S.S. Aquamara: The Great Lakes’ Largest Liner

aquarama-unloading-detroit

Aquamara unloading in Detroit, courtesy Marine Historical Society of Detroit

The S.S. Aquarama was the largest passenger ship ever to operate in the Great Lakes. We’ll head to Ohio (gasp) for this article on the Aquamara from Cleveland Historical:

The Aquarama began its life in 1945 as a transoceanic troop carrier called the Marine Star: 520 feet and 12,733 tons. It made only one Atlantic Ocean trip before combat ceased. Eight years later, the ship was purchased by Detroit’s Sand Products Company and taken to Muskegon, Michigan, where it underwent an $8 million, two-year conversion, and was reborn as a nine-deck luxury-class ferry capable of carrying 2,500 passengers and 160 cars. The rechristened Aquarama also touted five bars, four restaurants, two dance floors, a movie theater, a television theater, and a playroom. Special events often were held in conjunction with day or evening cruises. For example, on June 10, 1962, passengers were treated to a style show from Lane Bryant’s Tall Girl Department. The next month, evening cruisers on the Aquarama could watch the Miss World finals. Regular shipboard entertainment included musical performances, dancing, marionette shows, games, and contests.

The cruise portion of the ship’s life actually began in 1955, with tours to various Great Lakes ports and a brief stint as a “floating amusement palace” docked along Chicago’s Navy Pier. Soon after, service began focusing solely on runs between Cleveland and Detroit: six hours “door to door” with Cleveland-based passengers embarking in the morning from (and returning in late evening to) the West 3rd Street pier. For the next six years, the Aquarama was extremely popular but never profitable. Part of the problem may have been frequent “incidents”: One summer, the Aquarama backed into a seawall. A year later, it hit a dock in Cleveland. A week after that, it banged into a Detroit dock, damaging a warehouse. Alcohol issues also were recurrent: Accusations included untaxed booze and liquor sold in Ohio waters on Sunday. Still, the ship’s most likely death knell was simply high operating costs.

The Aquarama made its last trip on September 4, 1962. It then was towed back to where it had been rebuilt–Muskegon, Michigan, ostensibly to continue as cruise vessel. Unfortunately, a prohibitively large dredging investment was needed to accommodate the harbor. The Aquarama thus sat dockside—residing (but not operating) later in Sarnia, Ontario, Windsor, Ontario, and Buffalo, New York, where entrepreneurs hoped in vain to convert it to a floating casino. In 2007 the Aquarama was towed to Aliağa, Turkey, where it was broken up for scrap.

This photo from Boatnerd shows the Aquarama unloading passengers from Cleveland at Detroit’s city park next to the J.W. Westcott Co. dock, 1963. Another view.  Hartland Smith, William Hoey collection. More pics at Boatnerd.com.

Read more about the Aquamara at Wikipedia.

The future of Great Lakes is slipping through our hands…

Silver Carp in hand, photo by Dan O’Keefe, Michigan Sea Grant

The Herald-Palladium reports that an Asian carp has been found just 9 miles from Lake Michigan:

…the news is a reminder that the Trump administration needs to take the problem seriously, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton said Friday. The St. Joseph Republican on Friday called on the president to release a bottled-up blueprint for tackling the problem.
“The time to act is now. I am calling on the Trump administration to immediately release the Brandon Road Study so that we can have a full grasp of our options to stop this destructive force,” he stated in a news release. “Asian Carp have the potential to decimate the Great Lakes we all love and depend on.

“It is absolutely imperative we step up our efforts to further protect our lakes. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle here in the House and the Senate to take action to stop Asian Carp from entering our waterways.”

Earlier this week, Upton signed on as a co-sponsor of the Stop Asian Carp Now Act. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation would compel the Trump administration to release the Brandon Road Study within seven days of the bill’s enactment. The Brandon Road study will provide important guidance on how best to prevent Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes. The entire Michigan Congressional Delegation supports of this legislation.

The live Asian carp has been discovered in a Chicago waterway – well beyond an electric barrier network designed to prevent the invasive fish that have infested the Mississippi River system from reaching the Great Lakes, officials said Friday.

