2015-08-01 / News

2 Arnold Transit Catamarans Sold at Auction; 1 to Re-enter Service

By Stephanie Fortino


The Island Express catamaran (from right) was sold to Pictured Rocks Cruises, Inc. for $1.35 million at a recent public auction in June, the last step in foreclosure proceedings. The Brown family of St. Ignace, the lien holder, purchased its Mackinac Express for $500,000 and plans to sell it. The Straits Express is still owned by Arnold Transit Company, which is operated by Cincinnati investment group Mackinac Island Ferry Capital that took over the company last year. All three vessels will undergo repairs, likely at the Mill Slip in St. Ignace, soon. The Island Express catamaran (from right) was sold to Pictured Rocks Cruises, Inc. for $1.35 million at a recent public auction in June, the last step in foreclosure proceedings. The Brown family of St. Ignace, the lien holder, purchased its Mackinac Express for $500,000 and plans to sell it. The Straits Express is still owned by Arnold Transit Company, which is operated by Cincinnati investment group Mackinac Island Ferry Capital that took over the company last year. All three vessels will undergo repairs, likely at the Mill Slip in St. Ignace, soon. Two catamarans from the Arnold Transit ferryboat fleet were sold at a public auction held at Mackinac County Courthouse Wednesday, June 17. One will go to Pictured Rocks and the other is for sale. A third cat is being repaired and will return to Arnold Transit service.

The two boats on the auction block, Mackinac Express and Island Express, 82-foot-long catamarans built in 1987 and 1988, respectively, belonged to descendants of the late Prentiss M. Brown. The family sold Arnold Transit Company to Jim Wynn in 2010 and had held the two cats as collateral for part of the purchase. When Mr. Wynn reneged on the payments, the Browns initiated foreclosure last summer in United States District Court in Marquette and the boats were auctioned as a result.

Family representative Charlie Brown said the payment due in June 2014 was missed.

Pictured Rocks Cruises, Inc. purchased the Island Express for $1.35 million and was the only bidder. The Brown family ended up purchasing the Mackinac Express for $500,000. The price was the auction’s minimum bid, Mr. Brown said, and not reflective of the vessel’s actual value, which he believes is much higher.

Arnold Transit Company still owns the third catamaran, the Straits Express, a 101-foot, aluminum hulled ferry built in 1995, but all three cats have been out of the water and on blocks at the Mill Slip in St. Ignace since 2013, their propulsion systems lying about or out for repair. A creditor’s lien held them there.

Mackinac Island Ferry Capital, the Rippe family investment company from Cincinnati, Ohio, that had financed the better part of Mr. Wynn’s purchase of Arnold Transit and Union Terminal Piers, took over operation of the company last year amidst financial turmoil.

Arnold Line General Manager Veronica Dobrowolski told The St. Ignace News that repairs on the Straits Express will begin soon and, eventually, it will be back in service. In the meantime, to ferry passengers between Mackinac Island and the mainland, the company has been operating a reduced schedule with its fleet of steel-hulled boats. One of them, the MV Huron, is also used for the winter ferry service between the Island and St. Ignace. This summer, Arnold has added specialty cruises aboard the Isle Royale Queen III, which is owned by Molly Carmody of Pure Michigan Boat Cruises.

Repairs on the Mackinac Express and Island Express will also likely be made at the Union Terminal Piers Mill Slip. Both ferryboats need maintenance and engine repairs, Mr. Brown said, but, structurally, they are in good condition. The engines on the Mackinac Express are almost completely repaired, as the boats were undergoing maintenance during foreclosure. The engine repairs are needed because of normal wear and tear, brought on by the frequent, high-speed trips previously made to Mackinac Island each day.

Eventually, the Brown family wants to sell the Mackinac Express, and it already has some interested buyers.

“We’re now trying to market the other boat,” Mr. Brown said. “The Mackinac Express is something we would like to sell.”

The family hopes to sell the boat to earn back what it is owed, although Mr. Brown declined to say for how much.

“These catamarans are very valuable, even though they’re several years old,” he said. “If you build this same type of catamaran today, it would be a $6 million build. They’re considered to be in great shape because they were operated in fresh water.”

The Island Express will be the newest fleet member of Pictured Rocks Cruises, Inc., which operates several boats in Lakes Superior and Huron.

“We’re going fix up the boat and bring it up to Pictured Rocks next year,” said John Madigan, a manager and shareholder at Pictured Rocks Cruises. “I think it’ll be a great asset. We think the boat fits right in with our operation and gives us expanded capacity, as far as numbers, and probably a smoother ride. We’re just excited to have it up here.”

The Island Express can hold 350 passengers and will be the largest of the six boats now in the Pictured Rocks Cruises fleet. The company was started in 1945 and, in addition to tours of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, it also operates glass-bottom boat tours of shipwrecks in Alpena at Thunder Bay.

“It’s our biggest boat; it will hold the most people,” Mr. Madigan said. “It’ll be the fastest, and it’ll be the most stable, so we’re really fortunate we’re able to do this.”

The vessel will be used for the company’s extended tours of the Pictured Rocks lakeshore.

“We’re going to put it to work,” Mr. Madigan said, “and we feel really good about it. The Brown family has been really good to work with.”

Now that the catamarans have been sold, the Brown family no longer has a financial interest in Arnold Transit Company.

“We only had an interest in those two vessels in what [Mr.] Wynn owed us,” Mr. Brown said.

Reflecting on the recent financial woes at Arnold Transit Company, which was started in 1878, Mr. Brown said, “We really feel bad that’s it’s gone the way it’s gone.”

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