2009-02-14 / Top News

'A Little of Everything' Will Be the Job for North, as New Manager of Ferry Fleet

By Karen Gould

Mike North is the new general manager for Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry. His first day on the job was Thursday, December 18. Mr. North replaces Tom Pfeiffelmann, who now is the chief executive officer. Mike North is the new general manager for Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry. His first day on the job was Thursday, December 18. Mr. North replaces Tom Pfeiffelmann, who now is the chief executive officer. Shortly before 5 p.m. December 17, the transition of leadership roles at Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry became official. Sitting in his wood paneled office in the Star Line building on State Street in St. Ignace, Mike North was given the news that the day-to-day operations of the company now were his responsibility, as general manager.

Tom Pfeiffelmann, who had held the position, was named chief executive officer.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Mr. North, 36. "It will be a nice change. It's a challenging position in this day and age."

He has been preparing for the position for a year, working as assistant general manager under Mr. Pfeiffelmann's direction.

"I think we're going in a really good direction right now," he said, "and I'm hoping to continue that trend."

A strong promoter of teamwork, Mr. North said the boat line has a good crew of people who work together and help each other when needed. Many return each year.

This year, employees will see little difference in operations now that he is the general manager.

"My door is always open, but it was the same with Tom, too," he said.

Star Line operates a five-boat fleet of ferries that transport passengers between Mackinac Island and docks in St. Ignace and Mackinaw City.

During the peak summer season, the company employs about 90 people.

Mike North started his career with the company as a greeter in 1987, welcoming travelers. Since then, he has worked his way up from dock hand and deck hand to head boat captain.

"I love being on the boats," he said, despite a sometimesgrueling schedule. As a boat captain, he worked 70-hour weeks for seven months, then had five months off. Now Mr. North works year-around and his hours are spread throughout the year.

He will continue to fill in where needed, including operating a boat, a job he has always valued. He also needs to stay active as a captain to keep his license.

"I'll be doing a little of everything," he said, "and that's the way I like it. I think if you stay involved and in tune with what is going on, you can make better decisions."

Next summer, when not needed in the office, he will be on the docks on the mainland and on Mackinac Island.

"I think it is important to be out on the dock, too, to see everything that is going on," he said. "I don't think it is good to be sitting in the office all the time. I think it is good to be active within the entire company."

Throughout the year, the office staff schedules tour groups and special events like weddings, and attends tour and travel shows to promote the service.

Government-mandated security programs and fuel costs also continue to occupy the company year-around.

Under new Homeland Security requirements, some transportation employees now are required to get background checks and carry identification cards. The government also is requiring commercial boats to carry transponders that identify and track the boats. Mr. North expects area ferry boats will be equipped with them within the next two years. The boats already are equipped with radar, and the transponder would show the name of the vessel on the radar screen.

Signs were posted five years ago to advise people that the boat lines have the right to search any luggage or packages.

The new security measures will not be noticed by travelers, he said, and measures put in place following terrorist attacks in 2001 are accepted by those boarding the boats.

Over the last few years, the company has put newer, more efficient engines in its boats, in part to counter rising fuel costs.

The smaller Star Line boat will burn about three gallons of fuel per mile, while the larger boats burn about twice that much.

"A lot of it depends on how you're running the boat," Mr. North said. "If you're running wide open, you're going to burn a lot more fuel."

During the winter, three Star Line boats are docked in the Cheboygan River and two boats are moored at the St. Ignace dock, protected by a bubbler system from ice damage.

Seasonal employees will begin coming back to work in late March, with boat mechanics the first to arrive.

The first ferry trips to Mackinac Island will be April 27.

Each spring, the staff will attend a training program which Mr. North designed last year to gain more hands-on experience in emergencies. The boat line works with the St. Ignace Fire Department to put out a contained fire using fire extinguishers and they also practice setting off emergency flares.

Mr. North said his new position at Start Line allows him to be more active in the community. He serves as vice president of the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau this year and has been active on the Events Committee and the Festivals and Fireworks Committee.

He and his wife, Marcy, have two children, Michaela, 10, and Benjamin, 5.

"I feel fortunate I can stay in this area," he said. "I know a lot of people would like to live here and can't. I love this community. I just feel fortunate we have been able to make a living and stay here."

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