SOUTH BASS ISLAND, Ohio — At some point during the height of the busy tourist season on this Lake Erie oasis, as they shuttled thousands of people and hundreds of vehicles back and forth from the mainland, someone inside the Miller Boat Company had to step back and say to the rest of the staff: "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
The new ferry for the Miller Boat Line is being designed by the Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle. The 140-foot craft is expected to cost $7 million and will be capable of carrying 600 passengers, or 28 standard automobiles and 250 passengers.
Miller Boat Line Enlarge
There are no man-eating great white sharks in the stretch of the lake that separates the island complex from Catawba Point just three miles away, but that classic phrase from the movie Jaws might well apply as the Miller fleet works to keep this lifeline connection humming along.
So a bigger boat is on the way.
Miller Boat Line will add a 140-foot-long ferry to its fleet in 2019, and this craft will be capable of carrying 28 automobiles and 250 passengers each trip. The versatile ship is also capable of toting five full semi-trucks and 250 passengers, or if it is just moving people, it will hold 600 passengers.
“Our business is growing, and as we went through last spring and saw how busy we were, we knew we needed another boat,” said Jake Market, vice-president of resources for the Miller Boat Line. “We toyed around with the concept of lengthening one of the boats in our fleet, but when you build a boat from scratch, you get a much better boat.”
Miller Boat Line has four ferries in service now, and provides passenger/vehicle/cargo service from Catawba to Put-in-Bay (South Bass Island) and Middle Bass Island. The company has been in operation for more than 110 years, and is owned and operated by the Market family.
The oldest ferry in the current fleet was built in 1983, while the newest vessel, the “Put-in-Bay,” was built in 1997 and then lengthened to 136 feet in 2010.
“Demand has increased steadily over the past few decades, and it is time for us to add another boat to our fleet instead of lengthening another vessel,” Miller Boat Line co-owner Bill Market said.
The new ferry, which will cost around $7 million, will effectively be a game-changer. When it’s put into use, the new ferry will be teamed with the biggest boat from the current fleet to handle the high-traffic Catawba-to-PIB route.
“We will move more people and more vehicles, and do so more efficiently,” Jake Market said. When paired with the largest boat from the current fleet, this new ferry will be able to move a volume of passengers and vehicles in just two trips that would have taken three trips with the smaller craft.
Building a ferry to meet the needs of the Miller Line takes a highly-specialized team in the two-part process of design and construction. Jake Market said the last ferry built for the Miller Line came from Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., and it was later lengthened by Great Lakes Shipyard in Cleveland.
“There are very few ship architects in North America that can take on something like this, especially ones that are familiar with the Great Lakes,” Jake Market said. The Miller Line settled on Elliott Bay Design Group of Seattle, which has a long history in ferry and tugboat design.
“They are one of the foremost ferry designers in the country,” he said about Elliott Bay, which designed much of the ferry fleet in Washington state. “They also designed a ferry boat for Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, and that told us they have the expertise to design a boat for this part of the country. We deal with the Lake Erie chop, which kicks up fast and has a short period between crests, creating its own set of issues.”
Elliott Bay, which has facilities in Seattle, New Orleans, and Ketchikan, Alaska, provides naval architecture, marine engineering and production support services to fleet operators across the country.
“We are thrilled to partner with Miller Boat Line as they invest in the future of their operation and ridership,” said Brian King, the chief engineer for Elliott Bay Design Group. “Our team of skilled marine engineers and naval architects are dedicated to delivering a vessel that meets the requirements of Miller Boat Line.”
Miller Boat Line plans to have a new, 140-foot-long ferry added to its fleet by Memorial Day in 2019.
Jake Market said that once the design is finalized, at least a dozen ship builders around the country have expressed an interest in bidding on the project. The contract will be awarded based on the quality of work shown in other vessels created by the prospective builder, recommendations from captains and industry professionals, price, and the distance from Put-in-Bay, since the Miller team intends to closely monitor the construction process.
Besides its additional capacity, the new ferry will be ADA accessible, and passengers unable to go upstairs will be able to ride in an air conditioned cabin on the lower deck, with ample room for multiple wheelchairs. The ship will also have more efficient loading and discharge processes, be more maneuverable than Miller’s current vessels, and be better equipped to handle large loads in inclement weather.
On the power side, the new ferry will have three 803-horsepower Caterpillar C-18 diesel engines, which cost around $150,000 each. It is unusual to have three engines on such a large craft, but using a trio offers more speed and greater efficiency, Jake Market said. A bow thruster will allow the ferry to make tighter turns.
“This new ferry will let us move people and vehicles, do so more efficiently, and give people a more enjoyable experience,” Jake Market said. “This boat will be more fuel efficient, greener, and of a more efficient design.”
He said the Miller company hopes to have the new ferry ready for service by Memorial Day weekend of 2019.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.
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