Starting late this spring, people will be able to take excursions on the city’s rivers on a full-sized replica of an 1840s canal boat.
The boat, which was built in Albany, New York, is 54 feet long and can seat 40 people for a sightseeing tour and up to 30 people for a dinner tour or party.
"For 15 years, people have been expressing a desire to have access to the rivers," said Irene Walters, of Friends of the Rivers, at a news conference unveiling the boat Thursday. "Finally it’s happening."
"We’ve tried so hard to get the rivers to flip from being an enemy to an asset," said Mayor Tom Henry. He said discussions started with the notion of getting a riverboat, but it wouldn’t have been able to travel under bridges, so the canal boat design was chosen.
The boat is patterned after a packet boat, which let people travel first class during the early- to mid-1800s. It is the same design as one used for a historical operation in Delphi. It is historically accurate, but it has an aluminum hull and modern amenities such as a bathroom, a sound system and Bluetooth. It is powered by a 55-horsepower diesel engine.
With a draft of 2 feet, 9 inches, the boat is low enough to pass under all of the 19 bridges in the downtown area, said Dan Wire, who will be one of six trained pilots. He said the plan is to run four or five different routes that will take about 90 minutes each, though everyone involved is learning as they go, he said.
The hope is that the boat becomes a regional attraction, Wire said.
The boat was paid for with money raised by the Community Foundation and AWS donated additional money to have the design modified to make it accessible to the handicapped.
The boat had a basic price of $550,000, not counting the cost of modifying the design, and took about six months to build, Wire said.
The plan is to make the first tickets available June 1, but Friends of the Rivers is still working on an economic model for the boat’s schedule.
"We want to have it out as much as possible, depending on demand," Wire said.
Ron Menze, a member of the Friends of the Rivers board, said he could see the boat become a popular venue for wedding receptions and parties, in addition to simple sightseeing tours.