STORY Commercial Marine

4,000 HP for horse-powered island

Posted on August 11, 2016 by Chuck Mahnken, Images by Brittany Campbell, Laura Mahnken , Shepler’s, Shutterstock

On Mackinac Island in the USA, the only engine noise you hear is from the mtu Series 4000 engines.
Michigan, USA

Looking for a holiday far away from the sound of traffic and the everyday hustle and bustle? Then Mackinac Island is the place to go. A trip to this tiny isle in the Great Lakes in the US state of Michigan is like a journey into the past. Since 1898, automobiles have been banned on the island. Downtown has the charm of a Victorian village, filled with family-owned inns, galleries and fudge shops. Stately cottages with wraparound porches line the bluffs. Main Street bustles
with activity in the summer—but without the cacophony of car horns. Instead, one can only hear the soft clip clop of horse hooves and the occasional chime of a bicycle bell.The only motorized sounds on the island are the quiet hum of boat engines near the docks, as mtu-powered Shepler’s ferries shuttle tourists from sunup to sundown.

Shepler’s ferries pass the famous Grand Hotel on their approach to the Island.

Attracting nearly one million visitors a year, Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes that border the United States and Canada. At only four square miles, the island is filled with some of the most spectacular scenery in Michigan. It became a popular summer destination in the 1880s, with the first tourists arriving by steamship to enjoy the fresh northern air. Elaborate summer hotels such as Grand Hotel were built to accommodate overnight guests, and many wealthy industrialists built their summer homes on the east and west bluffs, overlooking the sparkling waters of the Straits of Mackinac. Today, the island’s many historic buildings and homes are carefully preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Car-free and carefree

While the island has about 600 year-round residents, the majority of businesses are closed in winter. In summer months, the island hums with activity. Families bike along the M-185, a peaceful eight-mile ride along the island’s shoreline, and the only state highway in the nation where motor vehicles are banned. Shops, hotels and restaurants line the downtown area — which is only a few blocks long. More than 500
horses live on the island during the summer season, serving in all capacities—carriage tours, riding stables, taxi service, hotel luggage trams, even pulling the island’s street cleaners.

This is no history book illustration. Life is slower on Mackinac Island. Cars are banned, people go about on foot, ride bicycles or travel by horse and carriage.

Transportation on Mackinac Island is unique. The journey to the island is also a special experience — and part of the fun. Since there are no bridges to Mackinac Island, visitors must leave their cars behind on the mainland, and arrive by
aeroplane or ferry. The majority of visitors make the 16-minute trip across Lake Huron aboard a Shepler’s ferry.

From water’s edge to leading edge

For more than 70 years, Shepler’s has provided ferry service to Mackinac Island. In
1945, Captain William H. Shepler opened a snack shack and charter service to the island via highclass speedboats. As passenger traffic began to increase, a 30-foot cabin cruiser christened the Miss Margy after Capt.’s wife Margaret, started making runs. In 1969, The Welcome was built, ushering in a new era of larger vessels capable of transporting more than 100 people on two decks. Throughout the years, Shepler’s added more vessels to the fleet and expanded its services, docks and facilities.

Today, Shepler’s continues to be family owned, moving into the third generation of ownership. Capt. William H. Shepler’s son and three grandchildren Chris, Patty and Billy lead the company. The Shepler’s fleet has grown to six passenger ferries and one freight vessel, all powered by mtu engines. The 95-foot Sacre Bleu freight vessel starts the season in late winter, ploughing a path through the ice. Capable of powering through three feet of ice, the Sacre Bleu is powered by twin mtu Series 60 engines. As a flat-backed open space boat, it’s capable of hauling 200,000 lbs of cargo — anything from horses to pickles to cement trucks.

After the ice melts in April, Shepler’s starts its passenger ferry service. During peak season in July, its six ferries are in constant motion. The vessels operate between three ports, with 100 departures a day. To expand its service, Shepler’s built its biggest, most modern vessel to date, the Miss Margy, named after William Shepler’s wife, Margaret.

Building for the future

Christened in 2015, the $3.8 million Miss Margy is Shepler’s largest ferry. The former Miss Margy was one of the company’s first ferryboats in 1950. Although ferries are usually constructed in shipbuilding centers such as Louisiana and Wisconsin, Shepler’s wanted to keep the work in Michigan and partnered with nearby Moran Iron
Works to get the job done.

