Latest Salisbury Shipbuilding creation leaves port

ship

A new carefully crafted five-story paddleboat named The America, built at Chesapeake Shipbuilders, left Sunday on a trial run to Crisfield, then headed to New Orleans.

An overnight passenger mini-cruise ship, it holds 150 passengers and is similar to The American Eagle, built at the Salisbury plant and described to the Salisbury Independent by Tony Severn, president of Chesapeake Shipbuilders, as one of the few in the country.

“Everything was done by hand. There is a lot of handwork, welding, all the interior work, all the plumbing, electrical, carpet. Everything is done right here,” Severn said.

Both paddle boats are 260 feet long and 60 feet wide. Severn wouldn’t reveal the costs.

“These are the type of cruises that a company does primarily for older, retired people,” he said about the The American Eagle.

“It doesn’t have a casino. It’s very quiet with a lot of personal service. It goes to small towns. It goes to Crisfield, St. Michaels, Cambridge, and then it goes on the inner-coastal waterways and stops at places like Charleston, Savannah. They give tours and then people come back for dinner on the boat. The average age of the passengers is late 60s,” he explained.

In January of 2015, The American Eagle, nearly identical to the newer America, was purchased by American Cruise Lines, based in Connecticut.

Chesapeake Shipbuilders is the only shipyard on the Chesapeake Bay other than those where U.S. Navy work is done.

In a typical year, the local company builds one and one-half boats, and two in some years. In 2014, two were delivered, and in 2015, there were plans for three.

The company receives orders for boats, most that stay in the United States, and some that stay in Puerto Rico or Costa Rica.

Chesapeake Shipbuilders, on Fitzwater Street, opened in 1981. The property had been a shipyard until the 1950s, when it was abandoned before being reopened in 1981.

“For a lot of years it was pretty low key and an unglamorous, rough operation. It struggled for a few years. It was pretty much derelict buildings,” Severn said.

When Chesapeake Shipbuilders opened in 1981, there were six employees, and now there are nearly 200. Now, the yard spreads over 13 acres, with about 2,000 feet of bulkhead on the Wicomico Rive

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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