Touring the Soo Locks with Captain Scott Labonte Famous Soo Locks
Episode 11814th July 2023 • Total Michigan • Cliff Duvernois
00:00:00 00:27:34

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It's hard not to think about Sault Ste Marie without thinking about the Soo Locks. In this episode, Captain Scott Labonte, general manager for Famous Soo Lock Boat Tours, takes us behind the scenes of what it takes to run this great company. Also how they delight tens of thousands of passengers every single year.

Links from the Show:

Famous Soo Lock Boat Tours Website: https://famoussoolocks.com

Facebook Page: https://facebook.com/famoussoolocks

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Transcripts

Scott Labonte:

And something that Famous takes a lot of pride in

Scott Labonte:

is making sure that every guest is as comfortable as possible.

Scott Labonte:

And that means every sense, having comfortable seats.

Scott Labonte:

and we strive for that.

Scott Labonte:

as a company and our maintenance program is fairly stringent where,

Scott Labonte:

if something isn't just right, we're not gonna send that boat out,

Scott Labonte:

to make sure that we get it right.

Cliff Duvernois:

Hello everyone and welcome back to Total Michigan, where

Cliff Duvernois:

we interview ordinary people who are doing some pretty extraordinary

Cliff Duvernois:

things in our Michigan community.

Cliff Duvernois:

I have been actually very fortunate to go, north of the bridge, into

Cliff Duvernois:

the upper peninsula and spend some time in Sault Ste marie getting

Cliff Duvernois:

to meet some really fascinating people that are up here in the area.

Cliff Duvernois:

And of course, you can't think about Sault Ste Marie without

Cliff Duvernois:

thinking about the Soo Locks.

Cliff Duvernois:

And who better to talk to us about the Soo Locks than to talk to an actual captain,

Cliff Duvernois:

the person who has probably taken millions of us through the Soo locks back and forth

Cliff Duvernois:

to really experience what it's like to see this marvel of engineering, so to speak.

Cliff Duvernois:

So with that being said, today we're talking to the general

Cliff Duvernois:

manager of the Soo Lock Boats tours, and that would be Captain.

Cliff Duvernois:

Scott Labonte.

Cliff Duvernois:

Scott, how are you?

Scott Labonte:

Wonderful.

Scott Labonte:

and on a day like today, who

Cliff Duvernois:

couldn't be?

Cliff Duvernois:

I tell you, if you're watching this right now on YouTube, you

Cliff Duvernois:

are in for a treat because the weather today is just gorgeous.

Cliff Duvernois:

You couldn't ask for a better day.

Scott Labonte:

you really couldn't.

Scott Labonte:

we're in, uh, the northern paradise right now, I believe.

Cliff Duvernois:

And that would be the term I would use.

Cliff Duvernois:

Yes, definitely.

Cliff Duvernois:

So before we jump into the interview, Scott, because I actually have

Cliff Duvernois:

over the past few days become aware that some people aren't

Cliff Duvernois:

really familiar with the Soo Locks.

Cliff Duvernois:

So before we jump into the interview, why don't you tell us

Cliff Duvernois:

about the Soo Locks in general?

Scott Labonte:

Well, the Soo Locks are, a fixture of both, commerce and history

Scott Labonte:

here in Michigan, specifically the UP.

Scott Labonte:

They've been around since the late 18 hundreds, and they've provided a portage

Scott Labonte:

between the upper Ste mary's falls in the lower Ste mary's falls, where there's

Scott Labonte:

a 21 foot difference in elevation.

Scott Labonte:

Prior to the locks being built, boats would have to be pulled out of the water.

Scott Labonte:

And basically rolled on logs down ported, what we call now Portage Street.

Scott Labonte:

Oh my.

Scott Labonte:

And placed back into the water.

Scott Labonte:

So for what now takes say 15 to 20 minutes used to take three weeks or

Scott Labonte:

a month or even longer to accomplish.

Cliff Duvernois:

So for the Soo Locks, then a boat goes into a manmade channel.

Cliff Duvernois:

Correct.

Cliff Duvernois:

Okay.

Cliff Duvernois:

And then talk to us what happens from there?

Scott Labonte:

Once the boat is in the channel, we get more to one

Scott Labonte:

side or the other depending on, on, what the locks crew deems necessary.

Scott Labonte:

And it might be more than one boat.

Scott Labonte:

We've fit, a small freighter.

Scott Labonte:

When I say small, about 600, 650 feet.

Scott Labonte:

We've been in the lock itself with a small freighter as well as ma may,

Scott Labonte:

maybe two or three other tour boats.

Scott Labonte:

And a few private boats.

Scott Labonte:

So they'll try and fill the lock as much as possible.

