'The only one': Riverhurst Ferry floating along for more than half a century
Darren Cleave has been working on the Riverhurst Ferry for 17 years, he said the ferry is an essential life line for the nearby communities and agriculture producers.
"It bridges quite a gap,” said Darren Cleave, Supervisor of Operations for the Riverhurst Ferry. “You know we're a mile and quarter across. If the ferry is not operational or the ice road in the winter, its 150 kilometres around."
The Riverhurst Ferry opened in 1967 when the South Saskatchewan River was flooded to create Gardiner Dam on Lake Diefenbaker. Three cables pull the diesel powered ferry from the east to west shore.
"The Riverhurst Ferry is the only one,” said Cleave. “It's the largest cable ferry in the world."
The current ferry can carry 18 cars or two fully loaded semis. It has the capacity to carry 405,000 pounds. The ferry runs from early May to mid-December, 24 hours a day.
"We leave the east shore on the hour and the west shore on the half an hour,” said Cleave. “If we happen to get full we just keep running until we catch up and try and get people across, those are called double runs."
Kevin Forsyth took the ferry for the first time on Wednesday. He was hauling barley to Ogema and said taking the ferry shortened his trip by 30 kilometres. He joked that he was a bit scared the ferry wouldn’t make it to shore.
"I got my bag ready, said “Forsyth. “Ready to jump off if I need too.”
Though it has a good safety record, there have been a few incidents in the past and crews are always prepared for an emergency in case one occurs. One time a semi fell off the back of the boat.
"The day that semi went off, we watched it go off and I was in the life boat by the time he was hitting the water,” said Cleave. “We were down there and pulled him out of the water."
The crews and the ferry are at the mercy of high winds and fluctuating water levels.
“This lake fluctuates a lot,” said Cleave. “It will go up and down 15 or 20 feet every year. We actually have to bump the docks up the cement pad or pull them down depending on the water level.”
The ferry had a major overhaul in 2002. Afterwards, it saw a series of mechanical difficulties which caused it to be closed down for repairs. Those issues have since been resolved.
“It’s hard to design something for us because there’s really no base to go off of,” said Cleave. “They upgraded the drive, they made the shafts bigger.”