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Pictured Rocks Cruises’ new catamaran a step in right direction

MUNISING — Pictured Rocks Cruises’ newest catamaran, took area visitors along the beautiful shoreline of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for its first time on the Fourth of July.

For over 50 years, Pictured Rocks Cruises has provided narrated boat tours and closeup views of the Pictured Rocks to tens of thousands of guests.

The 65-feet-long, 25-feet-wide Chapel Rock has 150 seats, with 128 located on the upper deck. The vessel was built in Wetumpka, Alabama.

Keegan Nebel and Jaden Niemi, captains and assistant managers of Pictured Rocks Cruises, navigated the vessel from Alabama through five river systems, over 20 locks and three of the Great Lakes, arriving at Munising City Dock 13 days later.

“Jaden and I drove to Alabama in late May and met up with Travis Carver, who was the naval architect who designed the boat. We met him in Demopolis, Alabama, and took the boat up the river system from there,” said Nebel, who was part of the seven-person crew in Alabama that helped create the mold. “This boat was popped out of a mold, and it’s built out of fiberglass. There’s technically other boats built of this same design — one that operates in the Apostle Islands.”

John Madigan, general manager of Pictured Rocks Cruises, said the company obtained Chapel Rock to better service its customers by providing a faster trip and more amenities on the vessel, including additional seating on the top deck and an expanded concession area.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve our fleet and improve our business. If something makes sense, we will make the necessary changes to the company,” Madigan said.

Nebel added: “We started looking to the future, and kind of visualizing where we can go from here. This boat was a step in the right direction as far as trying to find out how to adjust our operation.”

One of the main concerns with the new design was wake management, Nebel said.

“Where the catamaran has been advantageous is there’s less haul that sits in the water. We’re trying to minimize that wake as much as possible which has certainly been a learning curve for us,” Nebel stated. “We work within the Munising community and want to make sure we’re always working with the people.”

In 2016, Pictured Rocks Cruises purchased a highspeed catamaran — named Pictured Rocks Express — from a Mackinaw area ferry company.

“That was a refurbished boat from the Arnold line in Mackinaw City. It answered a lot of questions for us, people enjoyed the quicker trip and being able to get to Spray Falls without it taking almost three hours, but you have to add additional staff on that boat and it kind of created a lot of headaches, so Chapel Rock is kind of the middle ground from that and other vessels,” Nebel said.

Niemi added: “Pictured Rocks Express was a ferry boat designed to carry 300 people from point A to point B, and we make it work, but we’re only holding 200 to 250 people on it at most. Chapel Rock is a good middle ground for a faster trip. It seems to be working out great so far. Whether this is the future, it’s a little too early to tell, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Rather than departing from the Munising City Dock, which Pictured Rocks Cruises has done for decades, the company has a new launching location in front of its office along City Park Drive.

Niemi said the new location is much more convenient for the Cruises.

“It solves a lot of our issues with our lines, especially with crowding the city dock which is the public’s,” he said. “Now it’s wide open for anyone’s use. We control our lines the best way we can and fueling our boats is much easier because we’re closer to that area as well.”

For more information regarding Pictured Rocks Cruises, visit www.picturedrocks.com.