Sightseeing boat cruises have been a staple for generations of residents and cottagers living along the shore of Lake Nipissing stretching back to the 1800s.
A memorable cruise in modern comfort on the northeastern Ontario waterway can be the perfect refresher for any corporate event.
The Chief Commanda II wrapped up its 40th season of sailing on Lake Nipissing in 2015.
The boat’s sailing season runs from the Victoria Day long weekend in May until late September or early October, whenever the falls colours are at their peak.
Docked at the foot of King’s Landing wharf on North Bay’s waterfront and operated by Georgian Bay Cruises of Parry Sound, the boat operators run a regular twice-daily summer schedule with a variety of private, customized and specialty sightseeing and dinner charter cruises.
With guided commentary and food service available, trips vary from two to four hours and can take guests out to view the uninhabited Manitou Islands at mid-lake, observe the fall colours along the lake’s north shore, cruise near the granite bluffs of the historic French River waterway, or entertain with dinner and drinks for an evening sunset cruise.
The 100-by-36-foot aluminum, twin-hulled boat can be booked for exclusive social and corporate entertaining for groups of all sizes, the crew having hosted weddings, family reunions, parties, and business-oriented events.
Rich Stivrins, the ship’s captain since 2004, said group charters for corporate and social functions comprise about a third of the company’s cruise business.
Prefabricated by the Marlin Yacht Company of Gananoque and assembled in Callander, the boat’s winter layup home on the lake’s southeast shore, the 320-passenger, three-decked vessel entered service in 1975.
Built as a catamaran, the boat was designed with the characteristics of Lake Nipissing in mind.
Stivrins said the long and shallow lake can sometimes kick up some “pretty sizeable waves and that extra stability makes the ride a lot more comfortable.
“Stability-wise, it’s not an issue to get up to the maximum amount (of passengers). We did a heeling test seven years ago and the naval architects came back to us and said we’re more stable than the Queen Mary.”
The boat is outfitted with two licensed bars, a galley, a snack bar, open-air barbecue, and accessible washrooms.
The first two decks are enclosed with in-floor heating to ward off the chill of the shoulder seasons.
The top sun deck is open air with seating and standing room to take in the full panoramic scope of the lake.
Groups can book the entire vessel, or a smaller group of 20 or fewer can reserve a single deck for a dinner cruise, social function or onboard meeting.
“We’ve had the full 300 on board, but also groups of 10 and 12, and we can even go lower,” said Stivrins.
The events they’ve hosted run the range of weddings, bar mitzvahs, family reunions and corporate functions.
“We’ll bend over backwards to make whatever request happen,” said Stivrins, who remembered one client’s request for a themed Hawaiian luau cruise, replete with grass skirts at each table.
“Weddings are fairly big. We usually do one every couple of weekends.”
Depending on the economy, local mining service companies will host a staff appreciation night or bring guests aboard for a client function. The lake excursion can also serve as a breakout event for delegates and their spouses attending a convention.
“It’s a fairly big business as a companion event at conferences,” said Stivrins.
“The big thing for us is flexibility. The boat has some fairly open space and there’s a lot of opportunity to do some really cool stuff. We’re pretty creative about making sure that we’ve got a good setup to fit the crowd and match the crowd up with the menu and entertainment.”
Music cruises can be arranged, as the company works with a number of bands.
“We kind of feel clients out to see what their interests are. We wouldn’t put a blues band on a younger crowd or put a rock band on a jazz crowd,” said Stivrins. “The blues series concert cruises are pretty popular on the public side of things. We have folk trios we can call on if you need a softer background.”
The company offers a standard and broad dinner menu of fish, chicken and beef entrees, but executive chef Steve Bitonti, their exclusive caterer, can customize a meal plan.