2018-12-08 / News

Shepler’s Is Building New Ferry To Meet Demands

By Stephanie Fortino

A new ferry will join the Shepler’s fleet in 2020 to meet increasing demand in St. Ignace. Featuring four jet-powered engines, the new yet-tobe named ferryboat will be capable of carrying between 220 and 230 passengers, Shepler’s President Chris Shepler told The St. Ignace News. In December, the company will seek bids for the construction of the aluminum-hulled ferry.

“We’re very excited about commissioning another build on another ferry,” Mr. Shepler said.

The boat will help to address growing passenger demand in St. Ignace, he said, which resulted this summer in some people being left at the dock. While the company tried to serve the need with other boats in the fleet, the Shepler family decided building a new boat was the best answer.

“With St. Ignace’s growth,” he said, “we need to make sure that we supply and do what we need to do to take care of that increase. We need a boat now.”

The new ferry will haul about 50 fewer passengers than the Miss Margy, which is the most recent addition to the fleet. It will also have a slightly larger back deck, but the differences will hardly be noticeable to passengers, Mr. Shepler said.

Working with naval architects, boat engineers, and engine manufacturers, the company will transition to jet-drive technology for its newest boat. The jets will be more fuel efficient than propeller-driven ferries and are easier on equipment. Propellers create air pockets in the water, called cavitation, that leads to wear and tear on the underside of the boats. The new jet-powered ferry will have a flatter bottom, which will reduce wear on the equipment. It will also feature four 804-horsepower engines to power the jet drives.

Construction is expected to begin in February or March. Next fall, the ferry will be delivered to the Shepler’s shop in Mackinaw City so it can be painted and detailed. It will be launched at the beginning of the 2020 season.

The ferry will be the second jetdriven vessel on the Straits of Mackinac, joining Star Line’s Mackinac Express catamaran.

The vessel will not be capable of operating in icy conditions, Mr. Shepler said, because it will have an aluminum hull.

The company does have the ability to haul 50 passengers in the heated cabin on its winter freight vessel, the Sacre Blue, which was recently overhauled to be better at breaking ice. But Shepler’s can’t haul passengers because the City of Mackinac has an exclusive winter service contract with Star Line. Shepler’s freight has been landing at Star Line’s midtown dock on the Island (previously the Arnold Dock), through a contract that lasts through the 2018 calendar year, Mr. Shepler told The St. Ignace News. That contract may not be renewed.

December 31 will be the last day Shepler’s will haul regular freight and products to Mackinac Island, although the Sacre Blue can continue to land at the state dock at British Landing. Only heavy equipment like dumpsters and construction vehicles can be delivered to that dock, and those operations will continue throughout the winter construction season.

The Shepler Dock at Mackinac Island is closed for the winter, as the O’Boyle and Sons construction company is using the dock for staging materials and equipment. Construction on the new hotel above the dock, the Waterfront Collection South, will be finished this winter.

The Shepler Dock expansion project on the Island is also ongoing. The project was delayed by bad weather last winter, and Mr. Shepler intends the project will be finished before the 2019 tourist season begins. The dock will feature new passenger queuing areas and freight staging, which will help alleviate congestion on Main Street.

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