As published in Toledo Business Journal - June 1, 2019

Rendering of Miller Boat Line’s new ferry, the Mary Ann Market

Rendering of Miller Boat Line’s new ferry, the Mary Ann Market

Miller Boat Line building
new $7.5M ferry

Miller Ferries to Put-in-Bay and Middle Bass Island has contracted with Fraser Shipyards of Superior, Wisconsin to build a new $7.5 million drive-on, drive-off passenger / vehicle ferry for delivery in fall 2019. According to the company, the new ferry will be delivered from Lake Superior to Lake Erie and her new home port of Put-in-Bay. The vessel will be christened Mary Ann Market in honor of the family matriarch and the company’s late owner (1935-2010).

The new 140-foot long, 38.5-foot wide ferry will accommodate 26 standard sized vehicles or 600 passengers and will join Miller’s present fleet of four passenger / vehicle ferries. Miller Ferries operate between the peninsula of Catawba to Put-in-Bay (South Bass Island) and also to Middle Bass Island; two of Ohio’s popular Lake Erie resort islands. According to Miller Boat Line, the motor vessel (M/V), Mary Ann Market, will feature enhanced propulsion and maneuverability, a main deck ADA-accessible passenger cabin and restroom, and a 20% increase in cargo capacity over Miller’s current largest vessel.

Billy Market, president of Miller Boat Line, said, “All of our existing vessels have two main engines, but this one’s going to have three main engines. The center engine is actually going to run a bow thruster, which is new to our vessels, as the existing ones do not have any bow thrusters. This will help us as far as working against the wind as we go to the islands as well as getting the bigger vessel into the dock against the wind. It has an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant bathroom on the downstairs, main deck, which is different from the other vessels. It is going to have a climate-controlled passenger cabin on the second deck. We presently have a smaller passenger cabin with heating, but we don’t have one with air conditioning.”

When speaking of the ongoing process of constructing the vessel, Jake Market, vice president of resources for Miller Boat Line, said, “We began the process in June of 2017 when we sought proposals from naval architects for the design of a new auto / passenger ferry. We then awarded a contract in September 2017 to Elliott Bay Design Group based in Seattle. They are a premier ferry designer in North America, having worked on many large profile projects including Washington State Ferries, Staten Island Ferries, North Carolina State Ferry System, among many others. Over the next year we worked with Elliott Bay to design a boat that is an updated version of our current vessels with several new systems that should help our crews better serve our customers and traffic. Things such as maneuverability, reliability, passenger accommodations, and cargo capacity were major points of focus.

“We then sent invitations to shipyards to bid in May of 2018. After reviewing bids from across the country, we chose Fraser Shipyards and contracted with them in August 2018, with construction beginning in November. After a delay due to the steel tariffs and a shortage in US steel supply, things really got moving in February. Modules of the ferry have been built steadily from February through June. The boat will be floated in August; with sea trials taking place in early October, and then the boat will be delivered to us sometime around then,” said Jake.

Fraser Shipyards’ modular construction on the Mary Ann Market

Fraser Shipyards’ modular construction on the Mary Ann Market

Billy added, “We chose Fraser due to their enduring high quality, integrity, value, and with consideration of recommendations from industry professionals including marine surveyors, lake captains, and engineers.”

According to Billy, the vessel is being built in five to seven modules.

“Once the modules go together, there’s going to be a lot of internal plumbing, electrical work, engine placements, paving schemes, putting in benches, and plenty of other small details that will keep them busy throughout the summer,” said Billy.

Once the vessel is delivered, Billy noted that its team will need some time to work with it, break it in, and give training to the captains and crew.

“I expect to see some service side – depending on if everything goes well – this coming fall, but most likely, the vessel will come into play more in the spring of 2020. We are expecting to get it this fall but at that point, we are already past our peak season and I think its just going to give us a little break-in period. Every vessel has little idiosyncrasies and every boat handles a little differently, so this will be a good time for us to get it out with the existing crew and do training on it,” said Billy.

When speaking of the success of Miller Boat Line, Billy said, “The islands have become very popular – they have been very popular over the past 40 years – and they continue to be that way. We’re within a large driving distance and we’re a very central location for such a large population – a four-hour driving distance of over 25 million people – for people to come up and spend the weekend or spend the day on the island, and also in conjunction with Cedar Point, so there’s a demand for our ferries. It’s not just the people that come over to stay, but an increase in demand upon the infrastructure itself, whether its consumables, beer, pop, bread, milk, and/or garbage. So, the number of supporting vehicles to support the number of people on the island has increased too. For us, anything that is consumed on the island, Miller Boat Line hauls over. Whether it is construction materials, whether it is consumables, whether it is cement blocks – you name it, we haul it. So really, Our success is directly related to the island itself. People love coming to the island and it’s really catered to a wide group of people. ”

The Miller Boat Livery was founded in 1905 in the island harbor of Put-in-Bay as a water taxi, fishing charter, and ice harvesting company. The company evolved under owners Lee and Mary Miller during the late 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60’s into a ferry boat line with a fleet of four passenger/vehicle ferries. William E. Market (Bill) and his wife Mary Ann of Put-in-Bay purchased the Miller Boat Line in 1978 from Mary Miller. The Markets chose to keep the name “Miller” in honor of the founding family. Bill Market oversaw the construction of four new ferries; the M/V Islander (built 1983), M/V South Bass (built 1989), M/V William Market (built 1993), and M/V Put-in-Bay (built 1997, lengthened 2010). These newer, larger vessels were designed to accommodate more passengers, carry longer and taller construction-type vehicles, as well as increasing speed to maintain a more frequent trip schedule. During the 1980s and ‘90s the older vessels were sold to other Great Lakes ferry companies.

Today, Miller Boat Line is owned and operated by Bill and Mary Ann’s children, Julene Market, Billy Market, and Scott Market, and Billy and Scott Market’s also children work within the company. The family stated, “We look forward to welcoming the new M/V Mary Ann Market, it will be a proud and nostalgic moment to see her operate alongside the other island ferries.”

Billy added, “We’re just very fortunate to have the support of the island. Our loyal customers – whether they are day-trippers, people visiting, people that live on the island, our cottage people who live here in the summers – we’ve just been very lucky to have the support of all of them and their dedication to us riding back and forth with us. That’s what we’re here for – the people that ride back and forth. If we didn’t give anybody a haul, we sure wouldn’t be building a new vessel right now.”


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