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The Indian Princess weathers the storms

By Ginger Costen

She may be only 15-years old, but she’s already made quite a name for herself. 

As most of us in Webster already know, if you’re going to be calling Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg your home, you’d better be prepared for a life filled with beautiful sunsets, serene mornings, still waters and an all-too-often major storm or two.

The Indian Princess paddle wheel boat began her life’s journey as the Lacrosse Queen V from Lacrosse, WI. She was built by the Skipperliner Industries and became one of their many cruise boats traveling along the Mississippi River. In 2005 she was purchased by the Watts Bar Riverboat Company from Tennessee and renamed the Watts Bar Belle, providing daily cruises for three years along the waters of the Watts Bar Lake.

In 2008 a toxic spill from a local fossil plant closed the lake and even though the Watts Bar Riverboat Company moved her to another location, the company was not able to re-establish their clientele and ultimately sold her in 2011 to Christopher Robert for his family-based company in Fort Myers Beach, FL. There she was renamed the Indian Princess and began offering cruises in the Fort Myers area.

In 2013 Mr. Robert launched his dream of bringing a paddlewheel riverboat back to Webster Lake when he announced that Indian Ranch would soon be offering cruises as part of the their new entertainment opportunities. Thus began the current journey for the little paddlewheel boat and the ongoing nautical nonsense in Webster.   

“This isn’t about what some people seem to see as a power struggle or financial benefit,” said Mr. Robert.  “This is about sharing something that many of us living on the lake have taken for granted for a very long time. This is about sharing the lake and helping every one enjoy the views that you can only get while touring the lake.”

At the time, the Indian Princess’s long voyage from Florida to Rhode Island seemed to be the biggest hurdle for the boat’s captain Kevin Rabbett and crew to manage. However, those 41 days at sea traveling 1,800 miles at the top speed of six miles per hour were easy in comparison to the many bureaucratic struggles that would delay her maiden voyage for two years.  

A former Minnesota police lieutenant, USCG Master Captain Kevin Rabbett patiently waited these past 27 months for the Webster storm to blow over. His patience paid off when the smile across his face said everything as he took the microphone down and announced that the Indian Princess was leaving her moorings and was headed out on her first official tour of the lake. His excitement equaled that of Christopher and Beverly Robert, as the boat finally moved out into the open waters on her maiden voyage. 

Ultimately, Christopher Robert and his lawyers, along with the group Concerned Citizens for Webster Lake, have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars trying to assure the local residents – and each other – that their intentions were more altruistic than monetary in nature and thankfully, this story is not about that journey. Each step in that often convoluted and highly controversial storm has already been well documented throughout the local press and is only an Internet-click away if you should be so interested.

This story is about how for a brief moment in time, that storm seemed to dissipate as the Indian Princess slowly pulled away from her moorings on Friday evening June 26, 2015. More than 50 invited guests genuinely looked to be having a great time as the paddleboat leisurely moved from pond to pond greeting homeowners, many of whom had come out to the edge of their property and eagerly waved in acceptance as the boat silently floated by. Fellow boaters formed an impromptu flotilla often waving and smiling at the passengers aboard the Princess.

“I’m excited about the boat and am optimistic that by offering these unique tours it will help bring more people to the area which in turn help support local businesses,” said Debra Horan, President of the Webster-Dudley Business Alliance and owner of the Booklovers’ Gourmet on East Main Street in Webster.

The 75-foot (which includes the paddle wheels) boat powered along as several of the guests watched the shoreline for the first time. Appetizers, soft drinks, water, wine, beer and alcoholic beverages were served by the Bistro Eighty-Ates Restaurant from Webster. The highlight of the cruise brought the cameras and cell phones out in force as the baby eaglet watched the paddleboat float by from the top of his nest located in a tall group of pines watching on the shores of Little Island (located between Middle and South Ponds).     

The Indian Princess is Coast Guard certified to accommodate 125 passengers and has a crew of three, the captain and two support members. There are two decks with the upper open air deck being partially canopy-covered and the bottom enclosed dining area being lined with large picture windows providing a panoramic view of the lake. The boat is handicapped-accessible on the bottom deck only with one small step down into the lower level.

Hiring a local historian to provide educational tours, Indian Ranch is looking to offer even more package tours in 2016.  “We’re really excited about the tours, chartered cruises and specialty packages we’re already offering,” said Indian Ranch President Suzette Raun. She is also looking to develop educational packages with environmental, science, technology and math projects, using the boat as a part of the curriculum. “We have tours available before and after concerts, dinner cruises and themed events planned as well,” she added.

More information about both the Indian Princess and current tour schedules is available online at: indianranch.com/indian-princess or by calling 508-943-3871.

Although the green sign “Float the Boat” people seem to outnumber the red sign “Save the Lake” people, will it be smooth sailing ahead for the Indian Princess? Mr. Robert said he feels the current storm is without merit.

“The Indian Princess is a marine-registered vessel and there are exclusions for those classes of boats which means our boat is not prohibited from serving alcohol on the lake,” he said.  However, according to the Webster Police Chief, Timothy Bent, both the Code of Massachusetts Regulations and Webster’s bylaws state that no open containers of alcohol or alcoholic beverages are to be carried aboard any boat while being on the lake.

“I’m thrilled to see the people come out and cheer us on,” said Mr. Robert. “Recently there was a survey conducted by the Worcester Telegram, and of all the people responding, 82% were in favor of the Indian Princess. We want to do this so people who don’t own a boat or have a friend with a boat can also share in the beauty of the lake. This isn’t about being right or wrong or who has the most resources, this is about helping people enjoy something that many of us have the options to do every day. This is about sharing Webster Lake and that’s why we believe so strongly in the Indian Princess.”

Mr. Robert also said that he has yet again been given the green light to go ahead and serve alcoholic beverages. “On Thursday, July 2, we had a meeting with both the Massachusetts’s Department of Environmental Protection and the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission and they gave us their 100-percent support to go forward,” he said. And on July 9 Mr. Robert received confirmation that both the town and state are now in full agreement that alcohol may be served aboard the Indian Princess.  

Ginger Costen can be reached at gcosten@theYankeeXpress.com.