The Lake Erie islands have long been a popular vacation spot for Ohioans and beyond. Up until 25 years ago, the limited schedules of the traditional ferry lines cut short the stay for those who traveled to the islands for a simple day trip. However, in 1988, Put-in-Bay Boat Line Co., also known as The Jet Express, was established by four partners who envisioned an expanded service to the islands. The partners strove to create an innovative ferry service that would provide outstanding customer service, late night service to Put-in-Bay, and the fastest passenger ferry on the Great Lakes. Their dreams became a reality in the spring of 1989 when the Jet Express began service to Put-in-Bay from Port Clinton.
According to General Manager, Captain Lance Woodworth, service began on Memorial Day weekend in 1989. At that time, the company had two boats, the Erie Isle and the Arrow. The Erie Isle, a car and passenger ferry, made the one-way crossing from Port Clinton to Put-in-Bay in 1.5 hours, while the Arrow made the trip in 45 minutes. Once the $3.2-million M.V. Jet Express arrived in June of 1989, the trip was cut to 20 minutes. The Jet Express replaced the Erie Isle which was sold later in 1989. In 1992, the Jet Express II was added to the fleet, and the Arrow was sold. A partnership with the Put-in-Bay Port Authority aided in the addition of the Jet Express III in 2002. In 2005, the Jet Express began offering service from Sandusky to both Kelleys Island and Put-in-Bay. Offerings were further expanded in 2009 when the Jet Express IV was added to the fleet, and service from Lorain to the islands became a reality. All four Jet Express vessels were built by the Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding Company in Somerset, MA.
Interestingly, when the Jet Express began operating in 1989, ticket prices were $7 each way, fuel was $0.40 per gallon, and wages were $3.35 per hour. Fast forward 25 years and ticket prices are now $14.99 each way, fuel is $4.00 per gallon, and wages are $7.85 per hour. According to Captain Woodworth, “Basically, fuel expense quadrupled and wages doubled over the last 25 years.” However tickets prices have only doubled during this time.
In addition to offering regular ferry service to the islands from May through October, the Jet Express offers Excursion Adventure Cruises. These cruises are theme-based and visit a variety of U.S. and Canadian ports throughout Lake Erie and its tributaries. Popular ports of call have included: St. Clair, MI; Detroit, MI; Windsor, Canada; Wyandotte, MI; Grosse Ile, MI; Toledo, OH; Pelee Island, Canada; Leamington, Canada and Cleveland, OH. This year, the Jet Express plans to operate approximately 30 Excursion Adventure Cruises from Lorain. Themes for these cruises include Sunset Wine Tasting, Great Lakes Beer Tasting, Cleveland Casino, Cleveland Browns, Black River Scenic Cruise, as well as a number of private charters. Additionally, the City of Huron and the Lorain Port Authority have partnered together to bring the Jet Express to Huron this season. On July 28, August 18, September 8, and September 29, the Jet Express will board passengers in Huron and then in Lorain before heading to Cleveland for two casino trips and two Browns games, respectively. According to Captain Woodworth, “It is roughly 45 minutes between Huron and Lorain and 1.25 hours between Lorain and Cleveland. We dock on the E. 9th Street Pier in downtown Cleveland next to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The port of Huron is a great fit for Jet Express service.”
Despite their many interesting special excursions, Captain Woodworth explained that “our main operational focus remains our ferry operations to and from the islands. With over 7,000 ferry departures to and from Port Clinton, Put-in-Bay, Kelleys Island, and Sandusky, our vessels will transport over 350,000 passengers this season.”
The Jet Express truly has filled the need for quick, efficient, and late-night service to the islands and continues to offer passengers the opportunity to partake in both daytime and nighttime excursions on the western basin of Lake Erie and nearby waters. For more information and ferry schedules, visit www.jet-express.com.