Operators of the historic West Lynn ferry are working around-the-clock to get their new amphibious boat in operation to secure the future of the service.
The ferry is due to start running again tomorrow (Saturday) after a rare two-day break following the existing boat becoming grounded on sand banks on Tuesday evening.
Gail Kingston, who runs the service with husband Steve, said: “Due to a combination of high winds and very low tides we have taken the decision to suspend the service until Saturday.
“Our new boat with the tracks fitted should be delivered early next week.
“We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause but have decided this is the safest option all ways round.
“This is first time in 15 years we have found ourselves in this position.”
The ferry carries around 250 passengers across the River Great Ouse between West Lynn and Ferry Lane, Lynn, every day.
On Tuesday, the ferry ran aground at 4pm and was stuck in the middle of the river until 6pm. Luckily only one passenger was aboard the grounded ferry and operators were able to transfer her to a smaller vessel to get her ashore.
But it meant many of the 60 or so commuters, a lot of whom who use of the ferry’s free car park in West Lynn each day to avoid town centre traffic, had to make other arrangements to get back to their vehicles. The ferry did run again between 6pm and 6.30pm.
Mr and Mrs Kingston decided to cancel the service until tomorrow(Saturday, December 13) knowing forecast wind and tide conditions could create pockets of troublesome shallow waters again.
Mr Kingston said the sand banks are usually washed away at this time of year when inland sluice gates are opened and fresh water flushes through the river, but limited rain this year has meant not so much water is coming through and sand banks have remained high in the middle of the river.
He has taken the opportunity of a break in running the six-day-a-week service to help with the completion of a custom-built new boat that will be able to drive over the sandbanks.
The boat was commissioned two years ago and it was initially expected to only take a few months to complete but its unique design and unforeseen circumstances led to delays.
In 2011, West Norfolk Council, which pays an annual £20,000 subsidy to support the operation of the ferry, agreed to put up £30,000 to cover the cost of the new boat, with an idea of reducing the annual subsidy over the following ten years to recoup the investment.
However, Mr Kingston has managed to cover the full costs himself so far.
A ferry service has been running between Lynn and West Lynn since 1285. Mr and Mrs Kingston took over the service in 2000 and expect to carry their millionth passenger across the water next year.
When they took the service on, it was transporting about 43,000 passengers a year and that number is now around 85,000.
In addition to overcoming issues with shallow water in the middle of the river, the new boat will mean passengers no longer have to walk across the banks on boards at low tides when the ferry is not able to reach the landing stage.
The ferry runs Monday to Saturday and breaks in the service are very rare. Last December, the service could not run for two days when flood gates were closed in Lynn due to the tidal surge, blocking the exit footpath and in 2012 a burst water main in Ferry Lane led to the same issue.