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Date of Issue: November 09, 2006

Cortez Showboat is no more

shack boat

The paddlewheeler "Showboat," a fixture along the Cortez waterfront and on Sarasota Bay for many years, is transferring to the Virginia coast.

Ham Jones, who had the ship built in Louisville, Ky., in 1983, said unsuspected problems with the hull forced him to a decision between spending maybe a quarter of a million dollars and putting the ship out of commission locally, and he opted for a sale of his favorite vessel.

She was scheduled for a mandatory five-year U.S. Coast Guard inspection for a permit that expired at the end of October, he said. So he had her taken to a yard in Tarpon Springs for the hauling and checkup.

There, he discovered yet another reason to miss the late Capt. John Boozer, longtime Showboat skipper who fell ill many months ago and died.

"He kept her in fine condition all through," Jones said, "but when he got sick there was nobody with the knowledge he had to keep track of any weaknesses that may have been developing."

A weakness turned up in the Tarpon Springs check - electrolysis, of course invisible, had damaged the aluminum hull. It would cost between $80,000 and $250,000 to put Showboat in shape again.

So new owners will take her around the Florida peninsula and north to Norfolk, Va., where she will be berthed and repaired before going into service as a dinner boat out of Roanoke Island.

She's an old lady at 23, Jones said, and "I'll miss her a lot. She's been a faithful old gal."

Brand new, she came down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and crossed the Gulf to Cortez in 1983, and her original engines ran all the way to 2001. They were replaced by new diesels then.

Rated by the Coast Guard for 324 people, she was the largest passenger vessel in the area, Jones said.

En route to Norfolk, she spent Saturday night here and then went on to the Atlantic.

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