ONAWAY — Moran Iron Works is floating high atop three pieces of good nautical news.
- It is finishing construction of a specialized boat, named the Kayak Express that can carry 72 people and 36 kayaks.
- It inked a contract to build a second vessel for Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry.
- It received a $550,000 grant to buy a plasma cutting system.
Moran Iron Works, and its founder and CEO, Tom Moran, are well-known across northern Michigan as the source of a variety of large metal sculptures. An iconic bust of George Washington has stood for years in a field next door to the iron works.
The Kayak Express last week was transported overland to Lake Huron, said Mike Mroz, Moran Iron Works sales and marketing manager, and was set to embark on its maiden journey Tuesday.
“As of Wednesday, the Kayak Express will be in transit on its way up to Lake Superior,” Mroz said.
The Kayak Express a 64-by-19-foot aluminum passenger vessel specially designed to transport and launch kayaks. The boat will accommodate enough double-seat kayaks to accommodate all passengers. It features a gyro-stabilization system to reduce rocking movement as kayaks are launched or retrieved.
It is not the first large boat built from scratch by Moran, which previously fabricated barges, a research vessel and a ferry for Shepler’s. And it won’t be the last.
Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry recently commissioned the company to build a new 210-passenger, $4 million ferry with four jet drives.
Construction of the new vessel will require about 13,000 man hours on the shop floor over the next several months. In the fall, the 60-ton ferry will be trailered, as was the Kayak Express, to Moran Iron’s Port Calcite Collaborative, a deep-water port on Lake Huron in Rogers City. The boats are transported along a high-wire transport corridor running mostly along M-68 between Onaway and Rogers City.
Moran’s first ferry project was Shepler’s $3.8 million, 281-passenger Miss Margy, launched in 2015. Named after Bill Shepler’s mother Margaret, Miss Margy is Shepler’s largest ferry, and Shepler’s considers it the pride of the company fleet. Moran previously had modified large boats.
Munising guided kayak tour company Pictured Rocks Kayaking commissioned construction of the kayak-carrying vessel. It plans to operate the boat to launch guided kayak tours along the Lake Superior shore. Clients will be able to enjoy views of the cliffs in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore from close up — without the need to paddle miles in a kayak.
The U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration last week announced Moran Iron Works will receive a $564,300 grant to purchase a PythonX CNC plasma cutting system.
The Small Shipyard Grant program provides $20 million in annual funding intended to foster efficiency, competitive operations, and quality ship construction, repair and reconfiguration in small shipyards across the United States.
The grant will enable Moran to replace three pieces of outdated machinery and, because of increased efficiency, should allow it to take on an additional marine job each year.
U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman and U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters wrote letters to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in support of the company’s grant application.
Moran Iron Works CEO and Founder Tom Moran said in a release that the grant process was facilitated by the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance.