All Aboard the Carmen Lee

Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line launches its newest and largest vessel to accommodate a demand for more Lake Erie waterway travel. 

The ferry docks are bustling with a notable uptick in demand for travel across Lake Erie to Kelleys Island. “We have seen increased business in the last five years, and we literally haul people from sunup to sundown,” says Capt. Eddie Ehrbar, Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line, Marblehead. 

The ferry line can accommodate 148 more passengers and up to 36 vehicles aboard the new Carmen Lee, the fifth and largest vessel — and a custom build for the company, which acquired its latest vessels after the purchase of Neuman’s Kelleys Island Ferry in 2002. 

The 168-foot Carmen Lee models the ferry service’s flagship Shirley Irene, with a main deck of high-strength steel that can handle cars and equipment. Plus, the ship is not a traditional twin-screw vessel like the others in the fleet. “It goes back and forth and never needs to turn around, and there is a ramp on each end of the boat,” Ehrbar says of the twin-disc hydraulic clutches. 

TAI Engineers designed the Carmen Lee, along with S&B Infrastructure, whose president Danny Rios said in a release that the vessel is designed to “help improve transportation, mobility and accessibility for the Lorain Port and Finance Authority and Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line.” 

 The Lorain Port and Finance Authority helped facilitate funding to build the ferry as the local government partner agency. 

“This is a way to help enhance the waterway transportation system in the Great Lakes,” says Tiffany McClelland, assistant director. “Regionally, this means that Lake Erie will be better able to handle the demand of service to the islands.”

Construction of the Carmen Lee began in fall 2018, and the ferry set sail when the season opened April 15. Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line operates vessels all day, year-round. Ehrbar expects the 2022 island travel uptick to continue. 

“During COVID-19, we have been busier than ever with more people staying closer to home for vacations and visiting Kelleys Island,” he says. “We are looking forward to having another vessel to move traffic more frequently and faster.”

 One-way fares range from free for kids 4 and younger to $11 for adults, $18 for cars, $9 for motorcycles and $4 for bikes.

“No matter what boat you get on, it’s the same price,” Ehrbar says.

The Carmen Lee travels every half-hour from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with an off-season schedule to be determined.

For more information on tickets, as well as ferry schedules, visit kelleysislandferry.com.

 

SET SAIL
Check out other ways to get to and from the Lake Erie Islands.

Jet Express
This fleet of high-speed passenger ferries offers direct routes from Port Clinton to Put-in-Bay, as well as from Sandusky to Cedar Point and Kelleys Island. The Jet Express runs May through October, offering late-night service and the option to buy one-way or round-trip tickets. For more information on the 2022 ferry schedule, as well as ticket prices, visit jet-express.com.

Miller Ferries
Departing from the end of state Route 53 on Catawba Island, Miller Ferries offers passenger and vehicle service to Put-in-Bay and Middle Bass Island. In 2021, Miller Ferries launched a new vessel, the Mary Ann Market, which provides service between the mainland and Put-in-Bay and is able to transport 600 passengers and 28 vehicles. Visit millerferry.com for ferry schedules, vehicle guidelines and ticket fares.