'Like a can opener against the hull': Spring thaw leaves Edmonton Riverboat listing

The rising North Saskatchewan River has taken the Edmonton Riverboat for a rough ride.

On Wednesday morning, the boat formerly known as the Edmonton Queen was tilting precariously in the icy waters, the starboard side nearly submerged.

The boat’s owner, Jay Esterer, said the ship is not sinking as some people assumed but the situation is “not good.” 

“The boat is not doing well,” Esterer said in an interview with CBC News. 

The trouble began two days ago, when water levels began to fluctuate wildly, Esterer said. 

‘Half impaled’

Esterer said his boat is a “sturdy girl” but ice and water are tough adversaries.

He fears the hull been pierced by the large piles beside the dock, Esterer said. The metal poles used to moor the boat usually protrude from the water by about 10 feet.

“Twelve hours ago, the water was two or three metres higher than it is right now,” he said. 

“When the water level went back down, I think [the hull] landed on the piles and it may have perforated the boat … now it’s sort of half impaled.”

Esterer suspects the hull may be filing with water.

“The piles are made out of strong, concrete-filled steel pipes, and the hull of the boat is made of six-millimetre thick steel. So it would be like a can opener against the hull.” 

The boat was pushed into the riverbank, destroying a drawbridge that provides access to the dock. 

Esterer won’t know the full extent of the damage until he can inspect the hull.

But it’s too dangerous to board the ship, so he’ll have to wait until the ice melts. 

“Most of the boat’s weight is being held up by ice right now,” he said.

“If there are in fact piles poking through the boat, we’ll have to cut the piles off, patch the hole and somehow lift the boat off. The boat is 300 tonnes, so you can’t really use a crane to pick it up.”

The Edmonton Riverboat was damaged as water levels in the North Saskatchewan fluctuated wildly this week. (Janet French/CBC)

Due to the pandemic, Esterer had already abandoned the idea of captaining any river cruises this summer. He said he has hull insurance, so the damage may be covered.

The boat was also damaged in December. A maintenance crew had to abandon ship when rising water levels thrust the boat toward the riverbank.

The water level rose by nearly two metres in an hour as an ice jam broke free near downtown and the port side came to rest on the ice floe.

Esterer bought the boat in 2016 for more than $550,000. After years of inactivity, the boat underwent a full restoration and began operating as a floating bar, restaurant and event space in 2018.

Esterer said he has no regrets about his purchase but acknowledges that the boat is a hole in the water that he dumps money into. 

“I can’t say that I regret it because it’s been really fun. We’ve probably had 40,000 guests on there since it opened up again and I think it’s created a lot of good energy.

“I’ve really enjoyed that part of it. But on days like today, it does make you think twice.”

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