Eyes of the maritime world are on two Maid of the Mist vessels

By James Fink
Buffalo Business First

Maid of the Mist new ship
The Nikola Tesla is one of two new ships to join the Main of the Mist fleet. (James Fink/Buffalo Business First)

James Glynn couldn't contain his excitement on a recent afternoon as he boarded a 91-ton, all-electric boat that bears his name.

Glynn, 86, chairman of the Maid of the Mist Corp., stood by the bow of the James V. Glynn before it took off on its shakedown cruise.

"I can't even begin to tell you what an honor this year," Glynn said. "I'm speechless."

The James V. Glynn and the Nikola Tesla carried their first passengers the morning of Oct. 6 along the Niagara Gorge into the base of Niagara Falls, continuing the popular tourist attraction that dates to 1846. The two boats join the older ship, Maid of the Mist VII. All three will operate until Nov. 8.

The Glynn and the Tesla are unique because they are the first all-electric tour boats to operate in the United States. Both boats are part of a $65 million investment made by the Maid of the Mist Corp. to build the vessels and a storage dock in Niagara Falls. The boats cost $25 million.

"Being the first is a point of pride," said Chris Glynn, Maid of the Mist president.

James Glynn, who was raised in Niagara Falls, has worked for the company for 70 years and owned the company since 1971.

Glynn began his Maid of the Mist career as a teen handing out pamphlets at Prospect Point and selling rides on the boats for 90 cents, plus another dime to ride the elevator down the loading docks.

"Times have changed," Glynn said. "The boats are a great tradition in this town."

The Maid of the Mist attracted international attention two years ago when the company opted to buy entirely electric boats, rather than those fueled by diesel.

Each boat is powered by a network of lithium ion batteries, said Edward Schwarz, vice president of ABB Inc., which handled the engineering and design work. The batteries have 316 kilowatt hours of power. The boats will be charged as passengers exit and new passengers enter, a process that takes about 8 minutes. They will also be charged every night.

"There's not an ounce of diesel fuel in these boats," Schwarz said. "They are truly a zero-emission boat."

The boats' performance, especially in the rough rapids near the base of the falls, is being closely monitored.

"They are being watched in the maritime industry," Schwarz said.

The boats each can handle up to 600 passengers, though with social distancing, the number of riders will be reduced by 50%. Each boat weighs 91 tons and is 90 feet long and 32 feet wide.

Chris Glynn said it took one year to build the boats. Both were assembled in the gorge, about 182 feet below street level.

Design work was handled by ABB engineers in Finland, Norway, Miami and Houston. Local firms working on the boats include Ferguson Electric Co. and Hohl Industrial Services Inc.

This article originally appeared in Buffalo Business First.