DIVING BACK IN
NEWPORT CITY – The Memphremagog Navigation Company may soon sail Lake Memphremagog once again. The company ran two different passenger boats between 1996 and 2001.For the past several years, Chris Johansen, of the Memphremagog Navigation Company, has worked for Green Mountain Boat Lines, which owns the Spirit of Ethan Allen and the Moonlight Lady. The Moonlight Lady is 65 feet long and holds 49 passengers. Previously the vessel was an overnight cruise boat that operated in Virginia. It currently operates on Lake Champlain and takes trips to Montreal and Quebec City. The boat is now up for sale and Johansen wants to buy it.“We thought it would be available last year,” Johansen told the city council Monday evening. However, the boat didn’t become available until this past February. Since then, the Memphremagog Navigation Company has been working on a marketing plan and getting financing. Last week the company received some good news from the Vermont Economic Development Authority and the North Country Federal Credit Union. “They looked at our proposal and think it’s a winner,” Johansen said.Johansen has not operated a commercial boat on Lake Memphremagog for about 11 years and he has missed the experience. The Moonlight Lady, said Johansen, will be a tremendous benefit to the community. The boat is U.S. Coast Guard inspected and the crew is trained on all safety measures, Johansen said. It is designed in such a way that the capacity can be expanded with minimal changes.“We kind of got the best of both worlds,” said Johansen. “We have a nice manageable boat to start with, but yet we can grow hopefully as the town grows.”“As of Friday we have our ducks in a row,” said Johansen. “The city dock is a natural choice.”Johansen moored both of his previous boats at the city dock and much of the electrical work his company paid for is still in place. It is not known if Johansen will dock the boat in the exact same spot, on the west side of the dock.The Moonlight Lady is a 1920's style vessel and has a plumb stem, which Johansen feels will fit nicely into the history of Lake Memphremagog because it resembles a mini version of the Anthemis, a passenger boat that sailed Lake Memphremagog in the 1930s. In 2009, personnel from the Green Mountain Boat Lines enclosed the upper deck of the boat. The company also refurbished the pilot house. The boat now has three enclosed decks, which includes a theater kitchen with a table where passengers can watch while the chef prepares their meals. “That’s been a big hit on Lake Champlain,” said Johansen. The company, said Johansen, wants to revitalize and bring some life back to the waterfront. During his previous ventures on the lake, Johansen’s company catered to 9,000 passengers a year who came from the “circle of success,” a 90-minute drive from Newport.“It’s what the day trippers want,” said Johansen. He hopes the currency exchange between the American and Canadian dollars will draw customers from the other side of the border. “Now we have another 200,000 people that are less than an hour away.”As part of the agreement for using the dock, Johansen suggested payment of 50 cents per passenger. He anticipates having well over 10,000 passengers next year. Johansen called moving the boat to Lake Memphremagog “a major undertaking” and thinks it will make national headlines, which will help his firm. His goal is getting the boat to Newport by November, because he needs to do some retrofitting on the boat this winter. Johansen also wants to have the boat visible to the public this winter.The value of the boat is just over one million dollars.The council will vote on the issue next Monday, Sept. 17.