Repair & Conversion: Gaming Boat to Live Again

Thursday, December 18, 2003

New York-Area Dinner boat Operator Cornucopia Cruises To Renovate 1,200-Passenger Gaming Boat For Excursion/ Charter Operations

By Larry Pearson

The building of commercial vessels is very much a boom and bust business. Those of you that have been around for a while remembers the oil and gas boom days of the late 1970's and the bust that followed in the 1980's. Most of the southern shipyards did not actually recover from those dog days until the late 1980's when passenger vessel owners started ordering excursion/dinner boats in significant numbers.

Typically these vessels had two or even three enclosed passenger decks with passenger capacities in the 450-600 range.

Following on this mini-boom was the emergence of the gaming boat, actually an excursion boat with slot machines. Sure there were major differences as far as the Coast Guard was concerned since the gaming vessels typically sailed with more than 1,000 passengers making them "H" class vessels. However, many bore a strong resemblance to dinner/ excursion boats even though as H vessels structural fire protection and other safety rules were mandated for these vessels because of their large passenger capacities.

The race to get gaming vessels in the water intensified as one state after another passed legislation allowing riverboat gaming. From 1991 through 1997, more than 100 of these vessels were built to operate in the six states that passed supporting legislation.

One of these vessels was built for Harrah's operation in Joliet, Ill. Called the Northern Star, the 210-ft. long by 67-ft. wide gaming vessel with a 15-ft. deep hull was designed for 1200 gaming positions, the maximum allowed by Illinois law. (A slot machine is one gaming position; a blackjack table was normally five-six positions and so on).

Built in 1993 by the now defunct Service Marine Industries, Amelia, La., the vessel operated until 1999 for Harrah's in Joliet until it was replaced with another vessel. The vessel spent a year tied up in the Joliet area and then sent to Orange, Texas where it joined three other Harrah's gaming vessels that suffered a similar fate.

After almost three years in the Orange facility, the Northern Star was sold to Cornucopia Cruises of Perth Amboy, NJ. The company operates the 400-passenger vessel Cornucopia Princess on scheduled and charter cruises in the New York City metro area. Owned by Mustafa Kilic, Cornucopia Cruises intends to operate the vessel as the Cornucopia Majesty.

The boat broker was Lou Daleo, owner of Coastal Marine Ltd., Houston, Texas. The vessel sailed from Orange, Texas to the Bollinger Quick Repair shipyard on the Harvey Canal near New Orleans in mid November. Chris Dinger, a Harrah's marine engineer is on loan to Cornucopia Cruises to oversee the repair work needed on the vessel. "The boat is in fantastic shape," Dinger said. "While the vessel was at Orange we started the engines periodically and ran the air handlers to make sure the interior did not deteriorate," Dinger added.

As proof of the condition of the vessel, it sailed under its own power to Louisiana without assist or problems. Main engines in the vessel are Caterpillar 3508's. Like all gaming boats, the Northern Star has plenty of electrical generating capacity. A trio of 500 kW generators are powered by Caterpillar 3412 diesel engines. "The vessel will probably operate with two of the generators on line at one time, rotating their use," Dinger said.

At Bollinger, the vessel was dry docked so underside repairs could be carried out. "Underside repairs are about what you would expect of a vessel in extended lay up," said Elvin Cheramie, project manager for Bollinger. "Much of the work we will do on the vessel while on dock will be inspected by the Coast Guard for the vessel's COI. When the boat gets to New Jersey all of the essential Coast Guard requirements will be completed here, saving the owner the time and expense of another dry docking" Cheramie added,

Both propellers were removed from the boat, inspected and repitched to 58 degrees. The props were also polished and dye checked for surface cracks. The two shafts along with cutlass bearings and seals were replaced. Stuffing boxes were repacked and the magnesium anodes replaced by 80 zinc anodes. "With the vessel now operating in essentially saltwater, the anodes had to be zinc, " Cheramie added.

Other below waterline repairs included inspecting and replacing where necessary the sea chest valves, critical for the Coast Guard five-year inspection. The Walter Machinery keel coolers for the gensets were removed, cleaned and reinstalled using new fittings supplied by Walter. The guards and cooler boxes were blasted and painted before the coolers were reinstalled. . Water from the main engines and generator sets cooling systems was drained.

The water in the potable water tank of approximately 21,000 gallons was pumped out so the tank's interior surface could be inspected and repainted if necessary.

The vessel has a bow thruster powered by a Caterpillar 3208 engine. The propeller was removed so the gouge could be sand blasted and renewed using stainless steel plate. "The main engines, gensets, bow thruster engine and the emergency generator engine appear to be in fine running shape," Chief engineer Dinger said. The Caterpillar dealer may check them out before the vessel departs Bollinger. .

While on dock, the hull was spot blasted from the waterline to the keel and an owner-supplied three-coat paint system applied. Once in the water, a two coat painting system from the waterline to the main deck will be applied.

All pilothouse electronics appear to be in good working order except for some recalibration and possible repair to the radar equipment.

The owner plans adaptive reuse of some of the existing systems on board the vessel. For example, parts of the extensive surveillance system will be kept and used for safety purposes.

In addition, the hard count, soft count and other casino "back of the house" areas in the hull will be turned into a large galley, capable of turning out 1200 meals for a cruise.

The beverage dispensing system will also be retained as well the bars on each deck. "We are looking at the cages and change areas with the possibility of using one as a gift shop and the others as waiter stations," owner Kilic said. . The vessel also has a service elevator that connects the hull with the three decks above. Originally used to transport coin and gaming table drop boxes, the elevator will serve to transport the food to the three passenger decks. Other systems onboard the vessel will be inspected and repaired as needed. "The elevators are one of the systems that needs to be inspected before the vessel leaves the shipyard," said Cheramie.

The Cornucopia Majesty features three enclosed decks plus an open top deck. A major design element in the boat is a three-deck atrium aft. These three decks are connected by an all glass elevator outlined in lights. The size of this atrium will make this boat appear to be even larger than it is for an elegant, very expansive dining and entertainment experience. Entertainment, a wedding or a corporate presentation could be held on the main deck with guests seated the two decks above able to view the event.

Like most gaming vessels, the Northern Star had a very expensive interior with considerable wood moldings, elaborate bars, glass inlaid interior doors, custom carpet, lush wall coverings and a very detailed aluminum ceiling. The entire interior is in remarkable condition in spite of the lay up. Very little work other than cleaning will have to be done to the passenger areas.

The Cornucopia Majesty will be the largest dining vessel in the New York City market with seating for 1200 guests. This will allow Cornucopia Cruises to book large parties or corporate events that now cannot be accommodated on a single vessel. Cornucopia Cruises is planning to put the new vessel into service next spring, spending considerable time this winter at her homeport in Perth Amboy, NJ. making everything "just right" before debuting in America's largest dining boat market.

Truth is, there are several gaming boats available at very good prices that can be converted to excursion/charter use.

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