Paddle boat for sale: Why an Eastern Shore town is looking for a new owner

The Town of Snow Hill is looking for someone to buy Black-Eyed Susan, the stern-wheeler paddle boat acquired by the town in 2020. (Courtesy Town of Snow Hill)

When the small Eastern Shore town of Snow Hill, Maryland, bought a 34-year-old paddle boat three years ago, the goal was to attract more visitors with it and see revenue spike.

“On paper, it was a great idea,” said Mayor Michael Pruitt. “We wanted to get people from afar, ride that beautiful Pocomoke River and when you get done, walk back down to your car and say ‘Oh, there’s downtown Snow Hill.’”

It worked for a while.

But the plan soured last year, when the town learned that a five-year Coast Guard operating permit was about to expire. Before town leaders could renew the boat’s license, it needed an in-depth, costly inspection.

The probe discovered at least $600,000 in repairs to make the vessel, called the Black-Eyed Susan, seaworthy and up to code. The tab is almost 25% of the town’s entire operating budget.

What’s more, maintenance on the 111-foot stern-wheeler, Victorian-style paddle boat would cost between $80,000 and $100,000 a year.

It was a price tag the town, with a population of 2,000, couldn’t afford, Pruitt said.

So, the Black-Eyed Susan is up for sale.

“We’re kind of desperate to stop the bleeding,” the mayor told WTOP. “We can’t afford to be in the boating business. We’ve got to offload this boat to a private person.”

The town is taking all bids until 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. At that time, town leaders will review all offers and announce a new owner.

Pruitt said Snow Hill has received three offers so far. One of them is from a business that plans to scrap the paddle boat and sell its parts. The town acknowledges that the Black-Eyed Susan’s sale won’t recoup the $400,000 it paid for the boat because of its severe disrepair.

“Everybody that’s putting a bid in knows the condition of this boat,” Pruitt said. “They also know that we are kind of desperate to at least stop the bleeding.”

Snow Hill is losing money on the boat every day, as it’s been docked since July 2022. Last year, the town allowed a local restaurateur to use the vessel for dinner cruises and sightseeing events. The boat has two decks, wet bars and four restrooms.

Then its license expired, and the cruises stopped. But several expenses linger.

Pruitt said many residents are upset that the paddle boat isn’t operational, and the tiny town is still spending money on it for insurance, security and safety. The town received a $100,000 grant and a $300,000 loan from Worcester County to buy the vessel.

Pruitt promised residents that the loan would be paid back.

“It’s a struggle,” he said. “We’re still spending money just keeping this boat. It’s been one of those terrible circumstances because on paper, it was a great idea.”

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