The Swan Quarter-Ocracoke ferry route reverted back to its normal schedule this morning in anticipation of the start-up of an alternate route for the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry as early as tomorrow.
The schedule for ferries between Ocracoke and the mainland, effective through May 20, is as follows:
Swan Quarter to Ocracoke: 10 a.m., 4 p.m.
Ocracoke to Swan Quarter: 7 a.m., 12:30 p.m.
Cedar Island to Ocracoke: 7:30 a.m., 10 a.m., 4 p.m.
Ocracoke to Cedar Island: 7:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m.
Because the Hatteras-Ocracoke alternate route is not yet operating, residents and vendors will continue to ride to and from Swan Quarter toll-exempt today. Once the alternate route is open, the toll exemption will be discontinued.
Additional ferries between Swan Quarter and Ocracoke were added when the Hatteras-Ocracoke route shut down in mid-January because of heavy shoaling in the Rollinson Channel in Hatteras Inlet.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division made the announcement about the end of the additional ferries about mid-afternoon today, even though the schedule changed this morning – a fact that did not please many Ocracokers with travel plans today.
NCDOT spokesman Steve Abbott said this afternoon that the Ferry Division was contacting folks with reservations today to assist them in making changes.
Abbott said that an announcement was expected yesterday evening on the Swan Quarter changes and the start-up of the alternate Hatteras-Ocracoke route.
Testing began late yesterday on the alternate channel route to ensure it is safe and that ferry masters are comfortable with the new route.
However, some minor issues arose during yesterday’s testing and no announcement was made. The announcement about the Swan Quarter ferry, he said, “fell through the cracks.”
Testing in the new channel continues this afternoon, Abbott said, and is going well.
If all continues to go well, a schedule for the resumption of service between Hatteras and Ocracoke tomorrow will be announced this evening. He said there will also be an announcement if the service does not resume tomorrow, so that travelers can make plans.
There’s been some good news from the testing so far. The ferry captains can make the runs faster than the time that was announced last week. Last week’s media release said the route was 11 miles and would take an hour and 25 minutes for a crossing. That compares to 40 minutes on the Rollinson Channel route.
However, it turns out the route is more like 10 or 10.5 miles, Abbott said, and the trips are expected to take 60 to 70 minutes.
Once the testing is completed and the Coast Guard gives the okay, service can resume.
An update on the route status and the schedule is expected to be sent out tonight via news release, on the NCDOT website, Ferry Division webpage, the N.C. 12 Facebook page and twitter.