A modern-day paddlewheeler sets sail

By Michelle Baran
InsightWhen the 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi set sail this month, making it the first paddlewheeler built in the U.S. since the American Queen launched in 1995, it begged the question: Why a paddlewheeler?

After all, according to Bruce Nierenberg, who served as president of former paddlewheeler heavyweight the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., paddlewheelers “have no technical advantage over regular propulsion systems.”

The Queen of the Mississippi, built by American Cruise Lines at the Chesapeake Shipbuilding yard in Salisbury, Md., launches at a time when sleek vessel designs such as Viking’s Longship or Avalon’s Panorama dominate the waterways of Europe. So why not introduce something similar on the Mississippi? (View a slideshow from the Queen of the Mississippi.)

American Cruise Lines CEO Charles Robertson said the line “never even considered another design.” After surveying past Mississippi River cruise passengers, the company found that “an overwhelming majority prefer to do it on the paddlewheeler” since, according to Robertson, that’s the legacy of the Mississippi River.

As for whether it was a challenge to build the first paddlewheeler to launch in the U.S. in 17 years, Robertson said that “there’s quite a bit of design data for paddlewheels.” The only challenge, he noted, is that the paddlewheel is big and heavy — it weighs more than 20 tons.

No doubt American Cruise Lines thought it was worth the weight.
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