Nichol's Bros. Will Build American West Steamboat

Friday, January 18, 2002
Henry Hillman, Jr., president of American West Steamboat in Seattle, announced early in December that Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, Inc., had been selected to build the “Empress of the North,” a 360 by 60 ft. sternwheeler that will be the Whidbey Island, Washington’s yard largest single-boat contract. The vessel, which will accommodate 236 overnight cruise guests and 84 crewmembers, will be utilized for cruises in season in southeast Alaska and the Columbia/Snake River complex. Reportedly, the “Empress” will be the first sternwheeler on the Inside Passage in more than 100 years.

Hillman said that construction and outfitting costs are expected to exceed $50 million. The United States Maritime Administration will provide a loan guarantee to facilitate funding of the project, he said. Guido Perla & Associates, Inc., Seattle based naval architects and marine engineers, designed the “Empress.” It is a “stretched” version of the “Queen of the West,” a sternwheeler now operated by American West Steamboat on Columbia and Snake River Cruises. Nichols Brothers also built this vessel, which went into service in 1995. Hillman said the “Empress” will be delivered by May 2003 in time for a full Alaska cruise season. It will be repositioned to Portland, Ore., in September for inaugural cruises on the Columbia, Snake, and Willamette rivers to begin the three-year celebration of the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial.

An all-diesel-electric vessel, basic power for the vessel will be supplied by four 1800-rpm caterpillar 3516B diesel engines with KATO generators putting out 1825 kw each. The “hotel set” or service generator will consist of an 1800-rpm 3406 Caterpillar diesel with a 315 generator. Matt Nichols, president of the shipbuilding firm, said that all engines will meet regional and International Maritime Organization) emissions and antipollution standards. Two DC2000 General Electric motors will drive Schottel STP 1212 200-hp twin-blade Z-drives for primary propulsion while a DC1000 General Electric motors will power the paddlewheel. Another 1000-hp GE motor will supply electricity to a Schottel jet pump bow thruster. Service speed of the vessel at full load draft is expected to be 14 knots.

The vessel was designed in accordance with American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) Rules for Building and Classing passenger vessels intended for service on coastal routes. It will comply with U.S. coast Guard rules and regulations, Subchapter H, CFR Parts 70 to 89 for ocean vessels. It will also conform to the latest Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) rules for passenger ships employed in international voyages. It will also be a quiet ship, Nichols said. Low noise levels of 60 to 65 dB(A) will be required in passenger and crew staterooms, and no more than 75 db(A) on open decks.

The design draft will be 12 ft. with a full load draft of 12.5 ft. Depth to the main deck amidships will be 20 ft. And it will have an “air draft” from the design load waterline to the crown atop the wheelhouse of 52 ft. Displacement at design draft will be an estimated 3,614 long tonnes, that at full load draft, 3,812 long tones. Vessel will be under 250 gross tons. Principal capacities include 75,350 gallons of fuel oil at 96 percent and 57,154 gallons of fresh water at 100 percent.

Joel Perry, vice president of marketing for American West Steamboat, described some “signature design elements.” A high ceiling, chandeliered dining room that will handle all passengers at a single seating. A lavish main showroom for showboat-style entertainment. A Paddle Wheel Lounge overlooking the turning sternwheel. A Calliope Bar and Grill on the top deck. Some 112 suites and staterooms, most with private verandas and all with large view windows. A historian naturalist will deliver an ongoing interpretive program and be curator for the vessel’s extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, pictures, and historic artifacts.

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