Originally created 04/28/01

Authority updates canal vessels



Tour boats destined to become one of the Augusta Canal's signature features will be under construction later this year. But designing the unique vessels wasn't without challenges.

"It has to navigate the canal, which is shallow, narrow, has lots of overpasses and underpasses and a strong current," said Rusty Fleetwood, a Savannah boat builder who helped design the 65-foot vessels.

The boats - for which the Augusta Canal Authority expects to seek bids in June - will be modeled after the famous Petersburg boats that once hauled cotton between Augusta and upstate plantations.

The narrow, cigar-shaped boats were adapted specifically to move among the shoals of the unpredictable Savannah River. Their slender design also enabled them to move through locks and along the canal.

Mr. Fleetwood helped build the wooden Petersburg boat replica on display at the Augusta-Richmond County Historical Museum. But the modernized tourist version will be made of fiberglass.

"The appearance will be like the Petersburg boat,," he said. "We've used the basic shape and modified it to Coast Guard specifications and to carry passengers."

The design calls for a 65-foot vessel that is 11 feet, 9 inches wide with seating capacity for 48 adults weighing 160 pounds apiece, plus a two-person crew, Mr. Fleetwood said.

The boats will be powered by two electric motors wired to 900-pound batteries in the hull. Its maximum speed of 6 mph would allow it to complete a tour of the canal in about an hour.

Canal Authority Director Dayton Sherrouse said the estimate for a pair of boats and docking facilities in three locations is about $718,000, although those estimates are several years old.

The boats would be kept at the planned visitors center at Enterprise Mill, with additional docks at Chafee Park and the Canal Headgates.

Funding for the projects is expected to come from grants the Augusta Canal Authority received through the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act (ISTEA).

ISTEA generates $25 billion a year through the 18.3-cent federal gas tax and guides how those funds are spent. ISTEA's allocations to the canal are to enhance transportation corridors that encourage nonmotorized traffic.

Mr. Fleetwood coordinated the design package. Others involved in the project included Mike Alford, a North Carolina naval architect; Rob Schofield, a marine engineer from Florida specializing in laminate design; and Glenn Newton of DC Power Systems, who helped design the electric propulsion system.

Once a builder is selected, the construction process is likely to take at least six months, Mr. Sherrouse said.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.