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Mackinac Ferry nearly done

Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Fleet Captain Billy Shepler, left, and Moran Iron Works Founder Tom Moran, right, stand in the pilot house of the William Richard, which is being constructed in Onaway.

News Staff Writer

ONAWAY — Construction on the latest addition to Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry fleet is a little ahead of schedule, officials said Friday.

The William Richard, a $4 million boat, is being constructed at Moran Iron Works in Onaway. It is nearing completion and is expected to begin ferrying guests to and from Mackinac Island in May.

“Our goal is to have her hauling passengers by Memorial Day, and what that means is the drop-dead date that we have to have the boat in the water is the 20th of April,” fleet Capt. Billy Shepler said.

The William Richard is the fourth major project Moran has completed for Shepler’s, Tom Moran, founder of the iron works company, said. Moran constructed its first ferry for the company, the Miss Margy, in 2015.

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry Fleet Capt. Billy Shepler, left, and Moran Iron Works founder Tom Moran, right, discuss the progress of the William Richard, which is being constructed in Onaway.

Shepler said the ferry company decided to work with Moran again because of “the great success they’ve had in the past.”

The project brings Shepler’s total new investment in northern Michigan to $12.8 million over the past six years.

The William Richard was named for the ferry company’s founder, Bill Shepler, who is now 87.

The boat is 84 feet long, 20 feet, 3 inches wide, and weighs 60 tons. It will ferry 210 passengers and reach 35 miles per hour at top speed.

Unlike ferries previously constructed for the company, Shepler said, the William Richard will be “propelled a little differently.” Instead of propellers, the ferry will have four jet drives, which will make for a smoother ride.

“Jets are very efficient going through the water at speed,” Shepler said. “Propellers are efficient going through the water, but they’re a little slower — more efficient at a slower speed.”

Moran estimates crews are about 95% complete with the fabrication of the ship and will now move on to the finishing work, which includes electrical, painting, and insulating the hull.

“A very important part of the Shepler’s experience is not having a noisy ride over to the island, and there’s a lot of effort and a lot of money that goes into the insulation part of it,” Moran said.

Once the project is complete, the William Richard will be transported from Onaway to the Port of Calcite in Rogers City to be launched into Lake Huron.

Shepler said the boat will undergo regulatory tests and inspections before hauling passengers.

“It takes about a month to get all of that organized, so, if we can have it tested by the 20th of April, we will have it ready and raring to go by Memorial Day,” he said.

Moran said the project is “all about trust.” He said Sheplers put its livelihood on the line and trusts Moran with a $4 million project. He added that the Sheplers, in turn, expect his company to perform better with each project.

Moran said the project started without a contract and the paperwork followed.

“It was all about trust,” he said. “It was all about a handshake agreement. And, you know what? It’s still good to let people know that still exists in the world.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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