ONAWAY, Mich. – Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and Moran Iron Works are joining forces a second time to build a $4 million state-of-the-art ferry in Northeast Michigan.
The project is designed to spread the wealth of the booming Mackinac Island tourism industry to a nearby region of the state that is struggling economically.
“Our business is growing along with the increasing number of people, bikes and luggage that need to cross the straits to the island,” said Bill Shepler, CEO of Shepler’s. “We’re thrilled to be able to step up and meet that demand, and at the same time give this region a boost.”
Shepler’s has seen its fortunes rise in recent years as tourism to Mackinac Island increased. Revenues from hotel rooms were up 66 percent between 2011 and 2018, according to the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau. The travel website TripAdvisor named the island the most popular summer destination in the country last year.
Shepler and Tom Moran, CEO and founder of Moran Iron Works, announced the project today at a news conference in Moran’s fabrication center, where Shepler cut the first piece of metal for the new ferry. It is scheduled to carry its first passengers in the summer of 2020.
“Moran Iron Works is all in on fulfilling Shepler’s commitment to build in Michigan, by Michigan, for Michigan,” Moran said. “The work being done here will support 40 local families and result in one of the finest vessels plying the straits today.”
Instead of propellers, the new boat will have four jet drives, supplied by HamiltonJet of New Zealand. This will be the first fast-ferry application of the company’s jets in the U.S. Great Lakes, and the first application of its new Advanced Vessel Control System in the United States. HamiltonJet’s Ace Backer said the system will provide a “quieter, smoother, faster” ride.
The new 210-passenger boat will be wheelchair accessible and have a big aft deck for luggage, bikes and strollers. It will also include enhanced air conditioning and heating capabilities to keep passengers comfortable in all weather.
Construction will require some 13,000 man hours on the shop floor over the next several months. This fall the 60-ton ferry will be trailered to Moran Iron’s Port Calcite Collaborative, a deep-water port in nearby Rogers City. The move will take place along a high-wire transport corridor running primarily along the M-68 highway.
It will then launch in Lake Huron and be sailed to Shepler’s facility in Mackinaw City, where it will be detailed in preparation for its inaugural run next summer.
Updates on construction can be followed using the #SheplersNewRide hashtag on Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Moran Iron Works has done routine repairs as well as extensive modifications on four Shepler’s vessels, and this is its second ferry build for the company. Traditionally, ferries are built in the shipyards of Wisconsin, the Atlantic seaboard or the Gulf Coast, but Moran Iron is changing that with its inland facility and high-wire corridor to Port Calcite.
Moran’s first ferry project was Shepler’s $3.8 million, 281-passenger Miss Margy, launched in 2015. Named after Bill Shepler’s mother Margaret, Miss Margy is Shepler’s largest ferry and considered the pride of Shepler’s fleet.
“Shepler’s is always working to maintain its position as Michigan’s premier ferry service to the state’s premier tourist destination,” Shepler said. “This new boat is another downpayment on that commitment.”
Cost: $4 million
Capacity: 210 passengers
Propulsion: 4 hydrojets
Speed: 30 mph
Weight: 60 tons
Length: 84 feet
Width: 20 feet, 3 inches