Scott Labonte:

Anyway, as soon as they get the lock, as full as they want it to be,

Scott Labonte:

with the vessels in the area, they will close the the gates behind us.

Scott Labonte:

And those gates close in a dovetail fashion, meaning they close inward to

Scott Labonte:

keep the water pressure out of course.

Scott Labonte:

Once that is concluded, they will put some safety gates down or safety,

Scott Labonte:

standards or however you wanna put it, and these safety gates lower

Scott Labonte:

with a large cable underneath them.

Scott Labonte:

And these cables, it's like an arresting cable to keep boats

Scott Labonte:

from crashing into the gate walls.

Scott Labonte:

Okay, so at this point, the boats are inside, the doors are closed.

Scott Labonte:

the safety rails or safety gates are down.

Scott Labonte:

Now at this point, one of the engineers will then open some valves.

Scott Labonte:

And these valves will allow water to enter the lock from

Scott Labonte:

the lake, superior or high side.

Scott Labonte:

And merely just using gravity, the water will enter the lock and

Scott Labonte:

fill it or let water out to the level that we're trying to achieve.

Cliff Duvernois:

Depending on if you're coming in or out.

Scott Labonte:

Correct.

Scott Labonte:

Yeah.

Scott Labonte:

we like to say Upbound or down bound.

Scott Labonte:

So if we're heading east from the upside, we'd be down bound and just

Scott Labonte:

the opposite for the other way.

Cliff Duvernois:

Certainly.

Cliff Duvernois:

And then, so the, these gravity fed pumps would either fill up, or like you said,

Cliff Duvernois:

take down, but let's keep it simple.

Cliff Duvernois:

Mm-hmm.

Cliff Duvernois:

Fill up.

Cliff Duvernois:

Correct.

Cliff Duvernois:

And then once it's full, what happens from there?

Scott Labonte:

Once it's full, it's really the same process in reverse, the, the.

Scott Labonte:

The safety gates will open, or the safety cables will raise up out of the way.

Scott Labonte:

The gates themselves, the big doors will then open and, will become detached.

Scott Labonte:

And we'll let our mooring line lines go and then we're free to go.

Cliff Duvernois:

Thank you for that.

Cliff Duvernois:

So let's talk about you.

Cliff Duvernois:

Okay.

Cliff Duvernois:

So tell us a little bit about where you're from and where you

Scott Labonte:

grew up.

Scott Labonte:

I grew up on the on the western end of the upper peninsula in the Keewanau area, I

Scott Labonte:

was born and raised in Calumet, Michigan, where I lived, up to the age of 18.

Scott Labonte:

At which time, I decided that firefighting was my chosen profession.

Scott Labonte:

I attended Lake State along with my now wife, Jennifer, and we both

Scott Labonte:

went to Lake State for four years.

Scott Labonte:

In that amount of time I received a bachelor's degree in fire

Scott Labonte:

science as well as a minor in paramedicine and law enforcement.

Scott Labonte:

From there I was hired before I graduated with the city of Sault Ste

Scott Labonte:

marie Fire Department, where I've worked for about 22 years, with the

Scott Labonte:

last six years being the fire chief for the city of Sault Ste marie.

Scott Labonte:

there was a time when Covid wasn't so fun, and I hate using the C word that way.

Scott Labonte:

Yeah.

Scott Labonte:

it just wasn't a fun time.

Scott Labonte:

There was a lot of, a lot of stress and whatnot, and like many other

Scott Labonte:

people my age or even younger or older decided that I needed to change.

Scott Labonte:

And I am very lucky and count my stars every day.

Scott Labonte:

My lucky stars that, in knowing, both the Brawley family as well as this business to

Scott Labonte:

a degree that I did, I was able to reach out and say, Hey, I'm available for work.

Scott Labonte:

Do you have anything for me?

Scott Labonte:

And right away they.

Scott Labonte:

the board as well as the Brawley family said, yeah, we are actually looking

Scott Labonte:

for a general manager to take over for the current general manager at

Scott Labonte:

the time, which is Rich Brawley, who was also the corporation's president.

Scott Labonte:

And, so this past March 31st, I took over for Rich as general manager for

Scott Labonte:

Famous Soo Lock Tours Incorporated.

Cliff Duvernois:

Okay, Your title is General manager, correct.

Cliff Duvernois:

But you're also a captain?

Cliff Duvernois:

I am.

Cliff Duvernois:

Okay.

Cliff Duvernois:

So I wanna explore that.

Cliff Duvernois:

Okay.

Cliff Duvernois:

Because you just don't take a quiz online or watch a YouTube video and

Cliff Duvernois:

say, oh, that's how you captain a boat.

Cliff Duvernois:

I'm a captain.

Cliff Duvernois:

No.

