Her arrival looked effortless. A boatload of enthusiastic well wishers greeted Lady Caroline at her new home on the Flats West Bank on May 8. Her owner, Jacobs Entertainment CEO Jeffrey P. Jacobs, and his daughter, Caroline (the boat’s namesake), welcomed their newest vessel with a bottle of christening champagne, while the city of Cleveland Division of Fire rescue boat provided a water welcome. Dignitaries on the dock were all smiles knowing how much having a dining cruise ship on the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie means to Clevelanders and tourists.
The 120-foot-long, 15,000-square-foot, four-deck Lady Caroline had actually arrived during the night in Cleveland a number of hours before the official welcome. But when she did, it was the end of a 25-day, 2,100-nautical-mile journey, and Lady Caroline (and her transit crew) were discreetly tucked (as much as you could do that with a ship that size) into a Cleveland marina slip to rest and freshen up. A lady always wants to look her best, of course.
Lady Caroline’s journey from Chelsea Piers in New York City began November 9, 2022, and was completed in two phases. There were no disasters — no icebergs, no leaks that had to be patched with duct tape, no Bermuda Triangle disappearances. But with some weather complications that caused a three-day sailing delay, additional foggy days, some wildly fluctuating tides and a ton of maritime regulations to obey, the journey was much more complex than most landlubbers realize. To get to the St. Lawrence Seaway and access to Lake Erie and then Cleveland, the boat had to follow an elaborate and involved itinerary.
“It was actually a more challenging journey than going trans-Atlantic because then you just have to follow currents and the weather. This way all sorts of accommodations in the United States and Canada have to be made to make the trip happen,” says Captain Nicole Christie, an independent, multi-licensed and certified ship’s captain from Marysville, Michigan, hired to bring Lady Caroline to Cleveland. This was her fourth St. Lawrence Seaway delivery.
Lady Caroline replaced the 42-year-old Nautica Queen earlier this summer. Its captain, Scott Pearson, helped with the initial preparation for the Lady Caroline’s departure in New York, but returned to northeast Ohio to pilot the Nautica Queen’s last official public cruising days from the Nautica Waterfront District.
Lady Caroline, formerly named Aqua Azul, a luxury rental yacht used for weddings and other New York and New Jersey coastal events, first headed out of the New York Harbor on her way to Ohio. She navigated the Hudson River, the tricky Hell Gate (a narrow tidal strait in the East River), Long Island Sound and arrived in New Bedford, Massachusetts, November 11, 2022, where she overwintered. Starting her journey late in the season, Lady Caroline (and other vessels with Great Lakes destinations) had to wait because the St. Lawrence Seaway locks were closed for the winter. She was ready to begin phase two of her journey April 15.
“We struck gold in New Bedford. There is a big maritime industry there with tons of commercial boats with fishermen, lobster men and passenger boats,” says Christie. “Everyone was so friendly and helpful. Before we departed, the marina and townspeople held a blessing ceremony for us and recited a fisherman’s prayer. It was beautiful. Then they played ‘Sweet Caroline’ for us, and we all danced and sang.”
During her passages, Lady Caroline’s log recorded stops in towns that included: Bridgeport, Connecticut; New London, Connecticut; Clayton, New York; and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; and Port Colborne, Ontario. Names on a map became part of the crew’s experience, such as Cape Cod Canal, Welland Canal and the Strait of Canso, a long, straight, very deep channel in Nova Scotia.
The crew saw amazing sites — a pod of endangered North Atlantic Whales, Perce Rock in Quebec (one of the world’s largest natural arches over water near New Brunswick, Canada) and the Wood Island Lighthouse in Maine. They ate fresh seafood, including “amazing” crab from local restaurants and sometimes obtained straight from fishing boats whenever they could.
But this was no Carnival Cruise. Multiple stops for minor repairs, supplies, fuel, pump outs, immigration and custom checks and more were required. The crew did daily routine maintenance and cleaning, meticulous recordkeeping and turns at overnight watch. A few crew members fought a bit of a minor, but unpleasant stomach bug.
The journey was delayed for three days in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, because of inclement weather. But if you are going to be stuck on a ship for a while, it’s not a bad place for that to happen.
“Yarmouth is a friendly fishing town, and everyone who lives there wants to see what boats are in town,” recalls Christie. “The piers are just parades of cars. And so many people stopped to talk with us and even the fisherman came over to meet us. It was another good memory for history of the Lady Caroline.”
In Quebec, Lady Caroline also was subject to a ballast inspection from government officials, even though the boat was built without — and doesn’t need — ballast tanks. The procedure is to “confirm that the vessel was not holding any seawater ballast that would contaminate the seaway by cross contaminating,” according to Christie. (Think invasive species hitching a ride.)
“This was a long trip for this boat,” says Christie. “So every 24 hours we would shut the boat down, check the oil and other things and make sure all the systems were good. My grandmother, Caroline, came over on a boat from Europe. She was the best person to me in my whole life. I couldn’t believe the ship was renamed Caroline. This trip was meant to be for me. Lady Caroline did well, and so did the crew.”
Lady Caroline, built in Palatka, Florida, entered the first of 15 locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway on May 1. She arrived in Cleveland a week later where Cpt. Christie passed the helm to Cpt. Pearson.
Before his position as captain of the Nautica Queen, and now Lady Caroline, Pearson was a ship captain for the Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Co. in Michigan, a position he began in 2022. He has been a yacht pilot since 1986 and became a licensed yacht captain in 1989, piloting ships in the Caribbean, Key West, East Coast, Mexico and the Midwest. He now lives in Westlake with his family.
“There aren’t really any navigation challenges here with the Lady Caroline,” says Pearson, who also has experience in yacht repair. “We don’t travel more than a mile from shore and we stay within the harbor. Also, the Cuyahoga River is wide. Compared to what I’ve experienced, piloting her is a walk in the park.”
The ship went into service in mid-June after about $250,000 in renovations, including new paint, signage, HVAC systems and a sound system, as well as interior design and galley changes, according to the boat’s director of operations, Ellen Kelley. It will also receive other accessible changes to make her more code compliant. Kelley describes the boat as “light and bright with big windows.”
“I’m really looking forward to seeing all the smiles on people’s faces when they first walk on board,” says Pearson.