New custom tour boat for Chicago


Burger Boat Company, Manitowoc, Wis., recently delivered a new 299-passenger tour boat to Chicago’sFirst Lady Cruises. The 98’×32’×7′ Chicago’s Leading Lady, designed by Seacraft Design LLC, Sturgeon Bay, Wis., is the largest vessel in the company’s four-boat fleet.

The $3.5 million, retro-looking steel craft went into service on July 1, serving mainly as a tour boat for the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Chicago River tours. The boat is also chartered for weddings, private parties and corporate events.

The vessel is similar in design to its sister boats — the 225-passenger Chicago’s First Lady and the 149-passenger T-boats Chicago’s Little Lady and Chicago’s Fair Lady — and is reminiscent of the graceful 1920s wooden cruising yachts such as the presidential yacht Sequoia.

The new boat replaced the 55-year-old Skyline Princess and has “what customers are looking for, which includes an open top deck and nice appointments,” said Bob Agra, who, with his wife, Holly, runs the family-owned company that has been part of the Chicago tour boat industry since 1935. 

 In addition to the open-air deck, the boat features a climate-controlled main deck salon with upholstered bistro chairs at round tables. The entire salon is surrounded by large arched windows and like its sister ships, the Leading Lady features a large, full-service main salon granite bar, an upper deck bar, and well-appointed bathrooms lined in marble and granite.

For Burger Boat, which is known for designing and building custom motor yachts ranging in size from 75′ to 200′, it’s the first boat the yard has built for Chicago’s First Lady. 

“Burger did an outstanding job. The interior turned out real nice,” said Agra. “They had just finished a research vessel for the state of Wisconsin and the Fair Lady went there for winter layup, so we figured we may as well see if Burger was interested in the project. We stayed in the Midwest. It’s easier to drive three hours to check on the progress than flying to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Gulf Coast yards Steiner Shipyard and Freeport Shipbuilding have built and rebuilt three vessels for Agra’s company.

Agra likes to describe the new boat as “the Little Lady on steroids,” referring to the 68’×23′ Timothy Graul-designed vessel built by Freeport in 1999.

“We basically took the Little Lady’s plans, then put 10 more feet in the bow, 20 feet more in the salon, and nine feet of width on the keel. It allowed me to make stairways wider on both sides, easier for wheelchairs. It worked out well,” said Agra.

The Leading Lady is powered by a pair of 340-hp Caterpillar C12 diesel engines turning 38″×28″ Michigan Wheel Marine 4-bladed propellers through ZF360 2.48:1 reduction gears. The package gives the boat a speed of 11 knots fully loaded. A pair of 76-kw Cat C4.4 generators provides ship’s service power. Below deck there is tankage for 4,000 gals. of fuel and 1,050 gals. of potable water. The boat carries a U.S. Coast Guard subchapter K certification. 



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