Big Ships in Small Places

Monday, August 22, 2011

Help! The S.S. Badger is running us down!

Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. The largest car ferry on Lake Michigan was behind us in a narrow channel, and it made us nervous. But the ferry captain had enough room to pass, and he did.

I don't know why we didn't plan more carefully. We had seen the Badger arrive the night before and knew it was large and impressive. We also knew the Badger left its berth at 8:00 a.m., heading from Ludington, Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. But we wanted to sail north to see Big Sable Point Lighthouse, and that's the time we chose to leave.

We were just entering the channel when I heard the chains rattle as the Badger raised its anchor. And then it was behind us. I barely had time to snap this picture before Roland sent me up to the bow to watch for rocks while he steered as close to the edge of the channel as he dared.*

And then it was safely past us. I'm sure we weren't the first sailboat to try to beat the Badger out, and the captain knew what he was doing. Still, if there is a next time, we will make sure we don't cut it that close.

Here is another picture of the Badger, taken from shore the evening before. You can see how narrow the channel is.

The next afternoon we arrived at Muskegon at the same time as the Lake Express car ferry was leaving for Milwaukee. Fortunately, we saw it coming along the channel before we entered, so we waited in the basin inside the seawall until the ferry passed. The recreational vehicle in this picture obviously didn't mind sharing the channel with the larger boat.

The two ferries are quite different. The S.S. Badger is a steamship that carries 600 passengers and 180 vehicles (including RVs), while Lake Express operates a modern, high-speed ferry that carries 42 cars and 12 motorcycles. The Badger takes 4 hours for a 60-mile trip and offers a stateroom option for those passengers wanting privacy, while the Lake Express ferry takes 2 1/2 hours for a 90-mile trip and provides only group seating. If my calculations are correct, the Badger costs approximately $250 ($300 with the stateroom option) one-way for a family of four with a car and two children between 5 and 15, and Lake Express costs around $350 to $400 (depending on booking date) for the same family.

Both ferries are good options for people who want to cut miles off their trips from Michigan to Wisconsin or Wisconsin to Michigan. The drive around the bottom of Lake Michigan and through Chicago is 400 miles if going between Ludington and Manitowoc and 275 miles if going between Muskegon and Milwaukee.

While we were in Ludington, I overheard two middle-age couples talking about the Badger. They were questioning why people would pay to take a boat that billowed smoke when there were other options. Personally, I can't understand why anyone would want to miss out on Chicago, which is rich with cultural heritage and wonderful places to go and see. Given the choice between the Badger and the Lake Express ferry, though, I'd rather cross Lake Michigan on the Badger. Aside from the cheaper price, a steamship ride is just more romantic. At least that's my opinion.

Ferries weren't the only big ships we came across in a small space. On our way home, we spent two nights at the Grand Haven Municipal Marina in a slip that was right on the Grand River channel. We went to bed sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. the second night because we wanted to get an early start in the morning. Before we could fall asleep, however, we heard a ship's horn very close by. Roland rushed up to the cockpit, and then I heard "Oh, wow," followed by, "Kathryn, come out here."

A lake freighter was moving along the river right in front of us, presumably making its way to the power plant a little farther in. The sun had already set and the light was fading fast, but I ran inside and got my camera anyway. Here is the result of my low-light photography.

Big ships in small spaces can be both awesome and scary, but they make for interesting experiences and great pictures.

I'm glad I didn't miss them.

* All pictures in this post are copyright 2011 by Kathryn Page Camp.

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