Don Harrison's patience wasn't necessary when he rode on the maiden voyage of the "Charles F. Mercer."
"The boat just rides so smoothly … you feel like you're going fast," Harrison said. "You just move right along there; it's just a good ride."
Harrison waited years for this day. As president of Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern, he helped lead a $534,000 fundraising effort to bring a new canal boat to the C&O Canal by the tavern.
The Canal Clipper, a mule-drawn replica cargo boat that ferried passengers through the canal for 30 years, was taken out of operation in spring 2003 after officials of C&O Canal National Historical Park discovered irreparable damage to its hull.
Its successor, the Charles F. Mercer, was dedicated in a christening ceremony just below Great Falls Tavern on Saturday, Sept. 9. More than 300 people attended the event, most of whom took a ride in the boat.
Harrison, who was recently named the park's Volunteer of the Year, received a standing ovation from those in and near the tent. "I wasn't expecting this," he said.
"I would describe [Harrison] as someone who has the patience of Job. Working with the Park Service is not an easy thing," said Park Superintendent Kevin Brandt.
But Harrison had help, and no small amount of it from fellow Friends of the Tavern Elie Pisarra-Cain and Jo Reynolds. Though reluctant to play the "enforcer" role, Reynolds' persistence was instrumental in helping the boat fund reach its goal of $534,000.
"Failure was not an option," Reynolds said.
THE CHARLES F. MERCER departed amidst a display of pageantry, with music by the Wildcat Regimental Band, who performed music from the early 19th century in period costume. Brandt led the crowd in a cheer: "To the canal! To the canallers of old! To the Charles F. Mercer!"
Nearly a dozen legislative and executive government officials were on hand, including Maryland delegates Bill Bronrott and Jean Cryor, U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Councilmembers Howard Denis and Nancy Floreen, and Maryland State Treasurer Barbara Sheridan.
Former U.S. Rep. Gilbert Gude, who served in the House of Representatives from 1967-1977, also attended the event.
Harrison thanked the students of Seven Locks Elementary School, who started the fundraiser for a new canal boat. In spring 2004, a group of Seven Locks third-graders raised $3,160 for the cause, a year after they'd arrived at Great Falls Tavern on a field trip only to discover that the Canal Clipper was too badly damaged to offer rides.
Students at Monocacy Elementary School also helped. They designed T-Shirts that said "Keep Learning Afloat," and raised more than $2,000 for the boat fund, mostly from the shirt sales.
"I have enormous respect for children," Reynolds said, adding she loved their optimism and vision that became a reality on Saturday. With a true bow and a true stern, the Charles F. Mercer needs to execute a pair of 180-degree turnarounds on each round trip. At 57 feet long, the boat has just a few feet to spare on either side when it turned around on its return to the dock.
"Very nicely done," said Warren Casper, a park ranger who operated the boat in period costume.
"It's good to have a boat back here. What's a canal without a boat?" Harrison said.
CHARLES F. MERCER IN NUMBERS
Years the Canal Clipper, a replica cargo boat, sailed the waters of the C&O Canal by Great Falls Tavern.
Months between the final ride of the Canal Clipper in October 2002 and the maiden voyage of the Charles F. Mercer in September 2006. In spring 2003, when the Canal Clipper was scheduled for its annual springtime launch, park officials discovered that there was irreparable damage to its hull.
Months it took Scarano Boat Builders in Albany, N.Y. to construct the Charles F. Mercer. Scarano began the project in the beginning of April, and delivered the boat to Great Falls Tavern before the end of August.
Miles the Charles F. Mercer traveled between Scarano Boat Builders in Albany, N.Y. and its dock just below Great Falls Tavern.
Amount raised by third-grade students at Seven Locks Elementary school in spring 2004 to help replace the Canal Clipper. The students were supposed to ride the boat on a school field trip in the previous spring.
Grade the former Seven Locks Elementary students began last month. Now middle-schoolers, several of them attended the christening of the Charles F. Mercer last Saturday.
Amount Friends of the Historic Great Falls Tavern raised between January 2005 and September 2006 to cover the cost necessary to pay for the Charles F. Mercer.
Years Charles F. Mercer, the namesake of the new canal boat, served as the president of the C&O Canal Company, from 1828 to 1833.