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Former Erie Canal tour boat wintering in Grand Haven

Becky Vargo • Nov 2, 2018 at 2:00 PM

A break in the fall winds last week allowed for some quick boat transfers on Lake Michigan, including a unique visitor to the area — the Emita II.

The Emita II’s owner, Victor Tieri, said that just a week earlier they had to post 12-hour watches as waves of 4-5 feet rolled up the Michigan City, Indiana, channel, causing lines to snap on the 65-foot tour boat.

When the break in the weather came, they had to jump at it, so Tieri and his captain, Billy Stewart, undertook a midnight voyage up Lake Michigan under a full moon, arriving in Grand Haven during the afternoon of Oct. 25.

“It was amazing out there on the water,” Tieri said. He noted that they made the journey overnight in order to get to Grand Haven during work hours.

Tieri said they were bringing the 75-ton vessel to Grand Haven because this is one of the few ports on the Great Lakes able to pull a vessel that size out of the water. Even then, they had to remove the 14-inch spray rails off each side of the boat to make it narrow enough to fit the lift at North Shore Marina.

Tieri said the boat would be stored during the winter in Grand Haven. It will be scraped, primed and painted, and have his tour company’s logo and the new homeport of Michigan City painted on the back. It will also say “by way of the Erie Canal” under the homeport name.

Boat history

The Emita II was built in 1953 in Rhode Island by Blount Boat Builders, a premier tour boat builder still in business, according to Tieri.

It was used by the Wiles family, who own Mid-Lakes Navigation and have operated tour boats on the Erie Canal for 50 years from Skaneateles, New York. They continue to operate one tour boat after selling the Emita II to Tieri.

The Emita II just completed its first season at Harbor Country Adventure. The big boat joins a 12-passenger Sea Rocket at the tour company and is the first large tour boat to operate out of Michigan City since 1948, Tieri said.

Tieri history

Victor Tieri said he had a long history in the restaurant business in Chicago before he decided to devote his time to his boat and winery tour business.

His history of spending summer vacations in New Buffalo led him to establishing his business in Michigan City, he said.

Tieri acquired the smaller tour boat, modeled after an offshore powerboat, as payment for contracting services and started his boat tour business about six years ago.

“I wanted to have something bigger, more of a slower pace and more accessible,” he said of the reason behind his purchase of the Emita II.

Although he had traveled to Holland before, Tieri said his introduction to Grand Haven came in May when he was transferring his newly purchased tour boat from New York to Michigan City. He and his captain stopped in Grand Haven for fuel.

“It’s a beautiful place,” he said, wondering why a cruise boat wasn’t located here. “I’ve been on all the Great Lakes and this one is the best,” he said of Lake Michigan. “People come from all over the world to see it.”

However, not a lot of people have the opportunity to get out on the Great Lakes in a boat.

“Now, I’m happy to take them there,” Tieri said.

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