The first high-speed ferry on the Great Lakes sailed off Tuesday in clear, sunny skies on its maiden voyage.
The Lake Express ferry, traveling about 40 mph, can make it from Milwaukee to Muskegon, Mich., in about 2 1/2 hours. The 280-mile road trip between the two cities takes about five hours because cars must go through Chicago to make it around the lake.
"This is history," Stan Veranek, a farmer and retired Coast Guard member from Watertown, Wis., said as the $18 million ship began its voyage across Lake Michigan.
Passengers on the 192-foot aluminum catamaran sipped champagne and listened to a live band as the ferry pulled away from port. It arrived in Muskegon slightly behind schedule Tuesday morning.
"One of the most compelling reasons to take the ferry is to avoid traffic jams in and around Chicago," Lake Express spokesman Jeff Fleming said. "Into the future, as more Wisconsin residents discover what western Michigan has to offer, and vice versa, we're anticipating a market that grows."
The Lake Express can carry up to 250 passengers and 46 cars. A one-way ticket is $50 for adults and $24 for children ages 5-15; vehicles cost $59 to transport.
The Great Lakes' second high-speed ferry is expected to start service between Rochester, N.Y., and Toronto in mid-June.
The 51-year-old Badger Ferry also traverses the vast lake, from Manitowoc to Ludington, Mich., in about four hours. It has room for 620 passengers and 120 vehicles.
The two ferries target different markets. Lake Express compares its service to air travel, promoting its large seats, high-end deli and climate controlled cabin, while the Badger touts its historical, slower voyages for tourists who love the view.
On the Net:
Lake Express: http://www.lake-express.com