Launch Project


Mission of the Launch Project:

The Launch Project relates to the Inland Water Route Historical Society’s mission and strategic goals. The launch will facilitate the broadening of educating the general public in a very desirable way. An important mission is the historical education of youth of the Inland Water Route. The IWRHS is excited to implement this important educational tool for the local population and visitors to Northern Michigan.

Need for Launch Project:

While a tour on our proposed launch can be perceived as a pleasure ride only, we seek to educate the public about the local history, utilizing a method unique to Northern Michigan. The US National Park system, and the Michigan Maritime Museum, has realized success using this exact method. The ability to “see” the locations of the historical events that we have documented in our museum while cruising at 3-4 knots in a luanch replica will add to the experience of learning.

The Benefit to the Community of This Project:

We have received many, many compliments about the displays of our successful museum. Many visitors (including youth) have stated that the museum enriches their life with facts and images that they never knew existed. We expect the experience of learning while cruising along the Inland Water Route in a replica launch, will be a significant event for many to experience. We have received many comments of support for our project.

Launch Objectives and Outcomes:


Place a US Coast Guard approved vessel to carry paying passengers on the waters of the Northern Michigan Inland Water Route by the Summer of 2015, and, conduct paid tours thereafter.


Since the Summer of 2010, the IWRHS Launch Project Group has been meeting and gathering information as to what parameters need to be set to accomplish the state objective. It should be stated here that “one does not simply go out and purchase a launch replica to meet our objective”. The planning, discussions, and end decisions have been many and serious as to proper implementation of the project. Experts in various fields have been contacted to provide accurate information and specifications. During the Summer of 2013, the final decision was made to go with Beckman Boatshop Limited. Upon selecting Mr. Lloyd Beckman’s design, the purchase order was placed November 2013. We are now in possession of that hull, engine and drivetrain.

Project Objective Measure of Success:

   Phase I        Has been completed

   Phase II     The seaworthiness certificate issued by the US Coast Guard will be the ultimate measure of success for phase II.

   Phase III and IV 

Upon implementation of touring activity during the first year of operation (2015) the IWRHS will complete the following                                               objectives:

1. Create and implement an evaluation survey for touring passengers, and react accordingly.

2. Create and implement a Maintenance Plan.

 Project Phases:

Phase I (Completed winter 2013-4):

Phase I of the project was the commissioning of a turn of the century fantail replica launch, hull, engine, drive train, and trailer. Phase I has been successfully completed. A total sum of $35,689 (private donors) was raised by the “IWRHS Launch Project Group” for Phase I. An order was placed to with Beckman Boatshop Limited of Kingstown, Rhode Island, November 2013. The society is now in possession of that hardware.

Phase II:

Phase II will be the completion of the hull to a US Coast Guard Approved passenger carrying vessel. Completion includes, among other features; frame members, seating, cockpit covers, head, helm, flooring, trim, marine hardware, etc. Completion will include the hiring of a naval architect, and contracting with Great Lakes Boat Building School (GLBBS). Our current quote for $65,000 will enable the IWRHS to complete the vessel. Phase II includes the construction of a suitable Boathouse on the Crooked River. The IWRHS has been in discussions with the Village of Alanson concerning a footprint for a boathouse on Village owned property on the Crooked River. The Village of Alanson has expressed a willingness to facilitate building a boathouse that will be leased to the IWRHS.

Phase III:

Phase III of the Launch Project is the actual use of the vessel projected for the Summer of 2015.  The Summer of 2015 will be used to develop the on- water operations (routes, timings, costs, personnel, maintenance, etc.) We have commitments from members to implement this phase. We also have aligned with and will receive assistance from the Michigan Maritime Museum for consultations as needed.

Phase IV:

Phase IV will be the go public phase, no later than 2016. This will be the public historical and ecological, general public, and youth tours.

Qualifications for Completion:

Minimally, the qualifications of the IWRHS to complete this project are as follows:

1. “IWRHS Launch Project Group” has been meeting for over 4 (four) years to determine a best method of making this project a realization. Their travels have included trips to: The Michigan Maritime Museum (they are acting as informal consultants), two boat building schools. The group has created many contacts, and thusly has made countless phone calls to obtain pertinent information.

2. Within our society are two marina owners/ operators. Their expertise includes all inland boating maritime operations, including but not limited to: Boat specifications, maintenance, operations, safety, insurance, and storage.

3. Eight members have handbuilt a wooden boat(s).

4. Many IWRHS members are multiple boat owners, and know the waters of the IWR.

5. Several members are business owners.

Who Will Be Involved in Project:

Phase II is approximately 95% contracted (Great Lakes Boat Building School) and 5% volunteer labor to complete the launch.

Phase III and IV


The IWRHS museum is a 100% volunteer operation. The “IWRHS Launch Project Group” will be the core group to start the launch operations and it too will be 100% volunteer operated. Approximately, 8 members are planning to become “Six-Pak” Captains,  certified by the US Coast Guard and plan to volunteer their time as captain of our launch. Full implementation of the projecft requires captains with a “100 ton passenger” rating. While we have received interest for volunteer 100 ton rated captains, we expect to be hiring these staff. The timing of this stage is for public usage in 2017.


Maintenance scheduling and performance will be supervised by IWRHS member marina owner/operators.


Ticketing will be done via web and will be outsourced.


Marketing will be done by members and service providers.

Alternative Plans:

The IWRHS is committed to placing the launch on the waters of the IWR. To that end, if monies from grants do not meet expectations, the Inland Water Route Historical Society is committed to finishing the hull by the skills, monies, and donations of materials of the “IWRHS Launch Project Group”. This was in fact, our original plan. The only compromise would be time to completion (due to volunteer labor) and historical correctness (as some materials would be donated and not accurate to the time period and styling).

