NIAGARA FALLS – The Maid of the Mist has found a new winter home, just a little bit south of its old digs and on the other side of the river.
But to get there, some serious heavy lifting took place Thursday in the Lower Niagara.
The workhorse tasked with hoisting the two tour boats, each tipping the scales at 125 tons, never even broke a sweat. Built in Germany and England over six months, the Liebherr Crane’s lift capacity is rated at 215 tons.
At about 9:20 a.m., under the cautious hand of crane operator John Clark, the Maid of the Mist VII was slowly hoisted from the water and approximately 40 minutes later was dry-docked at its new home on the American side of the river in the Niagara Gorge.
Dock hands guided lines tethered to the behemoth boat, whose decks can hold up to 600 passengers. But it was the electric powered 96-foot-high crane and its 78-foot-long arm, known as a boom, that carried the day.
“It’s just fantastic. Who wouldn’t love to see this? Who just doesn’t love feats of engineering and who doesn’t love the Maid of the Mist? It’s the perfect combination,” said Amber Storr, a Grand Island resident who took time off from work to watch the crane perform its Herculean work.
For the Maid of the Mist Corp., it was both an end and a beginning, according to James V. Glynn, the company’s chairman and CEO.
Glynn stood in a misty rain along with about 40 other spectators to watch as the first of the two boats was placed in winter storage.
“It’s a great day,” Glynn said. “We’re happy to be here and continue with the Maid of the Mist.”
The Maid of the Mist has operated for 128 years, the last 41 of them under the ownership of the Glynn family.
In a competitive bidding process last year, the Glynn’s Maid of the Mist lost the rights to operate on the Canadian side to Hornblower Cruises of San Francisco. That made for an uncertain future for the Maid until a deal was struck with New York State to build a $32 million storage facility at the former Schoellkopf Power Station, which collapsed into the gorge in the 1950s. The Glynn company will pay the state $105 million more in rent over the next 30 years.
Unlike the old storage site on the Canadian shore of the river, a shorter distance from the roaring falls, the new location required a crane, rather than a set of tracks slanting down into the water, to lift the boats out and into storage. The two Maid boats that had operated from the Canadian side have now been retired.
On Thursday, though, the struggle to stay afloat was all a closed chapter that now belongs to the Maid’s storied past.
All eyes were fixed on the Maid of the Mist VII as it, for a moment, upstaged the nearby natural wonder of the falls, which was enshrouded in rainy-day fog and its ever present mist.
To move the boat, a series of super-strong slings made of aramid fiber yarn, commercially known as Kevlar – the same material used in bulletproof vests – had been strung through four shackles below the craft’s deck and, topside, hooked into shackles at the base of a rectangular steel cage.
Another four slings, hanging down from a cable and pulley system at the tip of the boom, were shackled to the top of the cage.
After raising the boat from the water and above the dock, Clark, in the operator’s cabin at the top of the crane tower, turned the crane to dry land, actually a sprawling concrete pad.
Painstakingly, dock hands, construction workers from L.P. Ciminelli and engineers from Parsons Brinckerhoff finessed a dozen 4-foot-high steel-caged cribs containing stacked 12-inch by 12-inch pressure-treated timbers to bear the weight of the vessel.
When the first boat was snuggled into its winter berth, Christopher M. Glynn, president of the family-owned Maid of the Mist company, offered a smile and shook hands with workers and business associates who had assembled to watch the monumental task unfold.
Expressing awe at the engineering required to move the boats and gratitude to the Glynns for staying the course and continuing a U.S.-based tourist attraction was Monsignor David LiPuma, pastor of St. Peter’s
Church in Lewiston, where Glynn family members worship.
“I’m absolutely amazed at the sight,” he said, “and I’m grateful to the Glynn family for keeping the vision alive so that many more generations can enjoy the Maid of the Mist.”