American Queen Steamboat Company announced last week that the 245-passenger American Countess completed its second successful sea trial on Feb. 19, marking the sixth major milestone of the new ship’s development.

The overnight paddlewheeler will be christened in New Orleans on April 4 ahead of its inaugural sailing from New Orleans to Memphis, Tenn., April 5-13. The riverboat will join the American Queen and American Duchess on the Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio and Cumberland rivers.

During the sea trial, the American Countess navigated through a section of the Intracoastal Waterway in Houma, La., en route to Morgan City, La., as part of an extensive river trial completing several key tests and simulations as part of their Certificate of Inspection issued by the Coast Guard. Several Coast Guard officials were on board during the trials to monitor progress. The completion of this trial puts the vessel on track for an on time delivery from Gulf Island Shipyard in Houma.

The American Countess during its river trial last week. American Queen Steamboat photo

The American Countess will transit to New Orleans in late February where it will spend four weeks undergoing finishing touches while at port. Crewmembers will join the ship to aid in the final preparations while undergoing intense safety and service training prior to the VIP cruise and christening March 31 through April 4.

“The successful completion of these sea trials is a testament to the hard work of our team,” John Waggoner, founder and CEO of American Queen Steamboat, said in a statement. “As we approach the grand debut of the American Countess, I could not be more excited to bring this new experience to our guests.”

Built using the existing hull of a former gaming vessel the Kanesville Queen, the American Countess was lengthened by 60' and underwent a total renovation at Gulf Island Shipyard. The 24-year-old casino boat originally measured 257’x78’x14’. Ships’ service power and propulsion will come from four Caterpillar 3516 diesel-electric generators putting out a combined 5,760 kW, driving three 650-hp electric drive motors that turn three Schottel SRP 330 rudder propellers. A pair of Schottel 300-kW tunnel thrusters will provide bow thrust. Estimated speed will be 12 knots.

The design will offer plenty of open space for gathering, especially the portside bar, running 120' in length with floor-to-ceiling glass giving guests panoramic view of the rivers. The vessel has four decks, including a sun deck, and 123 staterooms in four categories.

Headquartered in New Albany, Ind., American Queen is one of several companies contributing to the renaissance of domestic river cruising. It built its fleet buying and refurbishing used vessels beginning in 2011 with the purchase of the 236-passenger American Queen from the Maritime Administration. Two years later it bought the 223-passenger American Empress from Marad. Both boats, constructed with Title XI federal loan guarantees, were turned over to the agency after the 2008 collapse of Majestic America Line.

In 2016 American Queen bought the 280’6”x87’x14’ Iowa casino boat Bettendorf Capri and turned it into the 192-passenger, 314’x100’x14’ riverboat American Duchess launched in 2017A paddlewheel increased the length.

In 2018, the company also bought the Bahamas-flagged Victory I and Victory II, 202-passenger vessels that were the original Cape Cod Light and Cape May Light — to expand its reach to the Great Lakes and possibly beyond. The 300’x50’x13’ sister ships were part of Victory Cruise Lines, which is now a sister brand to American Queen. American Queen Steamboat is a Hornblower company.

Following the christening, the American Countess will start her maiden voyage on April 5, sailing from New Orleans to Memphis, Tenn., on the Antebellum South itinerary.

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.