‘Queen’ winters in the water

NW dd4 PHOTO songo river queen docked diagonal

The Songo River Queen II is in the unprecedented position of being wintered in the water on the Causeway. Ice Eaters, a brand of aquatherms, are keeping the ice melted around the paddleboat replica. (De Busk Photo)


By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — The Songo River Queen II is in a familiar place during the wrong time of the year.

In the heart of winter, Naples’ well-known paddleboat replica sits dockside wrapped in a tarp and surrounded by ice and snow.

The Queen — which is part of the scene to which people are accustomed from May through October — is usually tucked out-of-sight during the winter months.

According to owner Kent Uicker, a lack of communication contributed to why the Queen is spending an unprecedented winter in the water on the Causeway.

“The state didn’t communicate with anyone when they started lowering the water levels a month earlier than usual, in October. They were expecting fall rains, which we never got,” he said.

According to Uicker, the water was already extra low when the state started an early drawdown to repair the gates at the locks.

“They took the gates completely out to repair and replace them. That let out a larger amount of water in a shorter period of time,” he said.

Shortly after the leaf-peeping season, Uicker was driving the Queen to its usual winter spot on Long Lake when the boat, “grounded out behind Pine Island, which is a main navigational channel, which shows how shallow the water was,” he said.

“To make a long story short, we had to bring it back to the dock,” he said.

“It was going to have to stay in the water,” he said.

“I had to get a hold of an electrician to put in aquatherms to keep the water from freezing,” he said.

Before Uicker could install the aquatherms, he had to switch the dock’s electrical outlets from 110 volts to 230 volts.

He went through the marine supply company, The Power House, Inc. to buy a product called the Ice Eater, he said.

“It is doing a great job,” he said, adding that the water around the boat is open.

Aquathermal products work based on two principals: They circulate the water from the bottom, which is always warmer and doesn’t freeze; and secondly, an aquatherm makes the water move, which prevents it from turning into ice, Uicker said.

“We all know that moving water doesn’t freeze,” he said.

Uicker has owned the Songo River Queen II since 2009, when he purchased it from Frank Gerrish.

“Its home is always on Long Lake. During the summer, it is docked here. During the winter, Long Lake is where it is beached,” Uicker said.

“The normal dropping of the lake levels allows the boat to become dry docked on the shore. Then, in the spring, the melt off and the closing gates bring the water levels up, and it can float again,” he said.

“Then, I can drive it right down to dock,” he said.

Longtime resident and businessman Dan Allen, who owns Causeway Marina, said this is the first time Songo River Queen II has not been dry-docked for winter’s duration.

“As far as I know, the Queen has never been wintered on the Causeway,” Allen said.

The dry dock for the Queen used to be on Brandy Pond. Both the first and the second River Queen were built on the Causeway Marina property, he said.

“Several years ago, it started winter birthing on Colonial Mast’s beach,” Allen said.

“They couldn’t get there this year because of the low water,” he said.

Allen said he talked to Uicker about the series of events that led to the stranding of the Queen.

“I feel bad for him. The spring ice could hurt it,” Allen said.

Uicker said it isn’t the best-case scenario; but, the Ice Eaters should protect the boat from ice damage.

“We don’t like to leave it in the water over the winter,” he said, “but, in this case, we had to.”

“Being able to dry dock the Queen allows us to do some routine maintenance and inspect the hull,” he said, adding that divers will likely take a look-see at the hull this spring.

Despite the setbacks to winterizing the Queen, Uicker is busy taking plenty of reservations for summer 2014.

“About 25 private charters already have been booked, and it is only mid-January,” he said.

“We’ve booked everything from private reunions, a lot of weddings, graduations, a couple class reunions, and some birthday parties. The Lions Club has reserved three dance cruises,” he said.

“It’s already looking like a busy and active season,” he said.

“Plus, I am assured to get the boat back to the dock on a timely basis. It’s already there,” he said.

“That is the positive lining in an otherwise negative situation,” he said.

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