I would encourage you to read on for more, and you can also see the whole text of the Stop Asian Carp Act (HR 892). I would note that this bill was originally introduced in 2011, so maybe make a couple of calls to your representatives.

View the photo background big and see more in the Michigan Sea Grant’s Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) slideshow.

Cruise to 32 Lighthouses including the Skillagalee Island Light!

Ile aux Galets, courtesy Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light

I just learned about a super-cool cruise for lighthouse lovers that also benefits the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association. mLive reports:

There are 80 spots available for the trip which takes place in the northern part of Lake Michigan June 5-9. It is presented by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, which oversees the care of two lighthouses in the region. Guests travel aboard the Shepler’s Ferry vessel HOPE and stay at different resorts along the way, including Weathervane Terrace Inn & Suites in Charlevoix and Stone Harbor Resort in Sturgeon Bay, Wisc.

“It’s an awesome thing to do,” said Terry Pepper, executive director. “Lighthouses were built for the mariners so by going out to see them the way they were designed for from the water is unique.”

Click above for more and make reservations at gllka.com. Speaking of Terry Pepper, let’s add another Michigan lighthouse! Via Terry’s excellent Seeing the Light website here’s the Skillagalee Island Light Station:

Skillagalee Island is located some 7.7 miles Southwest of Waugoshance Island on the East side of the approach to the Gray’s Reef Passage. The tiny island represents but a small exposed portion of a large gravel shoal that extends 1.8 miles to its East and a half a mile to the Northwest.

Being very low in elevation, the island is barely visible except from close by, and to exacerbate the problem, the size of its exposed surface fluctuates dramatically with the level of the surrounding water. The island was considered a navigational hazard during the earliest days when the French Voyageurs took the time to name the place “Ile aux Galets,” which translates as “Island of Pebbles.”

A is so often the case, the English speaking mariners and settlers found the French name difficult to pronounce, and “Ile aux Galets” soon unofficially mutated into “Skillagalee.” The anglicized version took hold, and by the mid 1800’s references to the original French name all but disappeared.

While Skillagalee laid claim to many wrecks over the years, the grounding of the A.D. PATCHIN was seminal in the call for the construction of an aid to navigation on the island. The PATCHIN was a 226 foot wood-hulled sidewheel steamer built in Trenton Michigan in 1846. Laden with general merchandise, she was making her way into Grays Reef Passage on September 27, 1850, when the currents pulled her out of line and onto shore at Skillagalee. While her crew managed to escape to safety and the initial damage to her hull was minimal, the weather turned evil and thwarted a number of attempts to pull her free. By late November she had been pounded to pieces, becoming yet another of Lake Michigan’s many victims.

To answer the need for a navigational aid to warn mariners of the shoal’s existence, Congress appropriated the necessary funds to construct a light on Skillagalee Island in 1851. As a result of the exposed location and fluctuating water tables, the tower was in constant need of repair, a cycle that would be repeated throughout the station’s history.

Read on for more and check ou tSeeing the Light for more Great Lakes Lighthouses!

Bradley Fleet in “the Frog Pond”

Bradley Fleet in the Frog Pond

Layed-up in the Frog Pond, photo courtesy Presque Isle County Historical Museum

This would be where I would tell you the fascinating history of why the winter harbor at Rogers City was referred to as the Frog Pond, but I’m unable to find much except for that’s what everyone calls it. There’s one in Toledo too.

The Presque Isle County Historical Museum is located in the historic home of Carl D. Bradley, general manager of Michigan Limestone and subsidiary Calcite Transportation. About the photo, they write:

The Bradley fleet layed-up in the “frog pond” at Calcite in 1949. From left to right are the W. F. White, B. H. Taylor, John G. Munson, Carl D. Bradley, T. W. Robinson, and Calcite.

View it big as the Bradley and see more in their Bradley Transportation Fleet slideshow including this aerial shot of the Frog Pond.

Click for more about the Carl D Bradley which ultimately became one of Michigan’s most tragic wrecks.

