The Fintry Queen, has been thrown a lifeline.
The 326-passenger tourist boat, long a fixture on the Kelowna downtown waterfront, has a new owner.
And Andy Schwab, president of the new Okanagan Lake Boat Company Inc., has big plans for the once popular tourist attraction.
Earlier this week, Schwab received confirmation that the bill of sale for the faux paddelwheeler has been registered with Transport Canada in Ottawa, completing the court ordered sale and freeing the ship from all its previous liens and debts.
“It has been a long process that started more than a year ago” said Schwab. “Now we take the next step, finding a home and a future (for the ship).”
No final sale price was announced but Schwab said Thursday he has now spent close to $100,000 on his plan.
At one time, the mortgage holder of the vessel, a Calgary company, was looking for $1.5 million for the ship and another $500,000 was owed to creditors.
Schwab, who operated the Fintry Queen in 1999 and 2000, had represented the Calgary company, which won the right from the courts to sell the ship, in its search for a new buyer.
Despite a lack of interest that search generated, Schwab always felt the ship could be brought back to its glory days as it is in good mechanical condition.
Prior to being docked permanently off Kerry Park in 2009, the ship had $800,000 worth of mechanical work done to it, including engine repairs and replacement of the electric system.
“If you had batteries for it, you could start it up and it would run right away,” said Schwab.
Last year, the city ordered the Fintry Queen removed from its city-owned downtown lakeshore berth and moored in Sutherland Bay to make way for the planned new public pier day-use marina and new commercial dock to be built this spring. The Fintry Queen is not part of the new commercial dock’s plan.
The city was owed $73,000 for back moorage fees for the Fintry Queen and it’s not clear if it received any of that money as a result of the sale to Schwab.
The new owner said other creditors, such as the Cove Resort on the Westside, which was owed $110,000 for damage the vessel did to its dock, and the provincce , which was owed $39,000 for back wages to former staff, had to approve the sale.
He said has been talking to the city about a possible temporary dock off City Park, in front of the site of the former Pavilion building. That building, once used as a restaurant and also as city offices, burned down a few years ago.
Schwab wants to run the Fintry Queen up and down the lake, having it stop at a number of locations, as well as offering dinner cruises.
He said he got the idea for his new company from a poster he saw at the Penticton Museum for the original Okanagan Lake Boat Company, which was established in Naramata in 1897.
The old trade poster from 1912, showed a small passenger craft on the lake with the caption “Ferry service—Summerland-Naramata-Penticton. Special trips to all points on the lake for commercial travellers and tourists.”
“We identified with the image” said Schwab, who sees a future for public transportation on Okanagan Lake, linking communities, parks, wineries and resorts along the shoreline, similar to the historic paddlewheel services provided by the CNR and CPR from 1893 to 1972. “Jump aboard ship in the morning, take a cruise on the lake to a park or winery, catch it again in the afternoon or evening for a stop across the lake or an easy return trip home.”
The Fintry Queen is the largest commercial passenger ship on Okanagan Lake, able to safely transport thousands of passengers annually in most weather conditions.
Originally built as a car ferry in 1948 to carry passengers and vehicles across the lake year-round, it was designed to get close to shore. Her bow boarding ramp permits loading and unloading without the need for extensive shore facilities. It had a fake paddlewheel installed on it in the 1970s and was reborn as a tourist vessel, with a restaurant and a dance floor offering daytime and night time cruises.
Schwab said there is power, water and sewer in the area of City Park where he wants to dock the Fintry Queen and a tender just closed to build permanent washrooms facilities in that area. So, he is hoping to tie into that construction for what he calls a “small, temporary loading pier” at no cost to the city in order to be ready to open this summer.
But to do so, he said he will need the city to approve his request quickly. If it takes a month to do so, he said, he will not be able to start up before July and if it takes any longer will have to wait until next year, as without a summer season, it would not be viable.
Over the 10-year period from 1990 to 2000, Schwab said the Fintry Queen carried an average of 28,000 passengers each summer. The highest passenger count was 39,600.
“In our first season, with construction and renovations, we are projecting only 20,000 passengers. By years two or three, we hope to be carrying 30,000 to 40,000, operating daily between West Kelowna’s Gellatly Bay to Kelowna’s downtown, plus Saturdays to Fintry Provincial Park, with stops at several communities and parks along the way.”
There were over 25 historic ports of call on the old CPR sailing routes for the paddlewheelers.
“Our projections used an average ticket price of $8.50 per passenger, $10 for adults, $6 for children. Travel time from Gellatly Bay to City Park would be about an hour.”
Docking the Fintry Queen in City Park would accomplishes a number of the objectives sited in Kelowna’s Downtown Plan, said Schwab. It would attract people to City Park from the downtown and cultural districts, increase the sense of safety in City Park at night and encourage private sector investment, not only downtown but throughout the valley.
“Having the Fintry Queen travelling to all points on Okanagan Lake will honour the past, create an attractive focal point for residents and visitors and provide an immediate answer to where shall we take our guests today.”
He said the District of West Kelowna has recently approved a budget for the design of new facilities at the old CNR Wharf in Gellatly Bay and he hopes to go before Kelowna and West Kelowna councils and the regional district board in the coming weeks to get the go-ahead for temporary facilities to start his new venture.
“We recently met with the Friends of Fintry Society and will be approaching B.C. Parks.”
Schwab said his company intends to raise $250,000 to get the Fintry Queen started, $100,000 of which will pay for new docks, $50,000 to bring the ship’s certificates up to date and $50,000 for renovations.
The previous owners spent an estimated $800,000 between 2004 and 2008.
“Every wire and light switch, all the breaker panels, pumps, fire suppression systems, shafts and propellers, were new” said Schwab. “Most of the improvements we will make will be cosmetic. The main engines were rebuilt and are very economical to run. Fuel costs are just $25 an hour to cruise at 6-8 knots and carry 326 passengers. That works out to $0.08 per person per hour, an enviable environmental achievement.”
“Once we have a loading pier, we can complete the financing” said Schwab, who plans to raise capital through a limited partnership or public offering.
“We anticipate a lot of support from the local tourism businesses which stands to improve sales based on the increased tourist traffic generated by the Fintry Queen. We hope to create for everyone in this valley a piece of our history and a memorable experience.”