The start of the Chi-Cheemaun ferry season could be delayed as low water in Lake Huron has caused a problem at the wharves in Tobermory and South Baymouth where the Chi-Cheemaun docks.

The passenger and car ferry, which runs between Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island, is supposed to set sail on May 3.

Fenders that keep the boat from hitting the dock are now too high, said Susan Schrempf, president and CEO of the Owen Sound Transportation Company, which operates the Chi-Cheemaun.

"The problem is exacerbated by low water. They are designed for the rub rail of the ship to make contact at a specific point on the fenders," she said.

"The fenders cannot be lowered any lower than they are now, so they need to be modified."

‘One week at a time’

The fenders on the docks in Tobermory and South Baymouth belong to Transport Canada.

No one from the agency was available for an interview.

In an e-mail, a spokesperson said Transport Canada is in discussions about the problem with the province and the Owen Sound Transportation Company.

Schrempf said water levels typically rise in the spring, but it could take until June for water levels in Lake Huron to come up.

"We are looking at it one week at a time," she said.

"Right now today we are 25 cm below chart datum, and chart datum is essentially the bottom end of safe to be able to use those fenders."

Tourism concerns

The prospect of a late start for the Chi-Cheemaun ferry has some tourism operators on Manitoulin Island worried.

Alain Harvey owns the Auberge Inn at Providence Bay.

"I would say at least 60 percent at least of my guests either take the ferry onto the island or off island," he said.

"It's part of a whole circuit around Georgian Bay."

Chi-Cheemaun ferry service has a direct and indirect economic impact on the region of about $25 million per year, according to a study done for the Owen Sound Transportation Company, Schrempf said.