BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Capt. Brian Davis can give you the skinny on the navigation of Pool 19 while you enjoy the Illinois and Iowa bluffs aboard Legacy, the new touring boat with the signature yellow canopy seen down at the Fort Madison arena.
A Mississippi River Experience Boat Tours ownership group led by Debbie Faulkner launched the cruises on the Mississippi from Keokuk, Fort Madison and Burlington about three weeks ago on the Memorial Day weekend, but plans have been in the works for the past 12 years.
Cruises last from 1 1/2 to 2 hours depending on barge traffic and leave port from Keokuk, the Fort Madison Marina, and the north pier in Burlington.
Tour times run at 12:30 p.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. The Keokuk tours include going through the lock.
The boat has two 150 hp outboard motors and is 45 foot long and 12 feet wide with a capacity rating of 49 passengers plus the crew of a captain and a deck hand.
“We actually started this about 12 years ago when all the tourism was happening in Nauvoo,” Faulkner said.
“But there was so many hurdles that we almost decided not to go through with it.”
She said there was a lot of red tape from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corp of Engineers.
“The Coast Guard was the biggest hurdle, but we got through all of that. We actually had this built in Florida. We wanted to do it locally to support the local community, but the local Coast Guard officials made it difficult for us to do that.”
The boat was built in Hudson, Florida with the U.S. Coast Guard inspecting the boat as it was being built. Faulkner said a final inspection took place after the boat had been relocated to Iowa.
“We had it transported up here and after all those inspections down there we had one final inspection here and everything passed with flying colors,” Faulkner said.
Boaters get a full view of the bluffs on the Illinois and Iowa side of the river as the boat navigates some of the islands. Davis gives riders a historical rundown of navigation tools and the Mississippi River from an engineering perspective. He also slows to let riders take in the BNSF Swingspan bridge up close and any wildlife sightings.
Two mature bald eagles watched over a nest about 40 yards away where juvenile eagles still nested on the Illinois side. Davis stayed back far enough not to spook the birds but close enough for photographs.
Rates are $30 per person and five and under are free. The company also encourages group outings for employers, wedding parties or family reunion-type events.
Reservations can be made by calling 319-759-1311 and are encouraged to be made two weeks in advance. Online registrations can be made by visiting the following link: https://www.rivertrip.net/ However, walk-ups are welcome if there is still room on the boat.