MOUNT ARLINGTON – She’s been locked up twice, cast aside and out of the public eye for the past five years. But on Monday, The Southern Belle, a 55-foot Skipperline dinner cruise vessel was given a proper welcome to Lake Hopatcong when she was delicately hoisted from a transport flatbed into the lake at Lee’s County Park Marina. Along with curious boaters, kayakers and people on personal watercraft, the Jefferson Twp. F.D. Co. #2 marine division escorted the vessel from Van Every Cove to Lakeland Marine Base at Nolan’s Point, where she will stay docked for the remainder of the summer.
There is no doubt; the previous five years have not been good to her. She needs a bit of a nip here and a tuck there.
“She will reflect modern lake living,” said Bela Szigethy, the new proprietor of the 23-year-old vessel. “She won’t be a throwback but she may reflect some of the best of the past,” he said without giving away too much of the design plan.
The restoration will begin almost immediately and will include demolition of the interior down to its bones. And all involved are in agreement that “she has good bones, she just needs a facelift.”
For now, though, Belle will stay in the water until the 60-inch drawdown of the lake begins in late September. Once the lake water level starts to recede, Belle will be hoisted into dry dock. Craftsmen who work for Szigethy’s parent company, Camp Six,* will do most of the work. Craftsman Joe Toth, who was one of many who helped ensure the safety of the vessel’s maiden voyage in Lake Hopatcong, is excited about the project.
“I’m looking forward to this,” he said as the boat was being lowered onto the water.
Nick Glenney, manager at Camp Six led the coordinated effort to get Belle from Virginia to New Jersey, into the water and functioning. Chris Norman, a long-hauler for the H.W. Farren Company from Randolph, drove 16 hours over two days, encountering some difficulty along the way to get Belle to the lake.
“The back roads were tough,” he said of maneuvering his extra-wide, 105-foot long tractor-trailer. “I got hung up on a hump on a road in Pennsylvania.” A Fed-Ex tractor-trailer came to his rescue, attaching a chain and backing him down off the hump. He then took a different angle to get over the hump and continued on his way. Norman said the only other difficult area for him was winding his way through Mount Arlington.
“It was tight. The morning commuters were not happy with me. It’s a good thing I had the Mount Arlington Police helping me,” he said.
Once at Lee’s County Park Marina, two large cranes from the Vergona Crane company from Englewood picked the boat off the trailer and kept it suspended in air while Prospect Point Boat Yard mechanics Rich Sunbury and Charles Brozunski attached two Mercruiser D183 5 cylinder diesel engines. The entire operation, from delivery to docking took about four hours.
“When she preformed she was known simply at Miss Lotta, she was that famous,” said Marty Kane, president of the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum. Kane is credited with choosing the name for the vessel.
“We were kicking around some names and Miss Lotta seemed like a perfect fit,” he recalls of a conversation with Szigethy. When Miss Crabtree died is 1924 she was considered one of the wealthiest women in American, said Kane. Her summer home, The Lotta Crabtree house, is a registered historic home and is located on Edgemere Avenue in Mount Arlington.
Szigethy said he’s been “thinking about buying a dinner cruise boat for a long time” but most of the boats available are too big for Lake Hopatcong. A chance conversation with a boat broker led him to The Southern Belle. He purchased the 39-person vessel for $190,000, moved it from Virginia to New Jersey for $25,000, and estimates he will spend between $25,000-$50,000 to restore it. The plan, he said, is to have it restored and ready for the spring of 2014.
“If there’s no ice on the lake, why can’t Miss Lotta cruise?” he asked rhetorically.
The boat will be used it for dinner cruises, lunch tours, historical tours during the day, and special events, said Szigethy.
“There’s going to be eating and dancing and a good time,” he said.
*Full Disclosure: Camp Six is the parent company of Lake Hopatcong News.
The Southern Belle is lifted off a flatbed truck by two large cranes.