A piece of Lake Havasu City history – the Dixie Belle – is set to return to the Bridgewater Channel. Thanks to a local business man, the 68-ton double decker paddle wheel steam boat is undergoing a complete overhaul.
Keith Fernung came to Lake Havasu City in 1976 and never left. Fernung jumped at the opportunity to purchase the Dixie Belle in 2011 because of its link to the city’s history.
“All this boat needed was the hull to be repaired, said Fernung. “ That repair was one of the biggest undertakings.”
Fernung approached longtime friend Aaron Ashbaugh, a friend of more than 14 years, and asked him to assist with the restoration of the Dixie Belle.
“I have always kept in touch with Keith throughout the years and when he called to help, I didn’t hesitate,” said Ashbaugh. “I had retired from aviation was thrilled to take on this project.”
The Dixie Belle was built in 1983 and was owned by the London Bridge Resort. The boat would travel the channel and soon became a well-known tourist attraction. When repairs seemed too much for the previous owner, Fermung decided to take over and keep the boat in Lake Havasu City.
“I didn’t want to see something as iconic as this bought by someone else,” said Fernung. “It is a piece of Lake Havasu and I wanted it to stay here.”
Ashbaugh, Fernung, along with his father and several part-time volunteers, have been working around the clock to make sure it is safe and ready before its return to the channel. Before the boat can make its comeback, it must pass a series of safety inspections by the U.S. Coast Guard for the final thumbs up.
A fresh coat of paint and repairs on the fire system are some of the restorations being made. Even ad space will be available for companies to advertise their business on the boat.
“I think people who have lived in Lake Havasu all their lives have an emotional attachment to it,” said Fernung. “I know many people are excited to see it restored.”
Fernung hopes to bring the Dixie Belle back as a tour boat which would include twilight and dinner cruises. It will also be available as a party rental.
“We are taking many baby steps during the restoration process,” said Ashbaugh. “I believe this is a great project. It’s going be better than ever once it is finished. I can’t wait to see it on the water.”
Although Fernung does not have an exact date when restorations will be completed, he did say the Dixie Belle is expected to be back on the channel sometime later this year.