Old Skipper at Dixie Belle Helm
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
Paddlewheel returns to Lake Havasu after 10-year restoration.
It’s always fun to be in a town that loves its community and shared memories over the decades. When the Dixie Belle paddlewheel re-launched into Lake Havasu last week, it was a celebration that included the old skipper, Wally Lowe, sitting at the helm after bringing the 68-ton paddle wheel to its new port at the London Bridge Resort.
Wally looked comfortable on the bridge of the old riverboat, even wearing his uniform for the vessel that hadn’t seen water in 10 years. Drydocked for restorative repairs, it took a lot longer than anyone had imagined. Local passion for the old craft that has wandered the river since the 1980s kept her alive.
Wally still piloted other craft on the water after the Dixie Belle hobbled into drydock, including the casino ferry, putting in nearly 20 years piloting the lake and river. He shrugged a bit about taking on permanent Dixie Belle duties. The flat bottom creates some interesting control issues in the wind, he said, but Wally still loves every inch of the 32-foot-high vessel.
A lot of work remains to get her in top shape, Wally said. The Dixie Bell probably will be taking it easy on the water, though, compared to her old sailing days. Mostly dinner cruises and private-party excursions are planned.
A welcomed sight along the Bridgewater Channel for three decades, the craft received a lot of attention, help, and simple TLC to get back on the water. Owners Keith Fernung his dad Rick Fernung were joined by a dedicated crew of volunteers, many who grew up with the iconic Lake Havasu mascot. But it still took 10 years to get back in the water as the crew overcame time, money, and other challenges.
The walnut decks and dining area have been restored and the long wooden bar is seaworthy. Antique light fixtures add charm along with the etched glass inside and on the doorways. The ladders are painted and a spiral staircase connects the upper deck.
A final city decision for a conditional use permit to port at the London Bridge Resort slip is scheduled April 3.
Until then, it’s boatswain blast your whistle and sweepers get ready. Ring the bell three times, the Dixie Belle is home.
Dixie Belle at port (top). Spiral staircase in main cabin
(bottom left). Dressing up for the celebration (bottom right).