Decked in fresh paint and outfitted with several upgrades, the SS Badger made its first trip of the season to Manitowoc, Wisconsin and back on Thursday.

It was an “absolutely beautiful day for a first sail,” said Shelby Soberalski, Director of Marketing and Sales for Lake Michigan Carferry. “Perfect weather. Couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

On the ground in Manitowoc, speaking between honks of the Badger’s horn, Soberalski said the ride was “so much fun. … It’s been a great day.”

Thursday marked the Badger’s first trip since the 69-year-old National Historic Landmark was sandblasted and covered with 800 gallons of fresh paint late last year.

“It’s a definite visual testament to the future of the Badger,” Soberalski said. “Some passengers specifically wanted to come and see the new paint. … People were very excited to see that she’s being so well taken care of.”

The Badger also crossed the lake equipped with renovated crew quarters and a new system for passengers to stream movies and shows on their devices, but on Thursday, “a lot of passengers were excited to be outside on the open air decks,” she said.

Arcade games are set to be installed on the ship this week, and from June 10 to Sept. 7, the ship will get back to running doubles — taking a night trip back to Manitowoc and returning to Ludington by morning.

“We’re really excited to bring back doubles,” Soberalski said. “This is something that we had hosted in the past, that we had a lot of demand for, and people are getting really excited for an opportunity to see the sunset, see night sky stargazing opportunities.”

The Daily News spoke with several passengers as they waited to board the carferry in Ludington.

Dan and Karen O’Connor were headed back to their home in Portage, Wisconsin, after driving to Michigan for Holland’s Tulip Festival. They opted to take the carferry just “to do something different,” Dan said.

Douglas and Julie Semivan, from suburban Detroit, were bound for Appleton, Wisconsin, where they looked forward to meeting their first grandchild. For them, taking the Badger was simply the logical choice.

“Either a trip through Chicago during the weekday, or over the Mackinac Bridge — this was the better alternative,” Douglas said.

But Thursday’s sunny weather also held more promise than when they took the Badger to Ludington about 20 years ago.

“That experience was pea soup fog all the way across the lake — and then there were trees,” Douglas said.

Dean Smith, a self-described “ship nut” and “boat nerd” from Henderson, said he takes the first sail back and forth every year, adding, “I love watching our ships.”

Another ship enthusiast, Jim Plant, came up from Muskegon, where he’s involved in preserving the S.S. Milwaukee Clipper, also a National Historic Landmark.

He said he was “going to say hello” to “some friends over in Manitowoc,” then head back over to Michigan. But the trip was also a chance to be close to a piece of maritime heritage, which he’s had a fondness for since his father took him as a boy to see the Clipper come in at Muskegon’s Mart Dock.

Waiting his turn to board, he added that the Badger “sure looks beautiful with the paint job they did.”

Daily News Staff Writer

Justin Cooper can be reached at justin@ludingtondailynews.com.

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