Jack’s Journal: Restoring The Champion

Grandpa was the captain of The Champion for 10 years when it was a passenger ferry in the St. Marys River back in the 1950’s, and a young grandson would ride along and fell in love with it all.  Those days made an impression.

“You bet it did. I was infatuated with boats. In fact, I drew so many tugs when I was in elementary school that when the teacher said they needed someone to draw The Mayflower, the class said ‘Denny will’. I think The Mayflower looked like a tugboat,” says Dennis Dougherty.

Eventually, the boat grandpa piloted was sold and, in time, beached and left in 6 feet of water to rot. 

Flash forward 20 years and that grandson is looking for a cheap boat he could fix up and turn into a shipwreck dive charter boat on Lake Superior.  Little did he know, the mess he was looking at was The Champion.

“I didn’t realize at first it was the one my grandfather ran, because it looked so different.  When I found out here’s my boyhood dream and my grandfather’s connection, explains Dennis.

Thankfully, the galvanized hull and ribs were in good shape, but a mighty task remained.  Having never done anything like this, Dennis asked the knowledgeable boat community around the Soo questions…lots of questions. Bit by bit, the old bucket was getting a new life, and a new name after granddad, The Gerald Neville.

“He didn’t make the launch date before he died.  But he knew I was going to name it after him and he even said he had dreams of helping fix it up,” says Dennis.

Denny uses the boat now recreationally, island hopping and camping around Lake Superior. His daughter and son both love the boat, and it appears grandpa’s tug will stay in the family.

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