Michigan is surrounded by water and throughout the dry land are rivers and lakes. Inevitably transportation must cross these waterways and where there are no bridges, ferries make the connection. Michigan has its share of modern ferries to be sure but sometimes old reliable boats make the trip, like the SS Badger.
Our exploration of Michigan has taken us on many ferries. We boarded the Beaver Islander to Beaver Island. To avoid a nineteen mile drive around Lake Charlevoix we took the Ironton Ferry to Boyne City.
A real adventure was the Isle of Royale Queen out of Copper Harbor in the Keweenaw Peninsula sailing for Isle of Royale. That trip was long and rough, but spectacular. The Drummond Islander carried us over to Drummond Island across the St Mary’s River. Of course many wonderful trips have been taken on the Star Line Ferry to Mackinaw Island.
But the granddaddy of them all is the SS Badger! We desired to see the Milwaukee Brewers play baseball in Milwaukee and decided to traverse Lake Michigan aboard the Badger. The Badger made her maiden voyage in 1953 and was designated a national historic site in 1997. At the time the Badger and her sister ship the Spartan were built they were the largest carferries in the world, carrying not only cars and passengers but railroad cars as well. The Badger sails between Manitowoc Wisconsin and Ludington Michigan. The Badger ran back and forth across Lake Michigan until 1990 when the ferry closed down. It returned to its job in 1992 when a new owner purchased the boats and remodeled the Badger.
The trip across Lake Michigan on the Badger takes approximately four hours but there is plenty to see and do. The boat leaves Ludington quite early so a breakfast buffet is served in the Upper Deck Café. A “boat-ique” store is full of souvenirs and items like cards and puzzles to pass the time. A museum of the ship’s history is on board for viewing. There are children’s play areas and video games to keep the young ones busy. There are also lively rounds of “Badger Bingo” with prizes and a joking bingo caller. Other entertainment includes a magician and even two movies during the sailing time.
While the bingo game looked awfully tempting, we spent most of our time on the upper deck. The weather was beautiful and sailing was smooth so we sat out and enjoyed the sunshine and walked around the various decks. An interesting note is that six laps around the Badger’s deck are equal to one mile. On the upper deck at the bow of the ship, lounge chairs were inhabited by cruisers, sleeping, reading, or relaxing. We did wind up buying a Ludington newspaper at the Boatique and completing both the crossword puzzles and Soduku.
The Badger not only transports people, it also carries oversized cargo like wind turbine components that have a difficult time on the highway. Many items ride the Badger across the Great Lakes for the agricultural industry. The Badger is the only steamship still operating on the Great Lakes and its propulsion system provides 7000 horsepower.
By traveling from Michigan to Wisconsin we passed from Eastern to Central time and gained an hour of time on the clock. We saw Manitowoc’s bustling Farmer’s Market and grabbed a bite to eat a restaurant called “It’s a Wrap” (of course serving wraps). Traveling on to Milwaukee we enjoyed a Brewers baseball win and made our way back home via Chicago! The boat ride across Lake Michigan was definitely more relaxing than the interstates that took us back home.