The Inland Water Route Historical Society invites you to become involved with this truly extraordinary project. Please feel free to call us with any questions or concerns.


In mid-July of 2017 a long-held goal of the Inland Water Route Historical society was accomplished when the Marilyn Jean fittingly made her way down the Inland Route arriving at her home port of Alanson. She was greeted by a welcoming crowd, fire works, and a water shower over her bow by the Alanson Fire Department. When the IWRHS realized that our project was very near completion, beginning with a long road trip from Kingstown Rhode Island in 2013, right on the Atlantic Ocean, and then three years of painstaking planning and craftsmanship that would satisfy U.S. Coast Guard requirements, it was hard to imagine actually taking control of the now beautiful turn of the century launch replica. While the quickest and most certain method of bringing the Marilyn Jean to Alanson would have been to keep her on the trailer and cross the Mackinaw straits on the bridge and down US 31 after a couple hour drive, the launch committee had come up with the idea of doing what would have been done in the early days, which would be to travel by water from the build site at the Great Lakes Boatbuilding School in Cedarville. After all, nothing else in the process of doing this project had been easy or quick, so we decided to inform the school about our desire to immediately test the Marilyn Jean’s systems and sea worthiness on the great lakes, straits of Mackinaw and then down the Inland Route. I think there were some raised eyebrows and thoughts of “they want to do what?”, but the school went along with our plan. We knew that we needed to have a near perfect weather forecast for a 4-day time period and that time was looking favorable for July 14th, 2017. Because there were many people and logistics involved in doing our trip we still had butterflies over the actual departure day.

                Finally, the decision was made to start the trip on that Friday. The weather for then was good, but the reality was that it was overcast and misty. Despite the weather a brief christening was performed, and it was time to cast off. In our eagerness to start our journey we had left our navigation chart and cooler with lunch and supplies back in Alanson. Not too long after heading out the skies began to brighten and our nervous feelings, like new parents leaving the hospital with their first child, began to diminish as we became more familiar with the sounds and feel of the new boat. Each person on board took turns at the helm and we all were impressed with the feel of the Marilyn Jean even in the swells of Lake Huron. By the time we got near Mackinaw Island, and feeling quite comfortable with the trip, we decided to cruise by the ferry docks saluting interested onlookers with our simulated steam whistle and brass bell, before heading toward our first overnight stop in St. Ignace where we docked for a planned early morning crossing of the straits the next morning. Day 2 was met with nervous energy for the crossing not knowing about ferry boat traffic and the possibility of encountering any great lakes freighter. The weather was calm and sunny as we departed the marina but as we rounded a point of land to turn west we noticed a thick fog bank in the direction we were going. We soon lost sight of the bridge, then the sun, and we kept slowing down and hoping we would not lose sight of the shoreline as we did not have radar or GPS. We thought about proceeding west until we could see the bridge and then crossing underneath, but would we encounter any freighters? Or should we turn back to St. Ignace and postpone our crossing? As we were still trying to decide we got a call from a support person in Mackinaw City that told us the fog was only on the north half of the bridge, so we decided to continue our journey, and before too long the fog began to lift and we were able to get photographs of the Mighty Mack dwarfing our little craft. We also had to wonder what bridge crossers were thinking about the curious little craft journeying across the straits. After a brief stop in Mackinaw City we turned southeast on our way to the next planned overnight stop in Cheboygan. Meanwhile, Lake Huron had turned millpond flat and we thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful day down to the historic lumber town of Cheboygan. Arrangements had been made for dockage overnight at the Boathouse Restaurant along with a great meal. The weather continued to be as good as forecasted for day 3 of the trip and as we had left the big water of the great lake behind us and entered the “Inland Route” we were all feeling much more at ease. We were a little concerned about the strong currents around the Cheboygan lock and dam area, but we navigated that well and were greeted with enthusiasm by the lock attendant. No special consideration though, for a historical boat on a mission, and we paid the lock fee so we could continue! We thought about other steam launches that had traveled these same waters 100 years earlier to the popular stop in Topinabee. We had a planned stop there as well, to be greeted by Paul Hoff’s original 1911 Truscott 3’ wooden launch like ours, for pictures. Also planned was to pick up a special passenger, Mary Leibner Davis, whose family had operated the Leibner Davis tour boats back near the turn of the century. Mary wrote a book about their operation a few year ago and she was looking forward to her 100th birthday later that summer. Mary also took a turn at the helm for the trip to Indian River. She is a remarkable lady and we were glad she could make the trip with us! We arrived in Indian River around 3 o’clock and tied up the for night. Day 4 broke as sunny skies again greeted us for the last leg or our journey to bring the Marilyn Jean to her home port of Alanson down the Crooked River. Crossing Burt Lake was just beautiful with no wind and full sun. The Crooked River was as beautiful as ever and other boats waved and blew their horns.

                A planned stop was made at Mission Road to pick up a couple of special guests, former Mayor of Alanson, Richard Weidenhamer, a strong supporter of our project, and Tom Fairbairn Sr., life-long resident of Alanson and mentor, encourager, and founding member of the Inland Water Route Historical Society. Tom was the husband of Jean, also a founding member and supporter, for whom our boat is named. Jean knew of our plans for a tour boat but unfortunately did not live to see it become a reality. So, after many years of planning and a little risk taken, the Marilyn Jean successfully completed her maiden voyage at around 2 PM July 17th, 2017. With a beautiful water shower courtesy of the Alanson Fire Department. Our participants all agree that most likely our good fortune on a magical 4 days was with Jean smiling down on us from above. To see footage of the trip there is a 20-minute YouTube video by typing in Marilyn Jean – Maiden Voyage.


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