The J.W. Herron pushes the Delta Queen through the Chief John Ross Bridge in Chattanooga. (Photo by Michael Taylor)
When Vince Schu spoke to The Waterways Journal, The Delta Queen was at Mile 420 of the Tennessee River, waiting to get through the Wilson Locks. Schu, a manager of specialty cargo at Ceres Barge Lines, was managing some special cargo indeed: the Delta Queen is being towed to Larose, La., from Chattanooga, Tenn., where it has been a floating hotel. It was purchased by a group of investors headed by Cornel Martin, newly organized as The Delta Queen Steamboat Company.
Martin formerly worked for The Delta Queen before it was moored in Chattanooga after losing its Congressional exemption from the 1966 Safety of Life At Sea Act, which was restored in the House of Representatives and is awaiting action by the Senate.
“It has always been our vision to see the Delta Queen restored and put back into service,” said Martin, who is now president and chief executive officer of the newly formed Delta Queen Steamboat Company.
“Her restoration has been a long time coming, and we are thrilled for passengers to soon have the opportunity to explore America’s heartland onboard an authentic 1927 steamboat whose history is as rich as the rivers it sails.”
“The crew had a nice send-off in Chattanooga,” said Schu. “Several thousand people saw them off.”
The Delta Queen is being towed by the J.W. Herron, built in 1967 and formerly known as the Tunica, Mary Claire, and ACCU V before being given its current name in 2011 by Graestone Logistics LLC of Murray, Ky. The Herron carries six crewmembers, plus three Delta Queen employees who will be assisting the crew as necessary. The transit is expected to take between two and three weeks.
Schu said the Lower Mississippi route was chosen (rather than down the Tenn-Tom system) because of fewer bridge issues and because of concern about the transit across Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound.
Schu doesn’t know how many bidders tried for the haul, but he said the winning bid was about more than price. “We’ve moved a lot of goofy stuff. Anything challenging is good for us. We looked for people who had experience moving stuff like this.”
During this voyage, the Delta Queen is considered cargo, not a vessel, so no one is onboard except the occasional deckhand making sure everything is secure, and a lookout person on the bow during daylight hours.
After an extensive refit, it is expected to return to service sometime in 2016. “It needs new steam boilers,” said Schu, after which it will be the only passenger vessel to be propelled solely by steam-driven paddlewheels. It will also get brand new generators and have the hotel rooms completely renovated.