2011-07-21 / News

Lobster Boat Ugly Anne Comes To Mackinaw, Takes Passengers on Straits Tours

By Mary Petrides


Chris West sits aboard his boat, the Ugly Anne, originally a lobster boat from Maine. Beginning this summer, Mr. West is giving tours of the Straits area and bringing passengers under the Mackinac Bridge. Chris West sits aboard his boat, the Ugly Anne, originally a lobster boat from Maine. Beginning this summer, Mr. West is giving tours of the Straits area and bringing passengers under the Mackinac Bridge. People can experience the Straits of Mackinac this summer by cruising aboard a tour boat departing from Mackinaw City, St. Ignace, and Mackinac Island. At the helm is Chris West of Mackinaw City. He has been giving tours on a former lobster boat seven days a week. He plans to continue through October.

He said his favorite part of the job is the smiles.

His boat, Ugly Anne, carries up to 30 passengers in addition to Mr. West and one crewmember. Video screens show historical footage of shipwrecks, car ferries, Native American culture, European exploration, and the building of the Mackinac Bridge. Mr. West, operating as Straits Area Tour Company, is the only tour operator offering such a service.

As part of the tour, he takes passengers under the bridge.

“It hasn’t gotten old to see people’s faces when they look up and see cars 200 feet above them,” Mr. West said.

“He’s kind of got a little niche there, so people who don’t have a group big enough to rent one of our boats, he can take them out on a little cruise for not much money,” said Bob Brown, general manager of Arnold Transit Company. Mr. West moors his boat at Arnold Line’s dock.

His mother, Pat West, who sells tickets for the tour, said she’s been nervous about her son starting a business in the current economy, especially a seasonal business that’s so dependent on the weather. But she’s also been supportive.

“I really wanted to see him try, because I knew what a love he has for this area,” she said. “He loves the Straits.”

Mr. West relies on word of mouth, so business this first summer is slow, but still going well, he said.

“Everyone who’s been on the boat has had a positive response,” he said.

His love for the boat and for the area, his mother contends, brings about much of that positive response.

“He just really, really wants to see this work, and he has a real love for it, and I think that love shows,” she said. “I’ve had people come off the boat and say, ‘You can just see how much he loves doing that.’ That’s important.”

Mr. West completed his Master’s degree in tourism marketing and worked on Mackinac Island for six years, three of those at the tourism bureau, before starting his business. He grew up in Saginaw, frequently coming north with his family to camp and visit the Straits area.

Mrs. West said her son’s positive attitude and strong work ethic bode well for his business. And that’s something he’s always had.

When he was younger, she recalls, she sent him to a nearby restaurant to get tacos for the family. He came back with fewer than he was supposed to, she said, and he told her he’d seen a man with a “will work for food” sign and gave him some tacos.

“Chris always sees the good, and there’s something to be said for that. He always sees the good, and he always feels things are possible,” she said.

The Ugly Anne, all wood and built in 1975, was a lobster boat in Maine for 30 years. As the story goes, the lobsterman’s wife was from Minneapolis and was less than excited about living in rural Maine married to a lobsterman. She demanded that if he was going to have a lobster boat, he had to name it for her. So he did.

In Maine vernacular, “ugly” refers to a person’s disposition.

In the off-season, Mr. West will put the boat in dry dock and work in the area, possibly at local bars, and prepare for the next season, he said.

Daily tours, which run seven days a week and take about an hour, leave at noon, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. from the dock in front of the Icebreaker Mackinaw Museum and next to Bell’s Fishery in Mackinaw City. Cost is $22 for adults and $12 for children ages 3 to 12.

Sunset cruises leave 45 minutes before sunset. Currently, that’s about 8:45 p.m., but the departure time will be adjusted as sunset time changes throughout the summer. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays, cruises cost $19 and leave from Mackinaw City. Wednesday nights they leave from the Yoder dock on Mackinac Island and cost $25.

St. Ignace fireworks cruises leave Saturdays from the Star Line Railroad dock in St. Ignace. Passengers should purchase tickets at the Mackinac Grille and be at the dock by 9:30 p.m.

The Ugly Anne can also be privately chartered. Mr. West said he can take the boat almost anywhere in the northern Great Lakes. Inquiries should be directed to Straits Area Tour Company at (231) 436-5094.

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