Picture this: it's 1988, you're sitting aboard the Showboat Royal Grace at a round table with a crisp white tablecloth and in the background, you can hear the sloshing sound of the water as the sun streams in through the ship's windows. You turn back towards your plate and the theatre stage, where the lead actor is launching into his next monologue. End scene.
Back to present day —The Showboat Royal Grace has since retired its dinner theatre aspirations and is now enjoyed by thousands as a charter vessel hosting birthdays, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and more.
"Whatever people have an event space need for, we can provide that on the water," says Brendan Leach, City Cruises' Associate Director of Marine Operations. "To accommodate these larger events and improve stability, the Showboat Royal Grace was lengthened in 2013. We had 10 feet added to the middle and then 18 inches per side to make it wider, so that its stability was better. This brought up its passenger capacity from less than a 100 to 150 — it's a lot roomier now."
Chartering into modern territory with an engine repower
Before the Showboat Royal Grace could get up and running for its 2021 season, it needed a bit of a refresh in the engine department. The vessel was still equipped with the original engine package from 1988, and the crew was facing increasing challenges in sourcing parts for ongoing maintenance.
"The engines that were on board at the time were so old that it was hard to find parts. So, we opted to re-power rather than overhaul," says Leach. "We wanted to stick with the propeller shaft and transmissions that were already on board. Therefore, we needed something in the same horsepower range, and John Deere had marine engines that were well-suited for the application."
City Cruises had another vessel in its fleet powered by a John Deere marine engine, and by adding another to their fleet, they could increase the commonality of parts ordering and servicing with one manufacturer. After deciding repowering was the way to go, Leach and his team then reached out to their local distributor, MK Power, to source the marine engines.
Roy Canhas at MK Power assisted the City Cruises team with sourcing three engines — two for propulsion and one generator. He then stepped in to help find the parts and accessories, establish a delivery date and was there for overall support during installation and operation.
"Our team jumped into action and came down to look at the boat, where we worked to understand what Brendan's needs were and showed them what we could bring to the table," says Roy Canhas, Technical Sales, MK Power. "A company like this, they want a great cruise experience where you don't even think about the engines."
Navigating choppy waters
Because of the vessel's age and previous dinner theatre function, there were additional considerations that made this engine repower more of a song and dance than most.
"We had to reconfigure the engine beds so that they would suit the new engines — the old engines sat at a different height. We also had to get the engines onto the boat, and the easiest way to do that was through the window," details Leach. "We had to take a window out and rent a forklift with a telescoping boom on it to pass them through the window. Then we had to move them around the engine room and put them into their new position."
Along with configuring the engine beds to their new size, the team had to navigate an exhaust ventilation dilemma. Today, most engine rooms are robustly ventilated with extraction fans. However, the Royal Grace was equipped with just a passive ventilation system. After taking the Royal Grace on its full sea trial, and then its first full charter, the team learned the "hard" way that the passive ventilation system wasn't going to be enough to keep the engine room clear.
"This boat is unique because it just has a passive ventilation system. So, all the engine fumes that are down in the engine room tend to stay there," says Jeff Maher, Captain at City Cruises. "We looked into it and found that there was a recirculation kit available from John Deere that could take some of the fumes away and then reburn them, which makes it a lot cleaner environment down there. That also eliminates seepage up in the cabin, where people are having their dinner."
The royal treatment
For any marine engine repower to be successful, proper support and service is necessary. With MK Power, City Cruises had an engine, parts and service partner with them every step of the way.
"MK Power was fantastic from start to finish. Before the engines had even arrived, they'd invited us out to their facility," said Maher. "And when the engines did arrive, they put them together in their shop with their technicians and we were invited to go and see them."
Not only was MK Power a dependable partner for City Cruises — they also understand the importance of a team effort.
"When it comes to support, I'm just the tip of the spear. I've got everyone behind me. At MK Power, we have application engineers and other industrial sales personnel that I can lean on who have done this in the past. We get together as a team," says Canhas. "This wasn't just me. Engineers, procurement, service, technicians, were all involved with this — everyone was. We had many meetings where it was all hands-on deck to do this project. On an ongoing basis, that's what we do."
The result: a more than satisfied boat crew, a beautiful vessel given new life, and a partnership for years to come.
MK Power was fantastic from start to finish. Before the engines had even arrived, they’d invited us out to their facility. And when the engines did arrive, they put them together in their shop with their technicians and we were invited to go and see them.