At 85 feet long, the new 281-passenger Miss Margy dwarfs the 30-foot cabin cruiser from years ago. Miss Margy is equipped with modern comforts such as air-conditioning, fog-free windows and Wi-Fi. State-of-the-art features extend to the engine room. Miss Margy is powered by triple mtu 16V 2000 engines, producing a combined output of 4,200 hp.

The new engines have given us more speed and fuel economy, along with maintenance efficiencies.

Billy Shepler - co-owner of Shepler's

Shepler’s has a long history with mtu engines. In the 1970s, Shepler’s ferries were equipped with Detroit Diesel 2-stroke Series 71 engines. Over the ensuing years, each vessel was repowered with 16V Series 2000 engines. As co-owner and Shepler’s captain for 27 years, Billy Shepler has first-hand experience with the results. “We were
pretty happy with our first repower back in 2001,” says Shepler. “It gave us more speed and fuel economy, along with maintenance efficiencies. And the longevity of the engines was just phenomenal. We got upwards of 22,000 hours on those engines
before we had to rebuild.”

Downtown has the charm of a Victorian village, filled with family-owned inns, galleries and fudge shops.

Keeping it in the family

When the time came to choose engines for the Miss Margy, the V16 Series 2000 was the natural choice. Shepler says, “There was no doubt in our mind that we needed to stay with the same power. Now we have a fleet of boats that all have these V16s. Having all those same engines keeps us streamlined and efficient when it’s time
for servicing and parts.” Miss Margy is wider and heavier than the other Shepler’s ferries, so the decision was made to equip her with triple engines. “Twin engines would have been sufficient. Three gives more power when needed. All that horsepower allows us to cruise at a comfortable speed, not overwork the engine and go really fast at the same time,” says Shepler. The Miss Margy is now the fastest vessel in the Shepler’s fleet.

It’s a team effort to keep the entire fleet’s engines humming perfectly and make sure
everything else is in ship shape, from maintaining a strict maintenance schedule to comprehensive training for captains to vacuuming the deck after every run. All marine service work is performed at Shepler’s, which has recently become an official mtu dealer. The crew comes into the engine shop every day at 5:00 in the morning
to check all the boats and perform preventative maintenance. Major repairs are completed over the winter. For consultations and big projects such as the Miss Margy, Shepler’s calls on mtu distributor W.W.Williams, which has been their partner since the 1970s.

We have a great partnership between our two companies. I hold Shepler's dear to my heart.

Ron Taylor - mtu-Distributor W. W. Williams

“We have a great partnership between our two companies. I hold them dear to my heart,” says Ron Taylor at W.W.Williams. “They are more like family than customers.” With three ferry companies taking people to Mackinac Island, the ferry business is a highly competitive market. Shepler’s and W.W.Williams have worked together to control costs and keep the ferries running all day, every day. Ron says the mtu V16 Series 2000 engines help the cause with superior fuel economy, longevity and are highly dependable.

On time, every time

In peak season, Shepler’s six ferries make runs every 30 minutes, 15 hours a day. Nearly 400,000 tourists and locals depend on the ferries to get to the magical island to live, work and play. “Shepler’s does not have any spare boats in its fleet. If a boat goes down, that’s a real issue. And they have not missed a departure on any of their boats in nearly 30 years. They are very proud of that,” says Taylor.

Miss Margy’s ability to cruise smoothly at 40 mph has allowed Shepler’s to expand to destinations far from Mackinac Island. Whether it’s a trip past Michigan’s historic lighthouses or a sunset cruise, Miss Margy can travel to virtually any port in the upper Great Lakes. However, a funny thing happened when Miss Margy made her first few trips to the island at top speeds. Many passengers wanted the trip to take longer, so they can savour the Mackinac Bridge, freighters, blue skies and other sights along the way. After all, vacations are for taking it slow and leaving the rat race behind. That’s the way of life on Mackinac Island, where simple pleasures rule the day. And the magic of yesterday lingers on.

Point of contact

Related stories

Naval Solutions

mtu Virtual Marine Symposium provides impulses for the climate-friendly transformation of shipping

Read more


Trade show highlights on the Mediterranean

by Katrin Auernhammer

In Cannes and Monaco, many yacht innovations will be lined up in September. It's all about design, size and propulsion. We feature some yachts with mtu engines.

Read more


Rolls-Royce and Ferretti Group agree on sustainable course: New yachts with mtu hybrid and IMO III propulsion systems

Read more