renegotiate the landing, since it was so far off, half the apron was hanging over the rocks.

The boat is on a cable. Several, in fact. The cable that really keeps the boat in place is called the "low water cable." It's attached to the shore on each side, on the downstream side. It runs through a pulley on the east and west side of the boat. Because of the current, the cable doesn't lay straight east and west across the river, but arcs. Because of the arc, there's extra play in where the boat can go. That's why the landings are tough. The boat may always go roughly east and west, but the cable plus the current means it usually doesn't face where you want. So you throttle back and forth and play with the winch to get the landing "square."

I like chatting with the customers. Almost everyone, even the regulars, seem to see that the ferry is something unique and a bit special, and greets me with a smile when I take the tolls. Unless the boat is totally full and we get something complicated, there's enough time for a bit of chit chat. Lots of people ask if I'm new. Tons of regulars.

At one point today, we had a super chaotic load. 4 large trucks and several cars piled on board. 2 of the trucks were beekeepers, and one guy tried to use his preloaded ferry card to pay, but the card was empty. So he was scrambling to come up with the fare. While I was trying to figure that out, since his card paid a portion of the fee but not all, and the machine doesn't let me fiddle with the amounts due, just the number of vehicles, someone else wanted to buy a new ferry card, which takes a few minutes. AND someone else needed a receipt, which takes a minute. I think it was also that same load where another car paid with a baggie of coins, and about half were Canadian, so I had to run back and he had to scrounge for coins I could accept. Phew!

But then I took a break. And I'll say, my breakroom? Way better than yours. :)

Right as my shift came to an end today, we got word that the old BV ferry, which will be replaced in the next few weeks, is being barged downstream, and will be passing our way momentarily. We had to take the boat to a particular shore, since it pulls harder on the low water cable, giving the ferry and barge more clearance. When it went by, it seemed so tiny and flimsy. It held 6 cars, the cabin was tiny, and the whole thing looked like a piece of cardboard, floating in the river. Is that what my boat looks like? While standing on board my boat, it seems strong, sturdy, huge. Here's the BV ferry going by, being pushed by a small barge.


  1. Buh bye, ferry boat! I've ridden on that ferry boat many times.

  2. Your blog is fantastic - informative and alive. I feel like I'm right there with you and can't wait till that's a reality. There really is something magical about boats (and you can quote me - and Ratty - on that). Love, Merrill

  3. You have a nice office! At least as long as the sun shines. Should be pretty nice now; we are in May for crying out loud!

  4. This is FASCINATING, Jenny. I love reading about your job!!!

  5. Ferry crossings are a wonderful break in anyone's day...I find them somewhat magical. I am glad you are enjoying your new adventure :-)

  6. I especially like your comments about local color. We are so lucky to live in the type of community(ies) where we can appreciate how special a little trip across the river on a ferry is. Thanks for sharing with us.