The familiar SS Badger whistle — three long, two short — was back shortly after 5:30 Thursday evening, announcing the carferry’s arrival to people lining the waterfront, waving and honking at the ship they’ve missed seeing and hearing for five days while it was in for repairs.

Darryl Mast of Hamlin Township and his girlfriend Veda Elvira of Ludington sat on a bench near the Loomis Street boat launch, smiling, glad to see the Badger had made it home.

“We come down about every other night to watch it come in or go out,” Mast said.

They’ve missed it while it was in Sturgeon Bay, Wis.

The ship sailed to Sturgeon Bay Sunday instead of its usual route to Manitowoc after carferry workers and divers in Ludington determined there were problems with a bearing holding the starboard propeller shaft.

Bay Shipbuilding had no room in drydock for the Badger, but Lake Michigan Carferry found a team of six specialist divers from California to put the bearing back in place, rebolting it with new eight-inch bolts made at the shipyard.

The loss of the Badger and its passenger traffic — up to 620 people with each trip — was more than sentimental. Businesses felt the pinch in a loss of restaurant, hotel and shop patrons.

“I work at a hotel and we lost 20 rooms a night,” Elvira said. “We were glad to see it come back.”

At the dock Thursday night and this morning it was back to

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carferry business as usual, except for the carferry employees who had extra duty in cleaning and reprovisioning the ship.

For passengers, though, the boat was on time and they were glad for the chance to take the relaxing trip to Wisconsin as opposed to the drive they’d have to make if the carferry had still been in for repairs.

Keri Ivan and her son Zach Church, age 10, of Midland, were taking a trip to Manitowoc, Green Bay, then Chicago.

They had plans to travel on Thursday and had to keep calling back to the Lake Michigan Carferry ticket office to see whether the Badger would be back in service in time for them to continue their vacation as planned.

They learned the boat would be back and ready for them when they called about 2 p.m. Thursday.

Gar Robarge of Green Bay was in Michigan on business, having driven over earlier in the week. He was taking the Badger back home, his first trip on the 410-foot carferry. He was surprised by its size and excited he was getting the chance to take a leisurely ride home rather than driving around Lake Michigan.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said while waiting in line to board the Badger. “It’s pretty neat.”

Bill, Kathy and Erin Davey of Grand Rapids hadn’t realized the carferry had been out for repairs until Wednesday night when they checked the Badger’s Web site.

They were relieved, though, they could take the carferry for their vacation, their first ferry trip and their first trip to Door County, Wis.

Phyllis Coleman and her boyfriend Charles Lembach of Standish were taking the carferry for more solemn reasons, to get treatment for Lembach’s stage-three cancer at a hospital in Zion, Ill.

Not only is the Badger a good form of transportation for them, riding the carferry is something he has wanted to do for years.

patti@ludingtondailynews.com

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