Cliff Duvernois:

You are a licensed captain.

Cliff Duvernois:

Correct.

Cliff Duvernois:

And from what you were sharing with me before we hit the record button, you've

Cliff Duvernois:

actually been on the water all your life.

Cliff Duvernois:

So talk to us about that.

Scott Labonte:

I started at a very young age, working with my grandfather.

Scott Labonte:

I was very fortunate to have a grandfather who also liked the

Scott Labonte:

water and so did my parents.

Scott Labonte:

But my grandfather was just an avid user.

Scott Labonte:

He was around it his whole life as well.

Scott Labonte:

in not only in assisting him with his, vessels and whatnot, and

Scott Labonte:

fishing trips and doing all sort of that, that, that sort of thing.

Scott Labonte:

But also, with the Coast Guard auxiliary.

Scott Labonte:

And assisting with the Coast Guard in the Houghton or Portage

Scott Labonte:

area with their operations.

Scott Labonte:

It helped me out a lot.

Scott Labonte:

Not only did I get to learn a lot mechanically, but also navigationally

Scott Labonte:

in, in operating vessels.

Scott Labonte:

Starting at the age of 16, you can just start accumulating hours as well.

Scott Labonte:

As long as they're documented, you can start accumulating

Scott Labonte:

hours towards your license.

Cliff Duvernois:

Which is something your grandfather did.

Scott Labonte:

He absolutely did.

Scott Labonte:

And again, I'm lucky that between my, my, now past grandfather and grandmother,

Scott Labonte:

they kept very, good documentation of all of the hours that I spent, both

Scott Labonte:

with the Coast Guard and on their boats.

Cliff Duvernois:

Talk about the gift that keeps on giving.

Cliff Duvernois:

Absolutely.

Cliff Duvernois:

Now, I have heard that getting your captain's license on the Great Lakes is

Cliff Duvernois:

actually a really badge of honor, cuz a lot of people don't know this before.

Cliff Duvernois:

But navigating the Great Lakes is extremely tricky and there's

Cliff Duvernois:

lots of difference in, depth that's underneath the water.

Cliff Duvernois:

You gotta know exactly where you can place your boat, where you can't.

Cliff Duvernois:

Talk to us about the process of getting your license.

Scott Labonte:

The process itself requires not only the hours

Scott Labonte:

that you put in beforehand.

Scott Labonte:

I've got hundreds if not thousands of hours of experience beforehand.

Scott Labonte:

But also going through, an accredited educational program.

Scott Labonte:

And mine was through, was through a company called Just Great Lakes out of,

Scott Labonte:

I think it was Battle Creek, Michigan.

Scott Labonte:

And I spent, a little over a week at.

Scott Labonte:

I want to say 10 to 12 hours a day.

Scott Labonte:

And, basically going through a crash course, educationally anyway,

Scott Labonte:

which culminated into multiple written exams, all of which you

Scott Labonte:

had to pass with a great degree in order to finally get the license.

Scott Labonte:

The exams were difficult.

Scott Labonte:

But not only that, once you're done with that, then the application process to the

Scott Labonte:

Coast Guard is a whole new ball of wax.

Scott Labonte:

It's a whole nother thing.

Cliff Duvernois:

So you gotta get certified with the Coast Guard as well?

Scott Labonte:

Yes.

Scott Labonte:

Yeah.

Scott Labonte:

Oh, wow.

Scott Labonte:

Once you go through this program, then you have to go through a

Scott Labonte:

complete vetting with the Coast Guard drug tests, all sorts of things.

Scott Labonte:

And it, the pro, that process can take three or four months to get through.

Cliff Duvernois:

Now, just to keep in mind for our audience too, we're talking about

Cliff Duvernois:

your Captain's license for commercial.

Scott Labonte:

True.

Scott Labonte:

Yeah.

Scott Labonte:

Yes, we are.

Scott Labonte:

And for what it's worth, there are many, I call them grades or levels

Scott Labonte:

to a captain's license, which all begins with what they call, what

Scott Labonte:

the Coast Guard calls a six pack.

Scott Labonte:

Meaning you can have as many as six people in your boat and charge money for whatever

Scott Labonte:

service you're providing on the water.

Scott Labonte:

From the six pack license, then you go to a 25 ton license and then there's

Scott Labonte:

a 50 ton license, then a hundred ton license, which is what I have.

Scott Labonte:

And then from there, 200 ton, 500 ton, thousand ton, unlimited.

Scott Labonte:

And even in there's some extra grades because you want to be able to take as

Scott Labonte:

many passengers as you can, which then requires a master's captain license.

Scott Labonte:

Which is something I achieved through this program as well, which will allow

Scott Labonte:

me on our particular boats to take up to 150 passengers at any given time

Scott Labonte:

and apply for more if we need them.

