Side-wheeler goes out today on its first harbor cruise

May 08, 1994|By Karen E. Ludwig | Karen E. Ludwig,Contributing Writer

Visitors to the Inner Harbor soon will be able to travel in turn-of-the-century Southern style.

The Harbor Belle, a replica of an 1890s Mississippi River side-wheeler, is scheduled to offer its first public harbor cruise today.

The boat, which can carry 149 people, will pick up passengers at the tip of Pier 5, and cruise around the harbor and to the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge and back, according to owner Leonard J. Schleider. Lunch, brunch and dinner cruises will be offered regularly.

Real side-wheelers haven't frequented Baltimore's harbor since the 1930s. The 61-foot Harbor Belle is less than one-fourth the size of the side-wheelers of the Old Bay Line, which operated between Baltimore and Norfolk for more than a century. The steel-hulled Harbor Belle has two decks and moving paddle wheels, but is actually propeller-driven -- by two 140-horsepower engines. Built in 1986, it has traveled around the country under various names, including Hiawatha, Spirit of Lake City and Spirit of Miami.

Mr. Schleider, president of the SCI Catering Group in Baltimore, bought the Harbor Belle in November.

"I'm a daydreamer," Mr. Schleider said. "I'm in love with the water and the past."

The Harbor Belle, which was brought to Baltimore from Miami in March, is docked at the Center Dock Marina in Fells Point.

By docking the boat there, Harbor Belle Inc. will support the nonprofit Living Classroom Foundation, which helps at-risk youth through education and job training, said foundation executive director James Piper Bond. The marina is part of the Living Classroom Maritime Institute.

Students at the institute help operate the 48-slip marina, acquiring skills and experience in carpentry and maritime trades. They will do routine projects aboard the Harbor Belle, Mr. Bond said.

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