AMERICAN QUEEN and The Return of Steam

Shawn Dake reports on the latest developments with the steamboat  AMERICAN QUEEN in the days prior to her much-anticipated return to service.

The AMERICAN QUEEN docks in New Orleans on its first set of trials alongside the Cafe du Monde on March 29, 2012. Photo courtesy of GASC.

It has been nearly four years since an overnight steamboat has graced the waters of the Mississippi River.  The return of the largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built took another step closer to reality as the steamer AMERICAN QUEEN ran a successful cruise March 29th during  its first set of berthing trials. The giant, red 65-ton paddlewheel achieved 17 revolutions per minute while running along the river near New Orleans.  According to Greg Brown, the Executive Vice-President of Operations for the Great American Steamboat Company, ” We fired up the boilers and applied power to the big wheel as we pulled away from our berth on Perry Street where we’re putting the finishing touches on the AMERICAN QUEEN.  We quickly achieved about 17 revolutions a minute and had plenty of steam power left. For those not familiar with the workings of a steam-powered paddlewheel riverboat, we got up to speed quite quickly. In other words, we would have made Mark Twain proud. Overall, the new propulsion and control systems operated perfectly. A few added bonuses included a significant reduction in vibration and noise in the Engine Room Bar thanks to our new technology.”  The AMERICAN QUEEN cruised the Mississippi River along the French Quarter for three hours before conducting berthing trials in front of the famed Café Du Monde on the Riverwalk.

The officers and crew are aboard and the excitement is building for the return of “steamboating” to the rivers of America.  No voyage like this has been made since the final trip of the wonderful old DELTA QUEEN in November, 2008.  On April 13th,  the AMERICAN QUEEN embarks on her first voyage and on the 19th will depart New Orleans, traveling up the Mississippi River to her homeport of Memphis at Beale Street Landing, where christening festivities led by Godmother Priscilla Presley will take place April 27, 2012. After the christening, the AMERICAN QUEEN will depart for her official inaugural voyage up the Mississippi River to the Ohio River with stops in Henderson, Ky., Louisville, Ky., and Madison, Ind., before concluding the cruise in the City of Cincinnati, Ohio.  In Louisville she will take part in the time-honored tradition of the Kentucky Derby Festival’s Great Steamboat Race with the veteran, 1914-built steamboat BELLE OF LOUISVILLE (ex IDLEWILD, AVALON) and 1991-built diesel-driven BELLE OF CINCINNATI (ex EMERALD LADY).  Three sternwheelers racing on the river should be a site to behold.

AMERICAN QUEEN photo courtesy of GASC.

The Great American Steamboat Company, based in Memphis, Tennessee is the owner and operator of the American-flagged, American-built, American-owned and American-crewed Steamboat AMERICAN QUEEN.  Many of those individuals involved in this new venture are returning to river cruising after stints with the former Delta Queen Steamboat Company during it’s heyday.  River cruising is a singularly unique experience that offers a wonderfully different alternative to big-ship ocean cruises.  On the AMERICAN QUEEN the maximum capacity is only 436-guests who sail in the authentic style inspired by the palatial Mississippi steamboats that existed in the era of Mark Twain and which he wrote so fondly about in books such as Life On The Mississippi.  The return of this boat represents one of the very few opportunities left in the world to travel on a vessel propelled by steam.

In some final words from his blog, Greg Brown nicely sums up the status of the final preparations today.  “It’s been a big few days for the AMERICAN QUEEN and the Great American Steamboat Company. The drills are done. The paddlewheel and steam powerplant have been tested. We’ve practiced docking at our new wharf. The beds are being made, the tables are being set, the floors swept and the chandeliers shined. The majestic AMERICAN QUEEN is just days away from her return to service.”

Shawn Dake

Shawn Dake

Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years.  A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary.  A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs.  Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America.  With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
Shawn Dake
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