Cliff Duvernois:

So just to get, a little bit of an idea, you said you're

Cliff Duvernois:

certified up to as a hundred tons?

Cliff Duvernois:

yes.

Cliff Duvernois:

A hundred tons.

Cliff Duvernois:

A hundred tons.

Cliff Duvernois:

Correct.

Cliff Duvernois:

Give us an idea as to how long of a boat that is.

Cliff Duvernois:

Is that like a 50 foot boat?

Cliff Duvernois:

Is a hundred foot boat?

Scott Labonte:

it goes, it's not necessarily boat weight.

Scott Labonte:

It's in, in the amount of displacement, oh, okay.

Scott Labonte:

I guess if we were talking a steel boat, the boats that I drive

Scott Labonte:

just about every day are about 70 tons, and they're 70 feet long.

Scott Labonte:

And there's no correlation between tonnage and length, right?

Scott Labonte:

Because again, it goes, there's fiberglass boats, there's steel boats and whatnot.

Scott Labonte:

The largest boat that I could drive in theory, would be

Scott Labonte:

about 90 feet on at average.

Cliff Duvernois:

When you get your captain's license, you've been made

Cliff Duvernois:

general manager of this place and your qualifications move across the board.

Cliff Duvernois:

cuz you, you were the fire chief for six years, so managing

Cliff Duvernois:

people and stuff like that.

Cliff Duvernois:

So you've got all those skills in place.

Cliff Duvernois:

Now the question I got for you is I.

Cliff Duvernois:

What was some of, what was some of the challenges you had to go

Cliff Duvernois:

through leaving the fire department versus now coming into something

Cliff Duvernois:

first off, that's primarily tourism.

Scott Labonte:

That's a great question because being a part of a fire

Scott Labonte:

department is like having another family.

Scott Labonte:

And granted I was the fire chief, but I had a lot of brothers.

Scott Labonte:

And sisters there, that you're fighting side by side with that fighting.

Scott Labonte:

I'm, I am putting my life in their hands and vice versa.

Scott Labonte:

So it's not that I necessarily divorced myself from that family, but it was

Scott Labonte:

tough moving to another family, which I have now, which I still keep in

Scott Labonte:

contact with all the guys downtown and, and whatnot and, it was, it's

Scott Labonte:

a different a different ball wax.

Scott Labonte:

Granted, yes, there's employees, there's that sort of thing, but really

Scott Labonte:

I think it was, how should I put this?

Scott Labonte:

Maybe looking at comradery a different way.

Scott Labonte:

Okay.

Scott Labonte:

Not necessarily unhealthy or bad, just different.

Cliff Duvernois:

Sure.

Cliff Duvernois:

For our audience, we're gonna take a quick break to thank our sponsors.

Cliff Duvernois:

When we come back, we're gonna talk more about what the Soo Lock

Cliff Duvernois:

Boat tours has to offer and how you can take full advantage of it.

Cliff Duvernois:

We'll see you after the break.

Cliff Duvernois:

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Cliff Duvernois:

Hello everyone and welcome back to Total Michigan.

Cliff Duvernois:

I'm your host, Cliff DuVernois.

Cliff Duvernois:

Today we're talking all things Soo Locks and the Soo Lock Boat Tour Company, and

Cliff Duvernois:

no better person to do this than the general manager and Captain Scott Labonte.

Cliff Duvernois:

I'm gonna start calling you Captain throughout this

Scott Labonte:

interview.

Scott Labonte:

Okay?

Scott Labonte:

All right, that's fine.

Cliff Duvernois:

Okay, captain.

Cliff Duvernois:

Talk to us about the Soo Locks Boat Tour company.

Cliff Duvernois:

When did it get started?

Cliff Duvernois:

Why did it get started?

Scott Labonte:

The Famous Soo Lock boat tour started around 1959.

Scott Labonte:

It's been going with the same vessels ever since.

Scott Labonte:

We have both the Nokomis as well as the Le Voyager, where, which were both built

Scott Labonte:

in Wisconsin at around the 1959 mark.

Scott Labonte:

And like I mentioned, have been serving us ever since.

Scott Labonte:

Ever since, history goes back and speaking to our prior general manager, we've

Scott Labonte:

offered, our normal lock tour, which lasts about 90 minutes to two hours.

Scott Labonte:

And typically we'll go through both an American lock as

Scott Labonte:

well as the Canadian lock.

Scott Labonte:

On top of that we've always also offered a, tour of the lighthouses in

Scott Labonte:

the immediate area, which that's about a four to four and a half hour tour.

Scott Labonte:

And it showcases some of the lighthouse to our west or in the Brimley area.

Scott Labonte:

And then comes back, again through the lock.

