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Ya Gotta Regatta! Beloved Charleston Festival Returns!

The beloved Charleston Sternwheel Regatta is returning to West Virginia’s capital city this summer. 

For five days, from June 30-July 4, visitors can head to downtown Charleston to hear live music, eat great food, visit a carnival, see parades and much more. (Seriously, there are so many events scheduled to take place, I don’t have enough space to discuss them all.)

Although so much will be happening over five days to mark the Regatta’s comeback, the stars of the festival remain the majestic Sternwheel boats that will be seen traveling up and down the Kanawha River. 

One Sternwheeler, out of 32 scheduled to make a Regatta appearance, is the Katie H, owned by Charleston resident and WOWK-TV Meteorologist Bryan Hughes.

Bryan tells us he purchased his vintage 1937 Sternwheeler almost three years ago. Built in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, this massive boat spent most of its life working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he explains. 

The Katie H is 85 feet from bow to stern, 17 feet from port to starboard, and weighs a hefty 60 tons.

The Katie H is 85 feet from bow to stern, 17 feet from port to starboard, and weighs a hefty 60 tons. Inside, on the first floor, the Sternwheeler has a full size bathroom and galley, a bar and a living area. On the second floor, there is a bedroom, the pilot house and a deck–a great feature for watching sunsets. 

The boat is powered by a 6-71 Detroit diesel engine, will hold up to 2,000 gallons of fuel and contains storage tanks for up to 500 gallons of fresh water. There is also an on-board generator that can power the entire boat, although when docked the boat is hooked up to electricity. 

Bryan and his dog, Bosun, a Basenji-Beagle mix, live on the boat full-time.

“It’s a little cool in the winter, but a blast in the spring, summer and fall,” Bryan says. “It’s the slowest boat trip you will ever go on (about 6 ½ mph), but it’s so peaceful. You get to enjoy as the world slowly goes by.” 

The history of Sternwheelers goes back to the 1800s, Bryan explains. In West Virginia, they had been the workhorses of the Kanawha River, carrying salt to meat packing plants before wide-scale refrigeration. But, they lost popularity in the ‘30s and ‘40s due to ever-changing technology. 

Today, it is difficult to find and purchase one, but for those who may be interested, the American Sternwheel Association–a network of Sternwheeler owners dedicated to bringing the history of the distinguished boat to life, is a good place to start, Bryan says.

He adds that one of the best things about owning a Sternwheeler is having the chance to update the boats with new technology, while preserving history.

Most of all, though, Bryan says that he enjoys his boat because it gives other people joy.  “Being able to see the smile on people’s faces when they see these boats, and ask you about them, it’s really neat. It makes me happy seeing how happy people are. If I can have a showboat, it looks pretty and it makes people smile, then my job is done.”

During the Regatta, Bryan plans to participate in the Sternwheel boat race, scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the Haddad Riverfront Park. “It’s the slowest race you will see. It’s about as slow as a turtle,” Bryan laughs. 

In addition to the boat race, free concerts by Everclear, The Four Tops & The Temptations, Martina McBride, Landau Eugene Murphy, Rick Springfield, and the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra will take place as well as the Wheelwash Craft Beer Festival, Battle of the Bands, Anything that Floats Race, a Funeral Parade, and a car show.  

Bryan notes that for 38 years, the Regatta was the go-to event in Charleston. “It was a blast in the ‘80s and ‘90s. People were dying to have it back. It’s the most talked about event. Now, we are happy to bring it back.” 

To see a complete list of events, visit the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta Facebook page. To learn more about the Katie H, visit “Katie H Sternwheeler” on Facebook.

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