The District of Columbia's first lady officially christened the riverboat First Lady on Monday evening on the Washington Channel waterfront. Effi Barry bashed a bottle of champagne across the front mast of the tourist craft, and then several hundred went off for a Potomac River cruise to Alexandria and return.
Built in Alabama as the fourth craft in the Washington Boat Lines fleet, the First Lady has not yet been fully fitted out with seats and windows. The back-and-forth journey--shipbuilders might call it a "shakedown" cruise--was supposed to take an hour, but it stretched to nearly three.
But for the invited throng, it was fun: the D.C. fireboat sent three plumes of high-pressure water into the air as the First Lady left her Washington dock, then, along with a floating D.C. police harbor cruiser, escorted her and her three sister ships to Alexandria (whose offshore waters are inside the District). D.C. Fire Chief Theodore Coleman, one of the guests, stood on the ship's after deck observing his fireboat.
The First Lady is powered by diesel-driven propellers, with a cosmetic but authentically picturesque paddle wheel and equally cosmetic twin smokestacks. She seemed sluggish on our excursion, but Washington Boat Lines spokeswoman Linda Roth said she was operating far below top speed.
There was one especially classy touch on the trip. As the Lady was returning to Washington, she was passed in full moonlight by a competitor, the Alexandria-based Dandy, en route to home port. Six uniformed crewmen stood on the Dandy's hurricane deck, and lined up in a row, threw a simultaneous snappy salute to the Lady.