Scott Labonte:

So that tour is a little, I don't want to say exclusive, but a little neat cuz

Scott Labonte:

not only do you get a taste of the locks, but you also get to see some really neat,

Scott Labonte:

features as far as light lighthouses go.

Cliff Duvernois:

So they're still around.

Cliff Duvernois:

So let's go back and unpack a couple things here.

Cliff Duvernois:

First off, talk to us about the general tour.

Cliff Duvernois:

if somebody was coming here and they're like, I wanna take

Cliff Duvernois:

this tour of the school, the su I almost said school su locks.

Cliff Duvernois:

What is it that, what is it that they can expect?

Scott Labonte:

Well, what they can expect is a, a comfortable

Scott Labonte:

ride, on one of our two boats.

Scott Labonte:

And, with options, I don't know if you wanna get into this right now, but,

Scott Labonte:

we do have, basically a restaurant right on site as well as a full line

Scott Labonte:

gift shop so they can, hang out in our lobby and grab a wonderful lunch

Scott Labonte:

at Sugar Daddy Bakery and cafe or pick up some gifts in our gift shop,

Cliff Duvernois:

By the way, for our audience is really cool.

Cliff Duvernois:

Make sure you check that out.

Scott Labonte:

So that's where they can spend their time waiting.

Scott Labonte:

If there is a wait, but generally like people to, to show up about 10 or

Scott Labonte:

15 minutes before a voyage goes out.

Scott Labonte:

Other than that, they can sit on our grounds anywhere and enjoy

Scott Labonte:

the scenery, enjoy the things as people are doing here now.

Scott Labonte:

Once the boat is ready to take off, we give a boarding call.

Scott Labonte:

and we'll board the boat at that point in time.

Scott Labonte:

Takes about 10 to 15 minutes tops.

Scott Labonte:

And once we're boarded and ready to go, the captain will sound the

Scott Labonte:

horn to release the stern line.

Scott Labonte:

And off you go.

Scott Labonte:

the tour itself is about 10 full miles.

Scott Labonte:

Again, they're spending about five miles in the upper river and five

Scott Labonte:

miles on the lower river, depending on the day and the traffic in the

Scott Labonte:

area, cuz Soo Harbor is fairly busy.

Scott Labonte:

The captain might, choose to go through the Canadian lock first

Scott Labonte:

versus the American Lock first.

Scott Labonte:

So they are, they're playing a little bit of chess with

Scott Labonte:

trying to keep the tour on time.

Scott Labonte:

But once that choice is made, then they'll head to the lock of choice.

Scott Labonte:

And they'll call the lock master and get permission to come in.

Scott Labonte:

And that usually is a pretty fast process.

Scott Labonte:

They'll go through the lock, and then, Yeah, either way they go, they'll wind

Scott Labonte:

up, up in the Algoma area or Algoma Steel and take a look around in that area and

Scott Labonte:

in the narrator gives awesome, just an amazing amount of information of, as far

Scott Labonte:

as what's going on up in the Algoma area.

Scott Labonte:

And as they come around, they'll see the opposite side with us, Canadian or

Scott Labonte:

American and come back through a lock and then they'll do a tour of the lower river.

Scott Labonte:

Both on the Canadian side as well as the American side.

Scott Labonte:

going as far as the, the Canadian Bush Plane Museum, which is a museum that

Scott Labonte:

showcases old Canadian, fire planes.

Scott Labonte:

Do that over there.

Scott Labonte:

Then they'll come over to this side.

Scott Labonte:

You take a look at LSSU CFRE Center from the water, as well as a few

Scott Labonte:

other attractions, including the Ojibwe, which is a supply boat in

Scott Labonte:

the area and supplies freighters.

Scott Labonte:

As you may see behind us shortly, I was just thinking that's perfect.

Scott Labonte:

Timing, timing passes, timing, perfect timing.

Scott Labonte:

so the Ojibwe is a, will come alongside a boat and whatever they may have ordered,

Scott Labonte:

whether that's groceries or maybe a new washing machine or dryer, they'll offload

Scott Labonte:

from their boat onto the freighter, whatever supplies that are needed.

Scott Labonte:

so that, that takes place not three quarters of the, of a mile

Scott Labonte:

down from the end of our dock.

Scott Labonte:

And then typically we'll finish up with the Soo hydroelectric plant that's been

Scott Labonte:

in operation since the early 19 hundreds, giving a lot of information on that

Scott Labonte:

and then we'll come back to our dock.

Cliff Duvernois:

So one of the, one of the questions I had, cuz you mentioned

Cliff Duvernois:

before, and if you're watching this on the YouTube channel, you just saw

Cliff Duvernois:

this big freighter like, go by us.

