Originally created 09/30/03

Work nears end on canal boat



It took 2 1/2 years to build the Titanic, and even longer to create the first of the Augusta Canal's unique tour boats.

But after years of design - and some innovative fabrication - the first of two electric propulsion vessels is nearly complete and could arrive in Augusta as early as next week.

"This is a very unusual, one-of-a-kind boat, and it's taken a lot of work and trial and error to get it where it is today," said Dayton Sherrouse, the executive director of the Augusta Canal Authority.

The boats, replicas of the cigar-shaped Petersburg boats that hauled freight along the canal in the 1800s, were a challenge to build because of their unique propulsion system and adaptation to the narrow canal.

Rusty Fleetwood, who designed and later was hired to build the boats, fabricated the 65-foot hulls in his warehouse on Tybee Island, Ga.

Mr. Sherrouse said the first boat - named Henry Cumming after the Augusta lawyer who proposed the canal and financed initial land surveys for the project - will be brought to Augusta by truck.

Because of its size, the flatbed trailer transporting the boat will require escort vehicles with "wide load" signs. Once in town, a large crane will hoist the boat into the canal.

The boat is designed to hold up to 50 passengers and would weigh 22,000 pounds fully loaded. The Coast Guard, which regulates boats used for public transportation, will have to certify the load limits.

That will involve using water-filled barrels to simulate passengers, Mr. Sherrouse said. Once the seating capacity is established, the seats will be installed in Augusta.

The second tour boat, named after William Phillips, the chief engineer who designed the canal, is under construction, Mr. Sherrouse said.

"The hull is finished, but the insides are still being worked on, and the motors are being installed. That one is several months away," he said.

Both boats will be based at the visitors center at Enterprise Mill, with additional docks at Chafee Park and the Canal Headgates.

The cost for both boats and related docking sites is about $772,000. Funding was acquired from federal grants.

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