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PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio — Love at first sight is only supposed to happen in the movies, in the pages of cheap, paperback romance novels, or on cue in the scripted and fabricated amore of reality TV.
For Scott Market, all it took was one photograph. The lifelong resident of South Bass Island and veteran ferry captain first saw the object of his affection on a Web site that plays matchmaker between the nautically minded and boats of all sizes, shapes, and physical descriptions.
Market, who was introduced to his beauty when his late father pointed out her sharp lines in a post on boatnerd.com, was disappointed to learn then that she wasn't available. When her status changed some five years later, Market immediately started courting her.
He went to Traverse City, Mich., where the 1938 tugboat "Restless" was residing, and took his wife, Susan, along. The "Restless" story was eclipsed only by the in-person look at a true one-of-a-kind vessel that Market felt needed a good home, and that was in his harbor.
"I just love old things, and I always have," Market said. "I like vintage stuff, and when I first got a look at this one, it just blew me away. Fortunately, my wife liked it just as much as I did."
The tug had begun its maritime life as a virtual orphan. Crafted by the Palmer Johnson Shipbuilding Co. of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., it was a prototype design that the shipworks had hoped to sell as a fleet to the Army Corps of Engineers. But when the Corps settled on a different configuration, the 38-foot-long, 32,000-pound vessel with its all-wood hull sat unattached in the shipyard, dressed only in a "For Sale" sign.
At one point, the tug, which had spent nearly seven years of its life essentially abandoned in a field, had deteriorated significantly. Painstaking repairs preserved the unique hull, which is made of two-inch cypress anchored on solid oak ribs.
One of the eventual owners was a Milwaukee businessman who added sleeping quarters, a head, and a cabin to the tug. He further gussied up the workhorse looks of the ship with items from his collection of nautical artifacts from Great Lakes vessels, including the addition of a brass steering helm, beveled glass windows, and a compass binnacle from the 1800s.
Another owner continued to enrich the character of the old tug with subtle and appropriate alterations, and at some point named her "Restless" due to the boat's tendency to really move around when pushed in a certain manner by waves or wake.
Once Market bought the boat, he had it trailered by a semi back to Ohio and added a few amenities while religiously honoring the tug's charm and unusual look. His family owns the Miller Boat Line, a fleet of workhorse ferries that connect the island with the mainland at Catawba Point, and Market pondered this vessel's place in the enterprise.
"When we took ownership, we immediately started brainstorming about how to put ‘Restless' to use," he said. "We live and breathe this island — it is our love and our life — and I told my wife that I could imagine this old tug would look beautiful coming into the harbor here."
So the Markets outfitted "Restless" for evening cruises and special occasions. It takes small groups of up to six on leisurely tours of the islands, complete with a historical narrative from the skipper and his wife, the first mate.
"People flip out over the boat, all of the vintage accessories, and the incredibly beautiful wood," he said. "Then they see the sunset out on the water, and they flip out over that."
The tug, which was built strong enough to bust a path through ice and carries a huge diesel power plant, is so massive that it has to be trailered to the mainland via ferry, then launched in deeper moorings on Catawba. It will run about 12 knots when coaxed.
One boat blogger admitted having an infatuation with "Restless" like the one that hit Market when he first eyed the robust vessel. The blogger's description: "too yachty for an Army tug ... not at all too tuggy for a yacht" was a tribute to the tug's one-of-a-kind construction. So rare, it has no serial number.
"Restless" is made available throughout the boating season for the cruises and for small wedding parties, and in the winter when ice locks up the harbor and the big tug sits on its trailer, well-hidden behind Market's house, it continues to seduce new suitors. With its galley woodstove there to take off the chill, "Restless" plays host to friendly poker games.
"You have to love something like this to be willing to do all the work it takes to keep it preserved and operating, but it's worth it for me," Market said. "I loved this boat from the first time I saw it. She's just beautiful to look at, and even more beautiful out on the water."
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.