Cliff Duvernois:

So it's kinda like you said, it's like a little bit of a game of chess, right?

Cliff Duvernois:

Figuring out, where's the traffic, who's going through

Cliff Duvernois:

the locks right now, et cetera.

Cliff Duvernois:

One of the things when I was taking my Soo lock tour coming through was one of the

Cliff Duvernois:

freighters coming out was, I think they said 1,004 feet or something like that.

Cliff Duvernois:

One question I got for you is how vital is the locks to just the economy in general?

Cliff Duvernois:

Cause I know there's a lot of goods in here.

Cliff Duvernois:

I don't know if numbers off the top of your head, but just like, how vital is it?

Cliff Duvernois:

How much do you know?

Cliff Duvernois:

Like how much money is coming through here as far as products, goods delivered?

Scott Labonte:

That's a great question, Cliff.

Scott Labonte:

As far as the amount of money, I think that fluctuates quite a bit.

Scott Labonte:

I guess the best way to put that is that if at any given time our locks

Scott Labonte:

were not passable for whatever reason that may be, the entire US economy

Scott Labonte:

would be affected within as few as six months or maybe even sooner.

Scott Labonte:

The amount of commodity that goes through here between steel products,

Scott Labonte:

wheat, grains, that sort of thing, as, as well as many other things,

Scott Labonte:

that get that go through here.

Scott Labonte:

like I said, it would, I don't necessarily, I don't wanna use the

Scott Labonte:

word cripple, but our economy would be affected in short amount of time.

Scott Labonte:

Certainly.

Scott Labonte:

Certainly.

Scott Labonte:

Which is actually what's really driving the need for the new lock.

Scott Labonte:

Certainly.

Cliff Duvernois:

Now, some of the things that I was paying attention to when

Cliff Duvernois:

I was going through my tour and yes, I was paying attention, cuz it was a

Cliff Duvernois:

fantastic tour, is that, first off, what really caught me by surprise is the

Cliff Duvernois:

fact that any boat can use the locks.

Cliff Duvernois:

And it doesn't cost them a dime.

Cliff Duvernois:

Not a dime.

Cliff Duvernois:

Just have to go through, talk to us about that.

Scott Labonte:

Sure.

Scott Labonte:

I'd love to.

Scott Labonte:

And that always hasn't been true.

Scott Labonte:

Way back in the day, when the state of Michigan owned the only

Scott Labonte:

lock, they used to charge, and I believe it was 25 cents a ton.

Scott Labonte:

Oh my goodness.

Scott Labonte:

Through, oh, and when the federal government took over the locks via the

Scott Labonte:

core of engineers, that charge went away.

Scott Labonte:

Okay.

Scott Labonte:

And for what it's worth, neither the Canadian side or the

Scott Labonte:

American side charge per passage.

Scott Labonte:

So they're both ways are free.

Cliff Duvernois:

And any boat, any kayak can go through the locks.

Scott Labonte:

Great question.

Scott Labonte:

Anything that's unmotorized must go through the Canadian lock.

Scott Labonte:

Okay.

Scott Labonte:

the American lock due to their size, would make a rescue a little bit more difficult.

Scott Labonte:

So the American locks require a vessel to be I believe, over 12

Scott Labonte:

feet or over and have a motor.

Scott Labonte:

Whereas the Canadian side, kayak, paddleboard, whatever you jet skis,

Scott Labonte:

whatever, can go through there.

Cliff Duvernois:

Because as somebody who loves kayaking, I was

Cliff Duvernois:

really surprised when they made the comment like, yeah, kayakers

Cliff Duvernois:

go through the locks all the time.

Cliff Duvernois:

Oh, that is incredible.

Cliff Duvernois:

It is.

Cliff Duvernois:

So what I'd like to do is talk more about the boats.

Cliff Duvernois:

The one thing that really impressed me with the boats was the fact that

Cliff Duvernois:

it didn't even feel like a boat.

Cliff Duvernois:

it was like a smooth glide.

Cliff Duvernois:

There was no like roar of engines that was in the background.

Cliff Duvernois:

you, there's gonna be some noise on a boat.

Cliff Duvernois:

Sure.

Cliff Duvernois:

And I totally acknowledge that.

Cliff Duvernois:

But it wasn't overpowering.

Cliff Duvernois:

I could like, somebody's like standing 10 feet away from me and

Cliff Duvernois:

I could actually hear them talking.

Cliff Duvernois:

So talk to us about, the boats.

Cliff Duvernois:

how do you achieve that?

Cliff Duvernois:

how do you maintain it?

Cliff Duvernois:

Because these boats are 64 years old.

Scott Labonte:

They are.

Scott Labonte:

And I have to say that this is something that's gone way back, obviously far

Scott Labonte:

before me in the maintenance program.

