Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Dan Davidson

PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF – The Amelia Lupine (left) works the George Black ferry back and forth Wednesday to pull it off the sandbar.

Mining barge frees Dawson City’s ferry from sandbar

The George Black ferry was grounded on a gravel bar near the west bank of the Yukon River for most of Wednesday.

By Whitehorse Star on October 4, 2018

DAWSON CITY – The George Black ferry was grounded on a gravel bar near the west bank of the Yukon River for most of Wednesday.

The difficulties began mid-morning and endured until about 5:30 p.m., when it was pulled free by the Schmidt Mining barge, the Amelia Lupine, and towed to the shore below its winter storage ramps.

Early in the afternoon, the Yukon government’s Facebook page posted, “The George Black Ferry is down due to mechanical issues until further notice.”

This was followed by “The George Black Ferry in #Dawson City is currently stuck on a sandbar on the Yukon River and we are looking into potential mechanical issues.”

The notice indicated that there were no passengers on the vessel at the time it drifted onto the sandbar, and that the Schmidt Mining barge was on its way to assist.

It was uncertain whether one or both of the props has been damaged, though this information was given out by the employee explaining the problem to people arriving at the ferry landing in the morning.

Later in the day, the Facebook post added, “Once freed, the ferry will need to be removed from the river for a mechanical inspection.”

Rescue operations proceeded under the watchful eyes of dozens of people at the landing and along the dike. The heavy equipment and cable spools needed to pull the ferry out of the river eventually began to arrive.

In the meantime, various locals with boats, as well as the search and rescue boat skipped by John Mitchell, were ferrying people back and forth across the river.

The postings acknowledged that this was the case: “The Search and Rescue boat will be in the water bringing students and the public to West Dawson until 8 p.m. today.

“We are continuing to coordinate with the Department of Education and Dawsonites to make sure students and the public make it home safe.”

The Amelia Lupine passed the thick cable to a smaller boat, which took it to the George Black, where it was hauled on board and attached. As the barge applied power, the cable jerked out of the water, sending spray into the air.

The barge would surge forward, ease off, back up, take in some slack, and pull again, eventually bringing the bow of the ferry around.

The George Black’s hull could be heard scraping on the gravel.

The barge adjusted its pulling angle several times, wriggling the ferry free of the gravel.

When it could be seen that both boats were moving slowly upstream against the current, there were cheers and much honking of vehicle horns from those watching.

The ferry was set to be extracted and examined today. It was unknown at press time this afternoon if it will be able to finish its regular season.

Historically, the ferry goes out of service any time after the Thanksgiving weekend, depending on ice conditions in the river.

The government’s earliest recorded date is Oct. 10 (1972), while the latest is Nov. 11 (2002).

Mid-October is fairly normal, with Oct. 17 appearing seven times since 1967. Last year, the final crossings occurred on Oct. 29.

Very few of the residents in West Dawson and Sunnydale would be ready for the ferry season to end at this point.

They would have been expecting another week at least to get in supplies, fuel and water.

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