Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Slower Boat

Red construction cranes
(background) are a Manitowoc
A small craft advisory kept us in port in Manitowoc on Sunday, so alas we missed our chance to cruise Dragonfly past the Whistling Straights Golf Course, which is just north of Sheboygan, our next destination, and add some nautical interest to the PGA Golf Tournament.

But we do have some exciting news aboard Dragonfly:  We have a guest on board, our darling daughter.   DD is taking a break from her studies to help haul on lines, place fenders, and otherwise learn the arcane lore of the bow bunny.  (She also wants to pilot).

It's not ALL work on the boat.  Since we were in a town with one of the nation's finest Maritime Museums, (including an exhibit on the Great Loop!) we strolled on over.  The showcase exhibit is the World War II submarine Cobia, docked on the river next to the museum.

Manitowoc has been a shipbuilding center since the 1850s.  It was wooden ships back then; in the 1940s the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company put together 28 submarines for the war effort.

Volunteers have restored most of the Cobia's systems to like-new condition, so stepping down inside is like stepping into a WWII black and white movie that, Wizard-of-Oz-like, suddenly transforms to living color. 

You could really feel what life must have been like on board, with 78 men crammed into small spaces, working four hours on and four hours off,  hot-cotting and showering once a week; in a particularly authentic touch the air was even hot (as it would have been when the boat was running), since the heat had been turned up the night for a special event where some guests were allowed to sleep aboard, on the narrow bunks stacked right on top of the torpedo tubes.

We were fascinated to learn that, in a way, the Cobia operated like the inverse of our boat. Both vessels have big banks of super-sized batteries.  Our battery bank gets charged by day, from solar power; the Cobia would charge her batteries at night, under cover of darkness, surfacing to run her diesel generators. 

Besides the Cobia, there's another notable steel-hulled vessel that makes Manitowoc her home port: the S.S. Badger.  Constructed in 1952, she's the largest car ferry ever to sail Lake Michigan--not to mention the only vessel of her kind still operating in the world.  As we were first entering Manitowoc harbor, the Cap'n said to me, "Keep an eye on that boat and tell me if she starts moving." I put my binoculars on the harbor entrance, and inside, there was a vessel the size of the Titanic, belching black smoke from her smokestack.  

And, just as we put our nose toward the harbor, she started to move--like an iceberg calving from glacier, just as big and just as dangerous.  The Captain put the tiller hard over, and executed a neat circle to stay out of the way as she exited the harbor, looming over us like a small planet.  We could feel the pull of her gravity. 

And speaking of unusual energy sources for boats the Badger is now the only coal-fired steamship still operating in America.  (The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has designated her propulsion system, Skinner Uniflow engines, "a mechanical engineering landmark," and she's on the National Register of Historic Places.)  The ground next to her dock is heaped with mounds of gleaming black coal.

The Badger takes four hours to travel 60 miles across the lake--doing a little better than 12 miles per hour.  The submarine Cobia on the other hand, usually cruised at 1 - 2 miles per hour--making the Dragonfly look like a speed demon. 


Corny song alert!
Click here to hear a song about the Badger.  (Hang in there, the music starts after a bunch of ferry whistles)


  1. I was hoping you'd see the SS Badger! I took the kids on a cruise across the lake once back when they were little. Have fun with DD!

  2. Well, again I learned something new today from your story. I certainly am learning a lot from this trip of yours. Thanks so much. Have fun with your daughter and as always, be safe.