April 27, 2009

New season, new owners for Ti Ferry



Fort Ti Ferry

TICONDEROGA — For those who want to learn how to run their own ferry, the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry across Lake Champlain is a good place to start.

That¹s what Michael and Alison Matot of Shoreham, Vt. figured when they bought the independent cable-ferry from David Floyd and Toby Leith and became successors to the Bullard family that owned it for decades before that.

"We decided it would be nice to serve the community," Mrs. Matot said Saturday as the ferry opened for the season. "We were so excited we didn't sleep last night."

The couple is handling the tasks on the ferry themselves, casting off and tying lines, collecting fees and parking cars and trucks on the ferry's 106-foot-long open deck.

Capt. John Porter is piloting the ferry, as he's done in years past, and the Matots hope to complete apprenticeships and get their own U.S. Coast Guard pilot's licenses someday.

The ferry itself is the Addie B, a diesel-powered tugboat with attached 94-ton steel barge. The barge is guided by two steel cables that lie submerged in the lake when the ferry isn't operating.

The ferry from Ticonderoga to Shoreham, Vt., can hold up to 18 cars, and a one-way trip takes about seven minutes. The ferry cuts an hour's drive to Middlebury, Vt., from Ticonderoga about in half.

The Matots didn't raise prices this year, so a one-way trip is still $8, and a round-trip ticket is $14.

"We wanted to keep it economical," Mr. Matot said. "We don't want to overprice the ferry."

Those who cross Lake Champlain on the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry are following a tradition that goes back to Colonial times, Mrs. Matot said.

"This ferry has been around for a couple hundred years. It's not a start-up."

With one interruption during the American Revolution, the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry has been running continuously for 250 years. Credit for the first regular service goes to Sir Jeffrey Amherst, who started the ferry in 1759 with a sail boat that could hold a stagecoach.

The ferry got new wheels this year for its cable track. The 1⅓-inch thick cable itself is replaced every three or four years, and pieces of the old cable are usually given to tourists as souvenirs.

The Matots had to learn how to operate a ferry without much prior experience.

"It's been a challenge," Mr. Matot said. "It's a lot of work to run a ferry. But we really are enjoying ourselves."

On Saturday, they served homemade brownies to passengers and chatted with people who said they were there because they heard the ferry was opening early this year.

"People have come down to celebrate with us," Mrs. Matot said. "We talk to all the people coming on. Local people are excited for us."

The ferry will run seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., until July 4, when it starts operating until 7 p.m. They'll also stay open later when there are special events at nearby Fort Ticonderoga, Mr. Matot said.

As one group of cars rolled off the boat at Ticonderoga Saturday morning, some drivers blew their horns as those inside the vehicles waved from the windows.

"People have been wonderful," Mrs. Matot said. "It's going to be an amazing experience for us."

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