EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: According to a news report appearing in last Friday's Eastern Oregonian, a syndicate is being formed to purchase the "Queen of the West." The potential sale of this riverboat to a northwest group headed by an experienced Columbia River cruise operator is great news for those of us who are interested in the future operation of the Delta Queen.

ANALYSIS: The QW --- like the Delta Queen --- is one of the six riverboats that was last operated by Majestic America. While it's easy to err while comparing different boats on different rivers, here are some observations that should be encouraging to fans of the Delta Queen.

First, this proves that Ambassadors International (formerly doing business as Majestic America), having returned the two "take over payments" boats (American Queen and Empress of the North) to MARAD in 2008, is still actively working to find new owners for the four remaining riverboats where they hold the "pink slip" (Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen, Queen of the West, and Columbia Queen).

Second, even in this "challenging" economy, someone is looking to roll the dice on the profitability of river cruises. Interesting to me is that this group has the same name and CEO as the company that bought the newer Columbia Queen from MARAD in 2004, and operated her for a few months in 05-06 before folding up shop in the face of Ambassador's purchase of the other two Columbia Riverboats.

Third: This "experienced player" --- when taking a chair at the game where he was previously beaten --- is opting for the older and more authentic Queen of the West instead of his previous Columbia Queen or the larger and more opulent Empress of the North.

Fourth: The QW was not only oldest and most authentic of Majestic America's Columbia River fleet, she's the only Columbia Riverboat that has a track record of year-after-year profits (1995-2000). It was, in fact, the QW's sustained profitability that allowed its owners to commission the Empress at about the same time that ACV's Delta Queen Steamboat Company launched the CQ (which operated for two years before being surrendered to MARAD in 2001).

Fifth: The article indicates that the prospective new owner's sole intention is to operate this one smaller boat --- which is nearly identical in passenger capacity to the Delta Queen (167 pax vs 176 pax).

Sixth: From the article we can surmise that some potential funding may come from sources based in Pendleton --- a historic town of 17,000 that has seen better days and now depends on tourism. Although Pendleton is miles from the Columbia, it was invariably featured in river-cruise shore excursions. Are there similar small towns along the Mississippi and Ohio who will also miss the arrival of riverboat tourists each spring?

Seventh: This Columbia River plan is moving forward in spite of the existence of two potential competing boats. As would be the case on the Mississippi, one of the potential competitors is in the hands of Majestic America, and the other even larger potential competitor is in the hands of MARAD. We can surmise that this gambler doesn't think a new competitor will beat him using one of those newer and less authentic boats --- both of which cost more to operate.

I think all of this dovetails with my previously expounded (optimistic) belief that a shrewd Mississippi riverboat "gambler" (or syndicate) will decide that buying just one boat --- the Delta Queen --- is apt to be a winning wager.

-Bill McCready