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‘Sea Princess’ Loses Lease To Make Way For New Fire Boat

The Sea Princess provides public harbor cruises and is Santa's ride into town each December.

The Sea Princess at its current docking space at the town wharf at the end of Main Street. Credit: NK Patch
The Sea Princess at its current docking space at the town wharf at the end of Main Street. Credit: NK Patch

The public cruise boat the ‘Sea Princess’ is losing its space at the municipal dock at the end of Main Street to make way for the town’s new fireboat, due to arrive within the next month.

Boatowner Doug Somers was notified of the eviction in a letter from Town Manager Mike Embury in May 2012, telling him he had until June 30, 2013, in anticipation of the boat’s arrival. His lease has been renewed in four-month increments since then, as the fire boat’s arrival continued to get pushed back, with the most recent renewal due to expire Feb. 28.

“I've always looked at it as a privilege to lease at these places,” said Somers, who docked the "Brandaris" sailing ship at the town dock at the municipal parking lot in downtown Wickford for many years before getting the Sea Princess. He told members of the Economic Development Advisory Committee at their meeting Wednesday that without that spot, he’ll have to sell the boat.

Because it’s a public cruise boat, Somers said, operating the Sea Princess requires parking and easy access for customers, as well as a convenient location.

The Sea Princess, which is 38 feet, has been at the town wharf since 2003. According to a memo detailing the history of the Sea Princess at the town wharf assembled by Police Chief Tom Mulligan, at the time there was an opening at the dock for a 50-foot boat.

By town ordinance, in Wickford space at town-owned docks not needed for municipal purposes is offered first to fishing boats; second, to other commercial boats; and third, to pleasure boats. The Sea Princess falls under the “other commercial” category and as there was no fishing vessel seeking the spot, the Sea Princess got it.

Somers paid the town about $1,600 this past year, according to Chief Mulligan’s memo. Slip costs at the town-owned Allen Harbor, by way of comparison, are $83 a foot for residents, $93 a foot for nonresidents, but users are charged by the slip size, according to Sherrie Neal from the town rec department. For example, the cost for a resident for a 17-foot boat in an 18-foot slip would be $1,494 for the season (May 1-Oct. 1).

Recently, the fate of the Sea Princess was made known to members of the Wickford Economic Development Advisory Board (WEDAB). Chairwoman Ellen Waxman lamented the possible loss of the public cruise ship.

“Doug's business is very much in alignment with what we want to promote,” she said at a meeting Wednesday of the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAB). “This is a business retention issue, an economic development issue and it's a historic preservation issue.”

At a WEDAB meeting in December, she noted that many decades ago the steamboat the "General" provided transport between North Kingstown and Newport. “This is our history. I would like to maintain and preserve our character.”

According to Mulligan’s memo, the new fire boat is 37 feet. The police boat, which is also docked there, is 24 feet. The fire boat will need a 15 foot lead to tie up the boat and the police boat a 5 foot lead. In total, the two boats will need 80 to 85 feet to securely tie up and get into place, Mulligan wrote.

He said suggestions to move the police boat to the town dock next to Rite Aid don’t take into account the added response time (distance) needed by being that far up in the harbor.

Somers said that space wouldn’t work for the Sea Princess either without dredging because the Sea Princess needs a 4'8" draft.

Waxman suggested adding 10 feet to the municipal dock, which could allow all three boats (police, fire, Sea Princess) to dock there. How quickly that could be accomplished, or even if it is possible, remain questions. 

Pam January 17, 2014 at 06:51 AM
This seems too bad if tourists are actually going out on the Sea Princess. Kudos to Ellen for trying to work something out. How often do the police and fire boats go out in emergencies, I wonder?
Ed Renehan January 17, 2014 at 09:02 AM
Doug has been a longtime active member of our community, serving on various nonprofit boards and helping out with all sorts of community projects. Plus his vessel and its business does dovetail nicely with the effort to make Wickford as tourist friendly as possible. So, I hope some accommodation can be worked out. Doug deserves that.
John K. Fulweiler, Jr. January 17, 2014 at 03:18 PM
I have great respect for fire fighters, but I'm compelled to ask how anyone can justify yet another taxpayer funded marine response unit? The inanity of displacing the Sea Princess for a 37 foot fireboat leaves me speechless. I would be keen on learning who approved this expenditure? In Wickford Harbor, do we need both a police and fire boat as well as the fleet of boats that the Environmental Police zoom around on? And even if it was "free" federal funds, must we always take? At any rate, the Town should really step up here and put the Sea Princess in front of yet another redundant marine rescue apparatus.
NK January 17, 2014 at 04:29 PM
John, perhaps you and the owner of the Sea Princess can sign a contract with the town to be available 24/7 to respond to marine emergencies. If your strong enough to pull the floating bodies that leap from the Jamestown bridge, yank people clinging to overturned vessels, and provide advanced life support to a group of drunk teens that mistake rocks for water then yes....we don't need a fire boat. I think the families of victims would be even more speechless to know a town choose to be proactive to Santa coming to the light display in Wickford more then life safety Within the towns jurisdiction of water. I think there is room for all of said mentioned boats without blaming the firefighters for operating it and the town for receiving it through Federal Grants. What does make me wonder is how a cruising vessel is classified as "other" rather then pleasure.
Ed Renehan January 19, 2014 at 09:04 AM
The Sea Princess is a commercial enterprise, thus "other, commercial." A pleasure boat is a non-commercial vessel privately held for the enjoyment of the owner(s).
John K. Fulweiler, Jr. January 19, 2014 at 09:33 AM
NK: Thanks for reading and responding to my comment. However, I'm not inclined to dialogue with those not supporting their responses with their full name. Notwithstanding, I can't resist suggesting that your colorful descriptors do not make up for what I'm sure is a very low volume of such calls hardly supporting yet another marine rescue apparatus much less one of this size. A FOIA request will certainly support my belief in this regard and, of course, history does as well in that I'm unaware of a lack of capacity to respond to such incidents much less any historical assertions of a lack of capacity made by any agency. Our tax dollars should be spent carefully and should consider not only the initial investment, but the long term costs associated with the investment. Fire fighters have plenty on their plate and tasking them with manning, operating, insuring, maintaining and repairing a 37' vessel is, in my opinion, a wrong decision. Of course, it's only slightly less wrong than displacing a small business owner that brings foot traffic and business to Wickford with a redundant marine rescue apparatus. Thanks again for your earlier comment and be well.
Pam January 19, 2014 at 01:32 PM
How many nearby towns have this kind of boat? Shouldn't it be a regional rather than a town expense?
Politics Sheriff of NK January 20, 2014 at 10:14 AM
Add the ten feet and keep Doug's tourist operation in place, it's beneficial to our town! John, as to the gestation and justification of that fire boat acquisition, I agree put in an APRA (Access to Public Records Act) request for the minutes of any meetings, and any other documents. They will send that to you in a week, and then you can form an informed opinion and publicize it as a letter to the editor. I'd be surprised if it wasn't just what you have guessed though, use it or lose it grant money, and it seemed like a cool toy that we can pay to maintain from now on. I don't recall any tragedies that resulted from not having such a vessel! BUT, I don't have the facts so what you find out may reveal a true justification. Make sure you get the projected ongoing costs too.
Dark star January 20, 2014 at 05:15 PM
All the Wickford blue-bloods that live on the water (Charlie Stamm) want the FF's to be table to hose their house down from the water when the trucks can't make it down the street.

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