$4M jet-driven ferry being built for Mackinac Island jaunts

The Associated Press
The Captain Shepler heads out into a storm. Instead of propellers, the new vessel will have four jet drives intended to provide a quieter, smoother and faster trip.

Onaway — Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry is having another vessel constructed to take passengers to and from one of Michigan’s top tourist destinations.

The company says the $4 million ferry is being built by Moran Iron Works of Onaway. It’s scheduled to start operating in summer 2020. The family-owned ferry line carries tourists from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace to Mackinac Island.

The 210-passenger boat will be wheelchair accessible and have an aft deck for luggage, bikes and strollers. Instead of propellers, the vessel will have four jet drives intended to provide a quieter, smoother and faster trip.

Moran Iron Works previously built another ferry for Shepler’s, a $3.8 million state of the art 85 foot vessel, Miss Margy, which was launched in 2015 and joined a fleet of five passenger ferries at Shepler's. Miss Margy was designed to hold 281 passengers.

The new ferry will be assembled over the next several months and taken by trailer to a deep-water port in Rogers City, then sailed to Shepler’s facility in Mackinaw City.

William Shepler came home from World War II to his hometown of Mackinaw City and opened a snack shack for visitors traveling to the island, in the straits between the Upper and Lower peninsulas. Shepler added two charter boats, each carrying just six passengers and not considered ferries.

In 1950, William Shepler, who died in 1988, built a 30-foot cabin cruiser with twin gasoline engines, and named her "Miss Margy." That was the first enclosed ferry to the island for the company and could hold 24 passengers.

The Mackinac Island City Council weighed a plan in 2011 that started a Mackinac Island ferry war, of sorts, that would have allowed competitor ferry services Arnold and Star Line to provide exclusive service to the island for 20 years in exchange for a $2 reduction in the $24 round-trip price. 

The city decided to approve contracts for the three services.