Delta Queen docks at new home

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 12, 2009

From staff and AP reports

An exiled queen has docked in Chattanooga and is being readied for a new reign.

The Delta Queen, the 82-year-old sternwheel riverboat that steamed the Mississippi and other inland rivers, arrived Wednesday to become a floating hotel on the Tennessee River. The city held an afternoon of welcome festivities to mark the boat’s new venture.

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The Queen, which has a capacity for 176 guests, ceased carrying overnight cruise passengers Nov. 1, when its longtime exemption from the Safety of Life at Seas Act expired.

The act limits to 50 the number of overnight passengers the boat can carry because its wooden superstructure is deemed a fire hazard. Ambassadors International, parent company of Majestic Lines, which operated the Delta Queen and its sister riverboats, the American Queen and the Mississippi Queen, has said that number does not support continued operations.

Even before the exemption expired, the company put the Mississippi Queen and the larger, more modern boats up for sale last year. No bookings were taken for this year on any of the three.

The Delta Queen was the last traditional steamboat on inland waterways. It first docked in Vicksburg in September 1948 and last docked here Nov. 3 on its way to New Orleans, where it was expected to winter. The move to Chattanooga and new life as a dockside hotel was announced in January.

It will be leased to Harry Phillips, owner of Chattanooga Water Taxi and Fat Cat Ferry, and will be operated by Sydney Slome, owner of Chattanooga’s StoneFort Inn.

The lease specifies that the boat — built in 1925, named to the National Register of Historic Places, declared a National Historic Landmark and nominated as one of America’s Most Endanged Historic Places — cannot be altered.

Chattanooga fire officials say the vessel has a sprinkler system and will be thoroughly inspected before operating.