Long live the Queen: Delta Queen could sail again from Chattanooga within a year

Long live the Queen: Delta Queen could sail again from Chattanooga within a year

September 22nd, 2013 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

The American Queen sits docked across the Tennessee River from the Delta Queen during a visit to Chattanooga on Saturday.

Photo by Maura Friedman /Times Free Press.

POLL: Should the Delta Queen cruise again?

Former Captains Michael Williams (left, captain from June 1999 to December 2006) and Gabe Chengary (right, captain on and off between September 1975 and 2006) sit and talk during a reception featuring free public tours and former captains and crew aboard the Delta Queen.

Former Captains Michael Williams (left, captain from June...

Photo by Maura Friedman /Times Free Press.

She wants to be back on the waters, where she belongs.

The Delta Queen is crippled right now, stuck in a position beneath the dignity of its river royalty -- moored to the banks of the Tennessee River and in need of some mechanical work.

Her supporters hope she'll soon be plying the nation's rivers once more like her "granddaughter," the American Queen, which was in Chattanooga on Saturday on its Civil War-themed cruise.

Travis Vasconcelos, "riverlorian" on the American Queen, said the Memphis-based boat stops in Chattanooga about once each year. American Queen guests, staff and operators visited with the Delta Queen on Saturday before heading off to St. Louis.

The American Queen was built by the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., the Delta Queen's old parent company, and its operators are now pushing for the Delta Queen's admittance to the National Treasures program.

"It's kind of like giving back to grandmother, if you will," Vasconcelos said.

The Delta Queen's operators are trying to get the 86-year-old paddleboat approved for river cruising again.

U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, is working to pass a bill through the U.S. House on Wednesday that would exempt the Queen from a 1966 law barring wooden vessels from carrying more than 50 passengers overnight. Congress has passed several exemptions previously. The law doesn't affect the American Queen, which has a steel hull.

"The Delta Queen does not belong moored to a dock," Chabot wrote in a letter to supporters gatherered at a Saturday morning meeting on the boat. "She belongs to America's riverways."

Chabot wants the Queen to "return [to Cincinnati] once again," where it often stopped during his childhood, he wrote. He wants the Delta Queen to make Cincinnati its permanent home.

The Queen's previous exemption expired in 2008. In 2009 it landed in Chattanooga as a stationary hotel.

Cornel Martin, president and CEO of DQSC Inc., is teaming up with Randy and Leah Ann Ingram, the Delta Queen's current operators, who hope to buy the boat from Xanterra Parks and Resorts, a Colorado-based company, for $5 million.

Xanterra bought the boat in 2011 after Ambassadors International Inc., the previous owner, filed bankruptcy.

The Ingrams brought Martin on last year to help get the Queen up and running the rivers again. Martin grew up in New Orleans around boats and worked in Washington, D.C., on national boating committees for several years.

He said he feels good about the prospects for Chabot's push to get the exemption the Queen needs to get back on the water for the next 15 years -- and through its 100th birthday.

There's also a question of maintenance. The Queen has been sitting four years. Some of its systems are outdated.

Martin estimates that $1.5 million could solve the boat's mechanical issues. It needs new boilers, a couple of generators and a new fuel system, which would run on diesel, not oil.

The boat is pretty sound otherwise, Martin said Saturday. The engine room is clean, the paddlewheel works and aside from a little cosmetic touch-up here and there, it should be ready to drop jaws again.

"Obviously she's an older vessel, but she's held up pretty well," he said.

And after Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke tried to evict the Queen from downtown, the Ingrams and the mayor's office reached an agreement Sept. 18 giving the boat six more months of mooring next to Coolidge Park.

In the near future, Martin and the Ingrams are expected to announce the Delta Queen's induction into the National Treasures program. Due to a scheduling conflict, the announcement was moved from Saturday.

Appreciation is a status the Queen should enjoy, Martin said.

"She's clearly a national treasure."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at 423-757-6731 or agreen@timesfreepress.com.