Under a canopy of blue sky and with a smash of the Champagne bottle, the Sweet Breeze was fully commissioned Tuesday for its maiden voyage off the city dock, on to the calm waters of the St. Marys River.
The 1840s replica canal boat painted aqua, deep blue and a bright apple, green mustard looks much like the ones that were crucial to local trade when the rivers were the center of the city's life in the mid-1800s, city officials said.
Friends of the River, the local nonprofit responsible for raising the $652,000 to build the 54-foot-long, 11-foot-wide craft at a New York shipbuilder, hopes to bring excitement back to the city's rivers with Sweet Breeze.
The boat's name pays homage to a woman linked to local history through Chief Little Turtle and Capt. William Wells, according to Irene Walters, Friends of the River president, who led the boat's christening ceremony. The name was chosen by local schoolchildren after names were solicited online in a fundraising effort. The other finalists were Kekionga and Big Chief.
The canal boat was already booked for a dinner party Tuesday and is available for rent through Fort Wayne Outfitters and Bike Depot, organizers said. The boat can seat 40 passengers for a standard tour and 30 for a dinner party.
Don Steininger, a Friends of the Rivers board member, said he and others started working to bring the canal boat to reality about a year and a half ago and sold the first dinner cruise at a Junior Achievement auction.
Individuals can book seats for Saturday and Sunday cruises for about $35 a person, but Steininger said he'd like to see that fee reduced by about $10 to $15. River cruises last about an hour and a half and will be available during the Three Rivers Festival in July.
Friends of the River is also working to launch an amphibious World War II military DUKW boat, commonly known as a “duck boat,” that is still being refurbished, Friends of the Rivers board members said.
Sweet Breeze heralds the start of construction on the $70 million riverfront development project. The first phase, due to begin at the end of this month, features a waterfront promenade with an outdoor amphitheater, a tree canopy trail, pavilion, event lawn, entry plaza and children's play area.
Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, one of the event's speakers, said he was in Evansville on Monday with a mayor and state officials who “asked about the momentum in Fort Wayne.”
“What are you guys doing to make you the talk of the state,” Henry said he was asked. The planned river front development is part of that, he added.
Steininger and Henry along with Al Moll, executive director of Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation; Nelson Peters, Allen County commissioner; Patti Hays, CEO of the AWS Foundation; and Dena Jacquay, human resources director at Parkview Health christened the boat.
To make reservations, go to FWoutfitters.com or call 420-3962.