Founder of Basic Marine dies at 71

Daniel J. Kobasic, 71, of Escanaba, Michigan, passed away November 30 at his home, surrounded by family.

“Wooden ships, iron men,” goes the old maritime saying. While Daniel Joseph Kobasic never sailed on the wooden ships, he was certainly an iron man, with an unparalleled work ethic and fierce determination. And although his life was cut short by pancreatic cancer, he lived more in his 71 years than most. He was a carpenter, machinist, landscaper, fisherman, entrepreneur, pizza purveyor, shipbuilder, tugboat captain, storyteller and visionary. Daniel was also a father, grandfather, brother and friend. By all accounts, he led a complicated and extraordinary life.

Born August 10, 1946, Kobasic was the second son and fifth child of Frank and Mary (nee Kolich) Kobasic. The night he turned 18, he walked onto an iron ore freighter. As he was apt to say, “I left home with a paper bag and the shirt on my back.”

Driven by ambition, Kobasic worked his way “up the hawsepipe” and attended navigation school in New York. He overcame color-blindness to pass the red light/green light lantern test, and eventually became a celestial navigator, 2nd mate in the merchant marine. In lieu of the army, he served in the Vietnam war zone, hauled goods and weapons around southeastern Asia, and ultimately circumnavigated the globe three times.

After nearly eight years on the ships, he returned to Escanaba, struggling to find self-employment, offering carpentry and landscaping work with little success. Kobasic began construction on Shakey’s pizza restaurant. It was a risky endeavor and he broke ground on the property before securing financing. A gifted orator, Daniel found funding from Arnie Mackie at First National Bank, and Shakey’s opened in September 1973.

He channeled profits from the thriving pizza business to build a fishing trawler. With no formal education in naval architecture, he built the Danicia K. in 1978 on land near the power plant in Wells, and a year later started Basic Marine. It was the modest beginning to an impressive maritime construction endeavor, which built over 240 vessels that float in the fresh and saltwater lakes and seas.

After exiting the pizza-making business in 1986, he wholly devoted his attentions to Basic Marine, and together with his brother, business partner and best friend, Claude Kobasic, he expanded the physical footprint of the business during the late 80s and early 90s, adding a drydock to allow for the repair of larger vessels. He also launched Basic Towing, which ultimately grew to a fleet of eight vessels.

Two of the tugs were acquired on the East Coast, and he brought his three daughters along for the three-week long journey up the St. Lawrence Seaway. The tugs delivered vessels created at Basic Marine to destinations as far as Seattle via the Panama Canal. He also maintained a former World War II Coast Guard cutter, the Erika Kobasic, as an icebreaker, freeing shipping lanes from their frozen confines in the winter.

Kobasic was a restless and driven individual, and happiest when embarking on a new project. His recent dock expansion project allowed the first saltwater merchant vessel into the area in 80 years, and returned Escanaba’s status as an international shipping port. The project expanded the dock from 450 to 1,200 feet, dredged the port to 28 feet, and included several thousand feet of steel sheeting to secure the shoreline. His unfinished dream to restore Escanaba’s North Shore to its original 1880’s glory will be carried on by his brother, Claude, and nephew, Nicholas, to honor his nostalgic labor of love.

Maritime Editorial