Northern Michigan In Focus: Motor Lifeboat - Northern Michigan's News Leader

Northern Michigan In Focus: Motor Lifeboat

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Sometimes we get so busy thinking about the future that we lose sight of our past, our roots.

Thankfully, there are many people working diligently to save the relics and reminders of where we came from.

Corey Adkins and Michelle Dunaway show us the new life of a boat once used to save lives in this week's Northern Michigan in Focus.

“I believe they only built about 130 of these motor lifeboats, so it's not like there were a mass numbers of these boats,” said Bruce Lynn of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.

Sitting at Mertaugh Boat Works in Hessel lies a 36 foot piece of Maritime history it is slowly being brought back to life, ironically it helped save lives decades ago.

“It turned out that this particular type, TR motor lifeboat is only 10 whole numbers away from the original that would have been at Whitefish Point. So that makes it very special to us because it's practically identical to the boat that we would've had at Whitefish Point,” said Lynn.

When the U.S. Coast Guard took over the Whitefish Point Station in the 1930s, you would have seen a boat like this when others were in trouble. Back then this was a technically advanced vessel, it could actually bale itself out of trouble.

“If this boat were to roll in big seas and big waves it would actually right itself, so it would flip itself right back over and they'd keep going on towards a ship that might be having problems,” said Lynn.

Time is the problem for the motor lifeboat today. There’s some rot. Part of the deck has to be replaced, the cabin enclosures need work, but not all is lost.

“I think the first impression that people have is ‘that thing is in terrible shape,' but the core of this boat is in excellent condition. Cosmetically, it looks pretty rough, but the bones are in pretty good shape,” said Lynn.

Enter Mertaugh Boat Works; the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society hired them to get her looking good again.

“It's very exciting for us. It’s unique, it's for a local Upper Peninsula museum, we love working with them and it's a great opportunity for our guys as well to work on something that will be showcased in such a way,” said Geoff Hamilton of E.J. Mertaugh Boat Works.

Speaking of showcase, this boat has already been in a major motion picture a couple years ago or at least part of it has.

“Disney contacted us and wanted to know if they could either borrow the boat or borrow parts of the boat, and in the end what we ended up doing is we loaned them the steering wheel for this boat to be used in the movie The Finest Hours, so you'll probably see our steering wheel if you watch that movie,” said Lynn.

The boat will never see water again, but cosmetically will be ready for display at Whitefish Point by the summer of 2019.

“We were pretty excited because we have a motor lifeboat house that we are in the process of restoring up at Whitefish Point right now and what do you need if you have a motor lifeboat house, you need a motor lifeboat,” said Lynn.