Nichols Brothers Boat Builders
of Whidbey Island and Seattle-based American West Steamboat Company, owned by Henry Hillman, Jr., CEO of Oregon Rail Corp., launched the newly constructed overnight sternwheeler cruise ship Empress of the North. The 360-ft. sternwheeler was transferred on a specially designed rail system into Holmes Harbor, where it launched.
Designed by Seattle naval architects, Guido Perla & Associates, construction of the Empress of the North began at Nichols Brothers' shipyard in April, 2002. She is the largest ship built by Nichols Brothers, with over 350 employees on the job and approximately 300,000 man-hours involved in the project. Four decks high, the ship accommodates 235 passengers and 84 crew and features 117 all-outside suites and staterooms, of which 105 have private verandahs. More than 3,500 short tons (7,000,000 lbs.) of fabricated steel went into the ship's construction. "This has been an incredible project," says Matt Nichols
, owner and president of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders.
"It was great to see her float off and head down the har bor." The first to ply Alaska's Inside Passage in over 100 years, this new authentic paddlewheel driven cruise ship will operate four 11-night cruises between Seattle and Juneau in 2003.
After each Alaska season, the Empress of the North will reposition to Portland, Oregon, where she will operate eight-night cruises between October and May on the Columbia, Snake and Willamette Rivers along with her sister-ship, the 163-passenger Queen of the West, also built by Nichols Brothers.