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New home for Dixie Belle? Owners want paddleboat parked outside the London Bridge Resort

The Dixie Belle rests in a vacant lot on Kiowa Boulevard where it was undergoing repairs as shown in this photo from 2015. (Today’s News Herald file photo)

The Dixie Belle rests in a vacant lot on Kiowa Boulevard where it was undergoing repairs as shown in this photo from 2015. (Today’s News Herald file photo)

LAKE HAVASU CITY – It’s been reported more than a few times that the famed Dixie Belle will sail again, but it seems there is a legitimate chance the boat will assume its historical place again on the waters of Bridgewater Channel and Lake Havasu.

Aaron Ashbaugh, one of the men who has put his blood, sweat and tears into the project during the last several years, truly believes the 68-ton historic replica riverboat will be back on the water later this summer.

A large part of that belief is that the Dixie Boat is poised to finally have a home on the Channel.

But if all goes well the Dixie Belle could be hosting sightseeing tours and special events once again.

Keith Fernung, who owns the boat with his dad, Rick, applied for and received preliminary approval from the Lake Havasu City Planning Commission for a conditional use permit for a dock site at 1425 McCullouch Blvd., Tract 2336, Block 1, Parcel A, on the Holiday Inn side of the channel. The commission passed a resolution March 1 and the final vote will occur at its next meeting Wednesday, April 3.

“The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers told us we had a dock and we said we didn’t, but then the London Bridge Resort approached us about getting the ship back in the water,” Ashbaugh said. “They did the paperwork for us and we’ve been working to get it ready.

“We have a real passion to get it back in the water, bring it back to the community, the channel,” Ashbaugh said.

Keith Fernung bought the boat from London Bridge Resort after it failed a Coast Guard inspection in 2010.

“There has been a lot of work done on it and I’m excited we’re nearly finished with it,” Fernung said. “The community, businesses and city have been very helpful with the entire project. It seems like all the cards are falling into place.”

There were years that the iconic boat sat largely untouched. There were also thefts of thousands of dollars of work equipment and the original steering wheel, but the enthusiasm of Ashbaugh, Rick Fernung and John West, as they talked about the ship was apparent.

Ashbaugh explained that the hull has been entirely rebuilt and has been approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. The wiring has been redone while the carpeting and wallpaper have been removed.

“Carpeting doesn’t belong on a ship,” Ashbaugh said. “We sanded and varnished the walnut wood.”

The team pulled hundreds of screws from the floor board and replaced them with 463 brass screws.

“We did 4,138 feet of welding and it took us a year,” Ashbaugh said.

But he stressed that the Dixie Belle, built in 1983, isn’t going to be an entirely new boat.

“We’ve kept the original pieces as much as possible, but a boat of its age needed some TLC,” he said. “We don’t want it to be brand new because the original parts are what gives it character and adds value to the experience of those who are on it.”

New heating and air conditioning systems have been installed, as well as new fuel and holding tanks. New fire safety equipment has been installed and old, antique light fixtures are in the plans, too.

Keith’s dad, Rick, has also been in on the project, even going so far to hand-make 150 spindles to adorn the exterior of the boat.

One thing that is sure to delight those who have sailed on the Belle in the past is that the glass etchings in a door that provides entrance to the main cabin floor will remain.

The etchings, done by Walter Quigley, who splits his time between Lake Havasu City and Wink, Texas, depict some of the history of the boat, Lake Havasu and the Colorado River.

“He still calls me every three months to see if we are in the water,” West said laughing.

The plan is for the Dixie Belle to be used for historical tours, dinner cruises and private events such as banquets, parties and weddings.

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