We promised to let you know when you could ride the First Lady, the ersatz stern-wheeler that recently made her way from an Alabama boatyard to the Potomac. You can now.

In general, I'm resistant to media freebies, but an invitation to an hour-long press journey of the $900,000 boat in gorgeous fall weather on Tuesday was irresistible. The Lady (pictured above), with her main cabin decorated by Paul Enten, is lovely if you're turned on by Victorian ladies.

I got hooked on stern-wheelers--boats propelled by paddle wheels at the rear--on the Fourth of July weekend of 1932, taking the Delta King and her--his?--sister ship, the Delta Queen on a holiday excursion between San Francisco and Sacramento. The surviving Queen now plies the Ohio and Mississippi rivers on excursion runs, and few know she's really a California expatriate.

Back to the First Lady and her owners, the Washington Boat Lines. WBL general manager Jim Rooney said the shallow-draft boat was built mainly because the Potomac channel leading to the Mount Vernon dock is silting up so badly it is feared that before long the line's other craft assigned to the run, the Diplomat--which has a 9 1/2-foot draft--may soon find itself stuck in the mud.

At the outset of this item, the First Lady was referred to as an "ersatz," or artificial, stern-wheeler. Alas, she is. The boat is powered by diesel-driven propellers. The wash from the boat turns the paddle wheel, not the other way around as on a real steamboat.