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$4M 'William Richard' ferry to join Shepler's fleet for 75th season

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

The newest, $4 million addition to the fleet of Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry will begin shuttling visitors to and from the popular tourist destination in August. 

Chris Shepler, president of Sheplers Mackinac Island Ferry, talks about the company's new ferry.

The 210-seat "William Richard," named after the Shepler family patriarch, is moving Tuesday from its current home in Onaway to Rogers City for an initial launch. It then will arrive at its new home in Mackinaw City by the end of the week. 

Officials said the global pandemic delayed the launch and movement of the vessel. But it's now ready to be used this 75th season. 

The island officially kicked off its summer season in late June, nearly a month after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed the opening of restaurants, bars and other businesses in the Upper Peninsula and Traverse City region. Mackinac Island logs about 1 million visitors each year, primarily in the summer months. 

The William Richard will depart from Moran Ironworks in Onaway between 8:30 a.m and 9 a.m. and arrive at Port Calcite in Rogers City between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

An informal christening of the ferry with Capt. William R. Shepler and his family is expected immediately following the ship's arrival. A formal ceremony is being planned for spring 2021. 

The William Richard will remain at port for four or five days while testing of the electronic systems and synchronization of the computer systems take place. The Coast Guard inspection and testing will occur at the beginning of August and should be running by the second week of August, officials announced. 

The boat is wheelchair accessible, with an aft deck for luggage, bikes and strollers. Instead of propellers, the vessel is equipped with four jet drives intended to provide a faster trip.

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 of Mackinac 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.

Then, Moran Iron Works built the $3.8 million, 85-foot vessel Miss Margy, reprising the honored name. Miss Margy was launched in 2015 and joined a fleet of five passenger ferries at Shepler's. Miss Margy was designed to hold 281 passengers. 

The family-owned ferry line carries tourists from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace to Mackinac Island.

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 Transit 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.

The Associated Press contributed