A Miller Boat Line ferry approaches Catawba Island from South Bass Island during an unusual winter run. The lack of ice prompted Miller and the Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line to set sail with limited schedules for as long as the lake remains open. Boat operators can't recall the last time midwinter service was offered.
CATAWBA ISLAND, Ohio - Carol Gentry sat in her car and beamed.
On Saturday, for the first time since 1990, when she and her husband, Terry, moved to Put-in-Bay, she was able to take her car to the mainland in the middle of January.
"This is so much better!" she said with a big smile, seated in her car yesterday to ride the ferry back to South Bass Island. She was among about 15 people who bought tickets for the 10:30 a.m. boat run by Miller Boat Line.
The service stopped running Dec. 9 because of colder-than-usual weather but resumed last week after the last of the ice around South Bass melted.
Julene Market said no one in her family, which has owned the ferry service since 1978, can recall operating this late in January. "Our boat line has never opened back up midwinter," she said. "Everybody's saying the same thing everywhere: how unusual the weather this winter is."
A cold snap or a shift in prevailing winds could force the company to dock its ferries at any time, but for now, the boat line is running two morning trips and two afternoon trips between Catawba Island Township and South Bass Island.
Matthew Miller, a captain for the boat line, said islanders are taking advantage of the warm weather to visit friends and family members, shop, and do errands.
"We've had a fair amount of people going back and forth and doing some of the mainland activities they don't normally enjoy this time of year," he said.
Normally, islanders who need to reach the mainland in the winter have to fly, which can cost $80 roundtrip. The same trip on the ferry costs $12 a person, plus $28 for a vehicle.
Those headed to the island yesterday cited the price difference as a major factor in their decision to use the boat. Matt Dandar, an aircraft engine distributor from Tiffin, was heading over to repair a customer's Hovercraft engine. "Normally, I'd fly over, but since the ferry's running, I'm going to save him a few bucks," he said.
Cathy Magers, who lives on the island, was thrilled to have the chance to take her car to an annual family get-together.
"It's nice," she said, smiling as most customers seemed to be doing. "It's cheaper. It's wonderful."
Also back on the water is the Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line, running twice daily between the island and Marblehead.
Kelleys Island Mayor Rob Quinn said the ferry service shut down last month as the lake nearly froze over.
"There were actually some ice shanties out on the lake, and I thought that was going to be the beginning of one of our longest, coldest winters," he said.
Instead, the boat line resumed service shortly after New Year's Day, which was a pleasant surprise for islanders, Mr. Quinn said.
"It really helps them," he said. "The schedule is limited. There's one trip in the morning and one trip in the afternoon, but it allows them to get off, spend the day over there, and come back."
A few property owners who are building homes on Kelleys Island also have taken advantage of the restarted service to ship construction materials from the mainland, Mr. Quinn said. "I know it's helping the construction trades a lot," he said.
For Miller line ticket-taker Valerie Kochensparger, the unexpected call back to work meant a break from doing the home repairs she had started. "This gives my wrist a break from painting," she said. "It's nice."
Customers have been delighted with the break from their usual winter routines.
"One guy was all happy to get McDonald's," she said, chuckling. "You don't think about that, but when you're stuck on an island all winter ."
Contact Steve Murphy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6078.