Slow and steady has won the race every summer since 1929 for the Dixie Boat — the race to lure visitors back again and again for leisurely circuits of Webster Lake.
“Imagining North Webster without the Dixie Boat is like imagining Paris without the Eiffel Tower. She's an icon!” said Bob Barnes, one of the captains who leads the Dixie on its summertime tours around the lake.
This sternwheeler has been many things in its long life, from ferry to floating blacksmith shop and grocery to wood hauler and passenger ferry. But for decades, it has catered to tourists seeking the leisurely vantage it provides on Lake Webster.
The Dixie has been modified, repaired and rebuilt several times, most recently while it was in drydock between the summer boating seasons of 2009 and 2010. Now it's powered by a hybrid diesel engine; a diesel generator powers an electric motor. The boat, 76 feet long and 171/2 feet wide, can carry up to about 150 passengers at time, with a crew of two to three people, Barnes said. In most circumstances, the Dixie operators prefer to limit the number of passengers to about 130, for greater comfort for passengers.
Now it carries about 12,000 passengers each year, Barnes said.
Barnes, who remembers his father taking him on the Dixie as a boy, has been deeply involved in saving the boat and running Dixie Sternwheeler Inc., the nonprofit organization that owns and operates it.
“This has been absolutely one of the most rewarding things I've ever done,” said Barnes, who is semi-retired from his career as a voice-over artist and narrator of audiobooks. “This boat will be around for generations.”