April carries the dream of summer and is the hinge between seasons. Most importantly the Put-in-Bay Ferry Boat starts running in April.Put-in-Bay Ferry Boat Photo

Put-in-Bay Ferry Boat Captain Glenn Cooper has been operating the Middle Bass run for 36 years. It is estimated that he has over 66,000 hours as captain. He has been with the Put-in-Bay Ferry Boat for a total of 42 years (he paid his dues the first six years as a dockhand and mate). Glenn’s family owned Coopers restaurant (now the Goat Soup and Whiskey). A career in dishwashing was not in his future. Glenn loved boats from an early age. The lure of open water was part of his DNA. Glenn was salutatorian of Put in Bay High School’s “Class of ‘74” that had 11 seniors (the largest graduating class in the school’s history at the time). His cousin Angie Heineman beat him by a mere quarter of a point to capture the Valedictorian honor.

I had the opportunity to visit Glenn in February at his winter residence in Big Pine Key, Florida (29 miles from Key West). The serpentine of the Overseas Road (Route 1) that leads to Big Pine Key is built on the foundation of Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad. The 1912 rail line was wiped out by the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 but was rebuilt as a highway by the state of Florida in 1938. It is two lanes the majority of the drive and like a giant moving slinky, traffic is limited by the slowest driver.

Glenn and Jackie Taylor (his first mate) met me with a cold can of Busch light beer. Glenn works 60 to 70 hours per week from late March until Thanksgiving operating the Put-in-Bay Ferry. He is off for 14 weeks and uses this time to decompress and relax from his skippering responsibilities in Florida. His backyard is on a canal. In 100 yards Glenn is on Florida’s Intercostal Waterway. Out of 365 days a year, Glenn estimates he is on the water 350 days (on the Put-in-Bay Ferry, South Bass, his 21’ Penn Yan at Put-in-Bay, or his 20’ Dusky center counsel at Big Pine Key).

In addition, he has kayaked through some of the Midwest’s most beautiful rivers and estuaries including Isle Royal, Pokeshaw Provincial Park in northern Lake Superior, and Lake Superior Provincial Park (with Hayden Stafford and Jerry Chaplik). The residents on Middle Bass are grateful for Glenn’s commitment to Middle Bass. Depending on how you count it, he has seen 4 generations come across the Put-in-Bay loading ramp. A time-honored tradition for the kids is when Glenn lets them come to the pilot house and blow the horn as his Put-in-Bay Ferry approaches Middle Bass.

He has commanded both the West Shore (14 years with mate Clarence Crowe) and the South Bass (22 years) with Bo Temniuk serving as mate for 15 years. He has had Scott Market, Billy Market, Matt Miller and other current and former Miller employees for deckhands over the years.

The South Bass Put-in-Bay Ferry is about 100 feet in length and does not have bow thrusters. It is a pleasure to see “Coop” dock at Middle Bass. The main dock is not protected and the winds can be treacherous. In spite of the large surface area of the boat, Glenn seems to be able to make landfall with little effort even in the worst weather conditions. Glenn makes it look easy. It is not.

The South Bass Put-in-Bay Ferry is a forgiving and predictable ship to pilot when underway. Once Glenn left Middle Bass heading for Catawba and didn’t touch the ship’s wheel the entire trip. It was like a long putt on a golf green. The arc of the boat’s path followed the water fairway directly to Catawba in a mathematically perfect curve that was aided by currents and wind. With 66,000 hours of experience, this sort of thing comes easily to Glenn.

Captain Cooper has great affection for the South Bass. In some ways, the Put-in-Bay Ferry Boat is “old school” operating with a minimal amount of technology. It is dependable and a true. Computer glitches are rare in the twin Caterpillar 3412 engines. Each engine holds 35 gallons of oil. The South Bass burns 30-40 gallons of diesel per hour at 1,300 RPMs and has a fuel capacity of 8,000 gallons. It cruises at 10 MPH. Its range is roughly 2,000 miles. A gallon of diesel weighs 7.1 pounds. The weight of the fuel can be as much as 56,800 pounds (28.4 tons).

The Put-in-Bay Ferry has massive 56” propellers. They are the biggest propellers in the Ferryboat Fleet. There are four to six Middle Bass runs per day during the summer season. A round trip is roughly 14 miles and the South Bass averages about 60 -90 miles per day. Glenn runs five trips on Saturday and six trips on Sunday. Glenn has never performed a wedding on the South Bass. If he did it would not be legally binding.

I asked Glenn who famous has been on your boat? Apparently nobody famous goes to Middle Bass. The only person that came to mind was Bob Denver of Gilligan’s Island fame in the 1990s. There was an Ohio governor (or two) and Navel Admiral Hendrickson who cut his teeth on the Great Lakes in his early career when he paid a visit. When I read about Ferry disasters around the world (1,500 dead in Southeast Asia) I am glad that we can depend on the Put-in-Bay Ferry for outstanding service and a commitment to safety. The length of service and the experience of the Captains and crew speak to a healthy organization that takes pride in its work.

Glenn cares deeply about his passengers. They have become friends and are like part of his extended family. Summer is on the way. Captain Cooper and the Put-in-Bay Ferry team deliver summer one ticket at a time. The promise of a toasted marshmallow is a beautiful thing!