Scott Labonte:

And something that Famous takes a lot of pride in is making sure that every

Scott Labonte:

guest is as comfortable as possible.

Scott Labonte:

And that means every sense, having comfortable seats.

Scott Labonte:

Not having too loud engine noise or any of this.

Scott Labonte:

and we strive for that.

Scott Labonte:

as a company and our maintenance program is fairly stringent where,

Scott Labonte:

if something isn't just right, we're not gonna send that boat out,

Scott Labonte:

to make sure that we get it right.

Scott Labonte:

Everybody will get an equal fair chance to have a wonderful tour.

Cliff Duvernois:

One of the things that I would like to explore a little bit is,

Cliff Duvernois:

let's say that I'm coming to the area.

Cliff Duvernois:

Maybe I'm new.

Cliff Duvernois:

Maybe I've never taken a boat tour before.

Cliff Duvernois:

I've got a family, maybe some little ones.

Cliff Duvernois:

What are some things that I should be thinking about if I'm gonna

Cliff Duvernois:

come over here and do a tour?

Scott Labonte:

If you're gonna come over and go on a tour, dress for the weather.

Scott Labonte:

We, our lower cabin on each boat is climate controlled.

Scott Labonte:

So there is heat for the colder days.

Scott Labonte:

it's a little bit.

Scott Labonte:

Difficult, and I shouldn't say too difficult, if it's extremely warm

Scott Labonte:

out, you definitely, like I said, want to dress for the weather so

Scott Labonte:

you don't wanna be overdressed, I think is the best way to put it.

Scott Labonte:

In doing that, prepare the kids for being out for an hour and a half, maybe even in

Scott Labonte:

two hours, if the river is extremely busy.

Scott Labonte:

We have board games and coloring books and things aboard the boat for times when

Scott Labonte:

a child might not be all that interested.

Scott Labonte:

And bathrooms as well.

Scott Labonte:

And bathrooms as well.

Scott Labonte:

Each boat is, has bathrooms and they're all wheelchair access.

Scott Labonte:

our boats are wheelchair accessible.

Scott Labonte:

So we accommodate everybody that way as well.

Scott Labonte:

just being ready for an hour and a half ride and this isn't necessarily something

Scott Labonte:

that somebody can say, okay, I'm done.

Scott Labonte:

I'm getting off.

Scott Labonte:

You have to be prepared to be out there for an hour and a half, two hours max.

Cliff Duvernois:

So let's talk a little bit about, cuz I, I know that

Cliff Duvernois:

primarily when people would think about the Famous Soo Lock Boat tours is,

Cliff Duvernois:

getting on the boat, taking a tour.

Cliff Duvernois:

Yeah.

Cliff Duvernois:

But you do other things.

Cliff Duvernois:

You have events on there, like special occasions, like

Cliff Duvernois:

talk like a pirate day, right?

Cliff Duvernois:

which still cracks me up, right?

Cliff Duvernois:

So talk first, talk to us about events.

Scott Labonte:

I'm so proud of our events cuz it's something that's

Scott Labonte:

evolved over the last few years and I've really been happy to be a part of it.

Scott Labonte:

On top of our regular tours, our regular lock tours and our lighthouse

Scott Labonte:

tours, we also offer group tours.

Scott Labonte:

So on any given day, we might have a few tour buses come in and, they will have

Scott Labonte:

their own special opportunity to go out.

Scott Labonte:

We offer a French tour, once or twice a week where we actually have

Scott Labonte:

hired a, a bilingual person to give a whole entire french narration.

Scott Labonte:

And these are typically people coming over from Canada on a bus tour.

Scott Labonte:

But, a complete French narration for the whole lobster tour.

Scott Labonte:

I might have to check that out.

Scott Labonte:

That's pretty neat.

Scott Labonte:

in fact, your next guest, Paul, is our narrator for that event.

Scott Labonte:

So he can give you a piece of that.

Scott Labonte:

Okay.

Scott Labonte:

On top of that, like I mentioned, we, we have a lot of fun with talk, like a pirate

Scott Labonte:

day, either the captain or the narrator.

Scott Labonte:

I plan on being part of that this year and dress up in a pirate costume

Scott Labonte:

and having a lot of fun on that day.

Scott Labonte:

And we're also looking at something for Halloween, and although we're

Scott Labonte:

not open, the end of October, we, we are gonna be shutting down operations

Scott Labonte:

here on October 16th or 17th.

Scott Labonte:

We'll probably have something a little sooner, during our normal operation

Scott Labonte:

season where, we'll have kids get on board and dress up in costumes

Scott Labonte:

and take a bunch of pictures and just have a really fun time with it.

