After an overhaul that kept it out of the water for more than a year, the Sans Souci Ferry is once again taking drivers across the Cashie River in Bertie County two cars at a time.
The ferry is one of three that cross North Carolina rivers guided by cables fixed to each shore. They are vestiges of a time when most people crossed the slow-moving rivers of Eastern North Carolina by boat and cable ferries were much more plentiful.
Like the other two, in Hertford and Bladen counties, the Sans Souci Ferry isn’t something most drivers encounter by chance. It connects Sans Souci Road with Woodard Road, saving residents on a remote neck of land between the Cashie and the Roanoke River a 20-minute drive to the closest bridge in Windsor.
But the ferries also attract tourists because of their novelty, said Tim Hass, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Transportation, which has operated the Sans Souci Ferry since the 1930s.
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“People come from out of state just to ride them,” Hass said. “It’s a bygone-era kind of thing.”
The ferry is such a tourist attraction that The Windsor-Bertie Chamber of Commerce has created a separate brochure for it, said Lewis Hoggard, the director. He said bicycle touring groups design their routes through the region just to cross the river at Sans Souci, which takes its name from an early plantation known by the French phrase for “without care or worry.”
“We’re very proud of the ferry,” Hoggard said.
As it went back into service, another cable ferry, Parker’s Ferry across the Meherrin River in Hertford County, was taken to the state shipyard in Manns Harbor for a complete overhaul. It is expected to be out of service through November 2019.
North Carolina’s cable ferries were privately owned in the 19th and early 20th centuries before the state began building bridges that made many of them obsolete. The remaining ones that the NCDOT took over are in places where the traffic and the location wouldn’t justify the expense of building a bridge, Hass said. In August 2017, before it was pulled from the water, the Sans Souci Ferry carried 302 cars and 508 people, he said.
The ferries are free to ride. If you come to the ferry landing and the boat is across the river, you simply honk or wave and the ferry tender will come get you. There’s a limit of two cars and no more than six passengers at a time.
The Sans Souci and Parker’s ferries operate during daylight only. The official winter hours, between Nov. 2 and March 7, are from 15 minutes before sunrise or 6:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., including all holidays. The rest of the year, the hours are 15 minutes before sunrise or 6:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.
The Sans Souci boat had been in the water since the mid-1970s before it was hauled out in October 2017, Hass said. The full overhaul cost about $100,000.