NEEBISH ISLANDER III: Product of a collaborative effort

The Neebish Islander III was designed to operate in Upper Michigan’s harsh winter environment.
 The Neebish Islander III was designed to operate in Upper Michigan’s harsh winter environment.
The Neebish Islander III was designed to operate in Upper Michigan’s harsh winter environment.

Officials from the Eastern Upper Peninsula Transportation Authority (EUPTA), local residents, and others braved a cold Michigan drizzle at the river town of Barbeau to dedicate Neebish Islander III, the state agency’s newest passenger/vehicle ferry. 

The celebration concluded, the craft was ready to begin work on a year-round service on the St. Mary’s River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula transporting residents and visitors on the seven-mile trip between Barbeau and Neebish Island.

Seacraft Design LLC of Sturgeon Bay, Wi., drafted plans for the 92-foot passenger/vehicle ferry, which was built by the Burger Boat Company with $5.5 million in construction funds provided by the Michigan Department of Transportation.  

“It was just getting very costly to maintain that boat and there was a lot of steel corrosion and deterioration that it would take a lot of money to put it back into service and to get it up to Coast Guard standards,” said Peter Paramski, EUPTA. “So instead of pouring money into an old boat, we decided to move forward with a new vessel.” 

The hull of the vessel was fabricated upside down in a massive shed at Burger Boat’s Manitowoc, Wis. shipyard. Once completed, the hull was carried outdoors on a mobile cradle where a trio of heavy-lift cranes positioned it under a Marine TravLift gantry. The hull was then upended, elevated, and carried back into the shed where work on the ferry was completed.   

“We are proud of the ferry we built for the Eastern Upper Peninsula Transportation Authority,” said Jim Ruffolo, president and CEO, Burger Boat Company. 

“Our team prizes collaboration, among each other and with our clients, to deliver vessels people can look upon with pride, year after year. Whether it’s a luxury yacht or a hard-working ferry for demanding conditions like those Neebish Islander III will face, we are committed to delivering tailored, quality vessels that meet and exceed the owner’s vision.”

Based on past experience of four previous commercial vessel designs built by this shipyard, we know that EUPTA will receive a first-class product from the Burger Boat Company, and we look forward to collaborating once again,” said Mark Pudlo, president, Seacraft Design, LLC.

The 92-foot Neebish Islander III was specially designed to operate in the harsh winter environment and through the solid ice conditions it will encounter on its route and built to USCG 46 CFR, Subchapter T requirements.  With a vehicle capacity of 15 regular passenger vehicles or up to 150 passengers, the ferry has a net weight carrying capacity of 160,000 pounds. 

Neebish Islander III can move through the water at a maximum speed of 10 knots while fully laden, propelled by a pair of Caterpillar C18 EPA Tier 3 diesels, each rated at 600 bhp, that drive Kahlenberg 4-bladed stainless-steel propellers via 5-inch diameter Aquamet 22 shafts. Jastram controlled independent rudders are mounted one forward and one aft steering. Its navigation and communications suite includes a Simrad radar and an Icom radio.  

The new ferry operates as one of a trio of ferries that link the mainland with the nearby islands of Neebish, Sugar, and Drummond and replaces the slightly smaller Neebish Islander II, which had been in service on the same Upper Peninsula route since 1944.