 

Ice is Nice: Tracking Ice Cover on the Great Lakes

shoreline-ice-on-lake-michigan

Shoreline Ice, photo by Mark Swanson

Ice on Michigan’s Great Lakes has become something of a phenomenon in the last few years, attracting photographers and thousands more to see the ephemeral beauty created by wind, water, and freezing temperatures. But ice has other important purposes, as NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory page on Great Lakes Ice Cover explains:

Ice formation on the Great Lakes is a clear signal of winter. Looking back in time, the lakes were formed over several thousands of years as mile-thick layers of glacial ice advanced and retreated, scouring and sculpting the basin. The shape and drainage patterns of the basin were in a constant state of flux resulting from the ebb and flow of glacial meltwater coupled with the rebound of the underlying land as the massive ice sheets retreated.

Heavy ice cover can reduce the amount of evaporation from the Great Lakes in the winter, thus contributing to higher water levels.

In bays and other nearshore areas, ice forms a stable platform for winter recreational activity such as ice fishing. This stable ice also protects wetlands and the shoreline from erosion.

  • 94.7% ice coverage in 1979 is the maximum on record (data began in 1973)
  • 9.5% ice coverage in 2002 is the lowest on record
  • 11.5% ice coverage in 1998, a strong El Niño year
  • The extreme ice cover in 2014 (92.5%) and 2015 (88.8%) were the first consecutive high ice cover years since the late 1970s.

NOAA pegs the current ice cover at 9.9% and you can also watch an animation of the last 60 days of ice formation. You can check out satellite images of the Great Lakes for current ice cover and also this cool animation of Great Lakes ice cover from 1973 – 2016.

Mark took this photo a little over a week ago at Lincoln Township Park near Stevensville. With the warmer weather, there’s probably less. View his photo bigger and see more in his Michigan Winter slideshow.

50 Shades of Blue

50 Shades of Blue

50 Shades of Blue, photo by John Hill Photography

A simply gorgeous shot of Au Sable Point and the Au Sable Light Station in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

View this photo background big on Twitter and definitely follow John on Instagram!

Know Your Michigan Fish: Northern Pike (Esox lucius)

Michigan Northern Pike Esox lucius

Northern Pike (Esox lucius), photo by Isle Royale National Park

The Michigan DNR’s Northern Pike page has this to say about this apex predator of the Great Lakes and Michigan’s inland lakes:

As predators, northern pike can have significant impact on their prey species. As with muskies, pike lurk in the cover of vegetation in the lake’s clear, shallow, warm waters near shore, although they retreat somewhat deeper in midsummer. Pike consume large numbers of smaller fish – about 90 percent of their diet – but seem willing to supplement their diet with any living creature their huge jaws can surround, including frogs, crayfish, waterfowl, rodents, and other small mammals. Their preferred food size is approximately one third to one half the size of the pike itself.

Great Lakes pike spawn in the shallows in April or May, right after the ice leaves, and before muskies reproduce. As a result of their eating habits, young pike grow rapidly in both length and weight. Females become sexually mature at age three or four years, and males at two to three years. Beyond sexual maturity, pike continue to gain weight, although more slowly. Great Lakes pike have an average life span of 10 to 12 years.

Pike eggs and new hatchlings (which stay inactive, attached to vegetation for their first few days of life) fall prey in large numbers to larger pike, perch, minnows, waterfowl, water mammals, and even some insects. Larger pike have two primary enemies – lampreys, and man. Spawning adult northern pike, exposing themselves recklessly in the shallows, are vulnerable to bears, dogs, and other large carnivores.

Northern pike flesh excels in flavor, thus making them a doubly rewarding game fish. Since their skin has heavy pigmentation and an unappetizing mucous coating, most people skin them or scale them carefully.

This photo was one of Isle Royale National Park’s “Wildlife Wonders of the Week.” They noted that a five pound female pike will lay about 60,000 eggs. Two weeks later fertilized eggs hatch, hungry for microscopic morsels. Once to the fingerling stage, food scarcity may force them to eat their own siblings for nourishment.

View it bigger on Facebook and definitely follow their page for the latest from one of Michigan’s coolest parks!

More Michigan fish on Michigan in Pictures.