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KwaTaqNuk resort gets new tour boat

POLSON, Mont. (AP) – Four weddings and a funeral are already booked on The Shadow, a 65-foot-long and 149-passenger tour boat that slid into the waters of Flathead Lake for the first time earlier this month.

The KwaTaqNuk Resort’s new vessel, which previously operated on Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, replaces the resort’s 48-passenger Princess and opens up a wide variety of new on-the-water events the Princess couldn’t handle – not just charters for weddings and funerals, but reunions, parties and meetings. There’ll be bingo and poker nights on board, and special evening events that could extend the boat’s season deep into December, before the lake’s level drops.

What a novel place for a company Christmas party, right?

The Shadow will continue to run the three daily summer tours offered by the Princess as well – a morning jaunt around Polson Bay, the three-hour afternoon cruise to Wild Horse Island, and a twilight trip.

Those get going this month.

With a bar on board, The Shadow will also be in use when it’s docked during happy hour.

“It’ll be like an extension of our deck,” says KwaTaqNuk general manager DeeAnn Cates.

The KwaTaqNuk – which is owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes – had been looking for a bigger boat for a year and a half, according Cates.

“And we were looking as far away as Florida and California,” she says.

They stumbled on this one when they contacted the Coeur d’Alene Resort, which owns several large tour boats – including a pair of 400-passenger vessels – about taking a look at their operations.

Fred Finney, who built some of the Coeur d’Alene’s fleet, mentioned he had this 65-footer for sale.

The only problem? Getting it from the Idaho Panhandle to Polson. The Shadow, you see, isn’t just 65 feet long.

It’s also 23 feet wide – “Pretty much fog-line to fog-line on a two-lane road,” says Al Kremer.

Kremer, owner of Aaction Marine Transport in Sandpoint, Idaho, has been hauling boats across land for 35 years.

The Shadow was neither his longest boat, nor his longest trip. Those records belong to a 76-foot-long (and 16-foot-wide) pontoon boat that went from British Columbia to Arizona, and a 54-foot-yawl pulled across North America from Portland, Ore., to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“But this was the biggest, widest, heaviest boat we’ve ever hauled,” Kremer says.

Minus the top-deck pilot house, which Finney brought over himself on a cargo trailer, the boat weighed 35 tons and stood 15 feet, 3 inches tall for the haul.

Eighteen-wheeler? Between the tractor and the trailer, this load took 32 tires.

“From the bumper of the tractor to the rear booster axle, it was 126 feet long,” Kremer says. “And that road between Libby and Kalispell is very windy and hilly.”

Aaction Marine’s dispatcher, Jackie Steele, spent months getting everything in place for the move – coordinating with the departments of transportation for two states to get an approved route and all the necessary permits.

“It was a tricky deal,” Cates says. “One of the things they had to deal with was that Idaho regulations only let a load like this on the road at night, and Montana only lets them on in daylight.”

The Shadow and its convoy left Coeur d’Alene about 10 p.m. PDT June 17.

The agreed-upon route took the boat north through the Idaho Panhandle past Bonners Ferry, then east and south on U.S. Highway 2 through Troy, Libby and to the junction with U.S. Highway 93. From there the boat moved south through downtown Kalispell (where a wrong turn, toward Whitefish, delayed things a bit), down the west shore of Flathead and across the Armed Forces Memorial Bridge over the Flathead River.

The Shadow entered Polson at about 6 p.m. June 18.

Where, Cates says with a laugh, the freshly painted and refurbished boat picked up its only scratch.

The sharp turn off 93 onto the relatively narrow road that leads to the KwaTaqNuk’s lower parking lot and boat launch was too much, and The Shadow rubbed against a utility pole.

“The driver said he couldn’t believe he got it all that way, then gets a scratch turning into the parking lot,” Cates says. “We’ve already had the painter touch it up.”

The boat’s width presented the biggest problem. For 300 miles, traffic had to be halted every mile or three – however far it took for the lead pilot car to find a spot large enough where the tractor and boat could pull off to let traffic pass.

That driver would stop oncoming traffic. A second pilot car stayed half a mile or so in front of the boat to relay information to the truck driver and watch for traffic that might enter the highway from side roads. When the boat approached the lead pilot car, that driver would scoot off ahead to scout the next suitable turnoff spot.

Two more pilot cars trailed the load, and Kremer’s lead fabricator drove a separate truck with welders, compressors, tools and other equipment in case he was needed.

“We just kind of leap-frogged our way over here,” Kremer says.

Finney, who built The Shadow four years ago, is no stranger to designing and constructing big boats.

He’s built 20 or so, including his personal boat, a floating mansion four levels high, 100 feet long and 28 feet wide.

The La Dame du Lac (French for “Lady of the Lake”) has a few things The Shadow doesn’t: a helicopter pad, movie theater, four bedrooms, two fireplaces, climate-controlled wine room, washer and dryer, giant plasma TV that retreats into the ceiling, granite countertops in the kitchen, rec room. Let’s just say a few more extras than your standard Bayliner comes with.

But The Shadow is perfect for the KwaTaqNuk’s purposes, Cates says.

It not only triples the capacity of the Princess, but the design allows for different configurations of tables and chairs in the passenger cabin and on the upper deck, depending on the function.

Cates says it’s powered by a pair of 400-horsepower diesel engines, and KwaTaqNuk marketing director Dana Grant says it’ll cost about the same as the Princess did to run.

“They’re very fuel efficient,” Grant says, and last year’s cruise prices for rides on The Princess won’t change – $17 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for children for the 1 1/2-hour morning and twilight trips; $23, $21 and $13 for the longer Wild Horse Island jaunt.

No one has yet figured out the electronics required to have tribal gaming machines on board, but Grant says a floating casino remains a possibility down the road.

Frank Gillin and Dan Phipps, both seasoned captains with 50-ton Coast Guard licenses according to Cates, will captain The Shadow, and Finney will train them on the vessel.

Cates says the boat cost $500,000, and that included the $20,000 it cost to have it hauled from Idaho. When the lake level drops in January, the boat won’t move or go down with the water. It will settle onto a specially built crib at the KwaTaqNuk’s docks.

And The Princess? Well, the two lakes involved essentially swapped boats. A private party in Coeur d’Alene purchased the KwaTaqNuk’s old tour boat.





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