Edmonton Queen captain treading water after riverboat renovation

A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.

The old adage has proven true for Jay Esterer, the owner and captain of the Edmonton Queen.

After purchasing the iconic boat in an online auction in May 2016, the Edmonton businessman has completely refurbished the vessel.

The renovation included cosmetic upgrades to the interior; fresh paint, new flooring and fixtures, and in the bowels of the ship, an overhaul of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

‘It hasn’t made a dime’ 

The ship will serve as a floating cafe and event space, as soon as Esterer is granted all the necessary permits.

Before revealing the upgrades to the media Thursday morning, he admitted that the old wooden ship has been a money pit. 

“There’s been a lot of money dumped into the water yeah, it’s been pretty expensive,” said Esterer in an interview with CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM.

“It’s only cost money so far. It hasn’t made a dime yet.”

It’s also said that boats develop a mind of their own once they are named and christened, and the Queen has certainly proved to be a difficult mistress.

Although the vessel it is now in working order, regulatory hurdles have repeatedly threatened to sink Esterer’s riverboat fantasy.

The paddlewheeler-style riverboat was built in Edmonton in 1993 and is registered with Transport Canada. (CBC)

 He hopes to resume regular sailing of the Queen in 2018, but he’s s treading water while the city reviews his application to hold events.

Pulling anchor on the only riverboat in town isn’t easy, said Esterer, who made his money in the manufacturing industry.

“That is one of the problems, is the city doesn’t know what to do with the ship,” Esterer said. 

“They don’t have any comparables, so they have to rewrite all the rules. For example, there are no zoning laws for the boat.”

The paddlewheeler-style boat was built in Edmonton in 1993 and is registered with Transport Canada. It’s been docked at Rafter’s Landing since 2015, when it was grounded by low water levels.

Esterer purchased the iconic river boat from its longtime caretakers River Boat Inc for $553,000.

Although he now owns one of most mammoth crafts to ever cruise the North Saskatchewan River, Esterer is hardly a hardened sailor.

While the one-time race car driver is committed to seeing the Queen restored to her former glory, he’s reluctant to describe his new sailing career as a labour of love. 

“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Esterer with a chuckle. “I got the project and I’m going to finish the project. I’m not going to leave halfway through. I’m committed to finishing. 

“I like old things. I think the boat is cool. I guess I have an attachment of the idea of the boat.”

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