Originally created 03/15/03

Canal boat takes shape



TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. - The 65-foot hull is almost too big for Rusty Fleetwood's warehouse.

"If it were a few feet longer, we'd have a problem," he said, surveying the cigar-shaped vessel that almost touches the front and back walls.

Mr. Fleetwood's company - WBG Marine - has built plenty of boats in the past, but nothing like the watercraft designed to ferry visitors along Augusta's historic canal.

"Any time you build a boat that's never been built before, you can expect lots of surprises," he said. "And it's hard to predict a schedule."

The canal boat, scheduled to arrive in Augusta later this year, is a blend of history and technology that will weigh 22,000 pounds fully loaded.

On the outside, it resembles the famous Petersburg boats that once hauled cotton between Colonial Augusta and upstate plantations. Inside, it will employ an electric propulsion system that will let it move in silence.

"There were lots of challenges designing this boat, and one of them was using electric motors, because gasoline motors aren't allowed in the canal," said Dayton Sherrouse, the Augusta Canal Authority's director.

The first of two boats commissioned to WBG by the Canal Authority is being fashioned with a fiberglass skin built around a stiff interior hull. A second hull will be created from a casting taken from the first boat.

Later this month, technicians hope to begin installing the electric propulsion system, which includes four 895-pound electric batteries mounted deep in the boat's keel.

The position of the 960-amp batteries serves a dual purpose by adding ballast to the boat.

"It'll be stable as a church," Mr. Fleetwood said. "But it will be ponderous and slow."

With two motors and two out-drives needed to turn the vessel within the canal's slender channel, piloting skills will be paramount, he said.

"It will definitely take some on-the-job training to operate," Mr. Fleetwood said.

The first pair of boats will be based at the visitors center scheduled to open next month at Enterprise Mill, with additional docks at Chafee Park and the canal headgates.

The boats will seat about 50 people each. The maximum speed of 6 miles per hour could allow the boats to complete a tour of the canal in about an hour.

The cost for the boats and related docking sites is about $772,000.

Funding was acquired from grants the canal authority received through the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act.

"It'll be stable as a church, but it will be ponderous and slow." - Rusty Fleetwood, on the Petersburg boat replicas his company is building for the Augusta Canal

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.