Scott Labonte:

Play, Halloween music and have a great time.

Scott Labonte:

Aside from that, we offer charters, private charters, and on these charters

Scott Labonte:

people are pretty much free to I have a charter for whatever reason they want.

Scott Labonte:

We've held weddings on boats.

Scott Labonte:

We've held memorial services on boats, employee appreciation

Scott Labonte:

cruises, customer appreciation cruises, any reason why somebody

Scott Labonte:

wants, just their people on a boat.

Scott Labonte:

On top of that, something we added last year is something we call a sip and sail.

Scott Labonte:

Ooh.

Scott Labonte:

Uh, and we have a full bar, actually.

Scott Labonte:

We have two bars on board.

Scott Labonte:

and typically music of some kind, whether it's provided by a DJ or live

Scott Labonte:

music, throughout the entire tour.

Scott Labonte:

And we'll either go upriver, downriver, and just sail and have

Scott Labonte:

a good time and relax and enjoy the music and the sites at the same time.

Scott Labonte:

And we'll be offering four of those this year, January.

Scott Labonte:

I'm sorry, July, August, September and October.

Scott Labonte:

One a month.

Scott Labonte:

Certainly typically the third Thursday of each month.

Cliff Duvernois:

So when it comes to, because like we're talking about

Cliff Duvernois:

events, is there like events where it's if you wanted to have a midnight

Cliff Duvernois:

cruise, could you set that up as well?

Cliff Duvernois:

Is there certain hours that we have to play in?

Scott Labonte:

We like to keep it, we like to return and it happens

Scott Labonte:

when we're returning in the dark.

Scott Labonte:

I'd like to say that we do our best to accommodate somebody

Scott Labonte:

the absolute best that we can.

Scott Labonte:

However, I will say that we prefer to get back around dusk just due

Scott Labonte:

to safety reasons, but we are, I.

Scott Labonte:

capable of entertaining in the dark.

Cliff Duvernois:

And because you have a galley set up on the boat

Cliff Duvernois:

and stuff like that, you're able to accommodate food as well.

Scott Labonte:

We can, if you, if our guests would like to

Scott Labonte:

order food, up at Sugar Daddy Baker Cafe in our ticket office.

Scott Labonte:

They're welcome to bring that food along with them.

Scott Labonte:

Whether it's sandwiches, hot dogs, sausages, whatever they offer there.

Scott Labonte:

But we also offer light snacks, on the boat as well as some alcoholic beverages

Scott Labonte:

such as beer, wine, and seltzers, right?

Scott Labonte:

A right aboard the boat all the time.

Cliff Duvernois:

Captain.

Cliff Duvernois:

If somebody's listening to this interview and, they wanna check out

Cliff Duvernois:

more about the Famous boat Locks, what you got going on, what's the best

Cliff Duvernois:

way for the, website, social media?

Cliff Duvernois:

What's the best way for them to find you?

Scott Labonte:

Number one would be coming to our website.

Scott Labonte:

We have a awesome website and that would is located at, famous soo locks.com.

Scott Labonte:

F A M O U S S O O locks.com.

Scott Labonte:

It's because people pronounce or spell sue a little differently

Scott Labonte:

depending on where you're at, right?

Scott Labonte:

So Famous Soo Locks.com.

Scott Labonte:

Number two would be our Facebook page, which again is Famous Soo Locks.

Scott Labonte:

you search that, you'll find us.

Scott Labonte:

And the important thing there is adding the word Famous.

Scott Labonte:

that's the biggest descriptor there.

Cliff Duvernois:

And, and, the que a clarifying question.

Cliff Duvernois:

So for the website, if somebody is thinking about coming here ahead of

Cliff Duvernois:

time, can they get tickets to your website or is it only through the office?

Scott Labonte:

no, tickets are absolutely available online through our website.

Scott Labonte:

where they can go there or, if they would prefer to come into

Scott Labonte:

our office, they can buy tickets that way too, right here on site.

Cliff Duvernois:

Wonderful.

Cliff Duvernois:

Captain.

Cliff Duvernois:

Thank you so much.

Cliff Duvernois:

You're welcome, Captain Scott and I need to say that Captain

Cliff Duvernois:

Scott, thank you so much for taking time to chat with us today.

Cliff Duvernois:

Really do appreciate it.

Cliff Duvernois:

My pleasure.

Cliff Duvernois:

Thank you very much.

Cliff Duvernois:

And for our audience, you can always roll on over to total michigan.com.

Cliff Duvernois:

Click on Captain Scott's interview and you can see all the

Cliff Duvernois:

links that he mentioned above.

Cliff Duvernois:

We will see you next week with another great episode of another

Cliff Duvernois:

story of an ordinary Michigander doing some pretty extraordinary things.

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