BURLINGTON, Vt. – The Spirit of Ethan Allen III will cruise Lake Champlain with passengers soon, cutting back on capacity and adding new safety guidelines.
The ship’s capacity has been lowered from 500 to 40, with passengers divided among four areas and boarded separately. Masks will also be required.
Late May would typically be one of busiest periods of the year for cruises on Lake Champlain, but large weddings and other events had to be cancelled. Mike Shea, owner of The Spirit of Ethan Allen III, hopes June gradually brings some business back.
“We lost most of our weddings, a lot of corporate parties, and dinner cruises that are usually full,” Shea said. “We haven’t had any of that. We were just given the okay today to have a restaurant with restrictions… We start that tomorrow, it’s a start.”
With many Vermonters likely to ‘staycation’ in the region this summer, Shea thinks interest will return. In addition to possible business from in-state tourism, wedding cruises are still being planned. They’ll just be scaled down.
“We’re going to have a wedding next week for ten people on a scenic cruise,” Shea said. “They’ll be able to come out and have a little small family gathering within the confines of the rules.”
New programs, such as a narrated cruise of Lake Champlain, have also been planned. That will operate for the next several weeks.
“We want moms and dads who are homeschooling and want to get out to come aboard the Spirit of Ethan Allen, and the kids will be able to learn something,” Shea said.
Prior to the COVID-19 breakout, the ship’s staff already had a project on their hands – removing four World War II era engines and replacing them with modern, eco-friendly engines.
The old engines were lifted up through a hole in the floor using a large crane and moved out the ship’s doors. Head Engineer Wilson Tucker said it was a challenge that required precision.
“The learning curve was getting the new engines in,” Tucker said. “It was a lot of days trying to figure out how we were going to set them, the way we were going to set them. We didn’t have to cut the boat up outside or anything, we were able to get them through the door with only a quarter inch of space on each side.”
The engines are projected to cut roughly 457 tons of diesel emissions and 437 tons of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of 17 tractor trailers.
The project was made possible by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Program. They awarded over a quarter million dollars for the effort. It’s the largest grant they’ve ever awarded.