DUNBAR, W.Va. -- For the last four years, Capt. Dick Daugherty has lived out a dream at the helm of his "Spirit of West Virginia" sternwheeler.
But next month, the 54-year-old Dunbar resident will bid bon voyage to his dream — and the boat — as it sails off to a new home under a new captain in the deep South.
Daugherty and his wife Nancy announced Tuesday they've sold the Spirit of West Virginia, the last remaining commercial passenger vessel docked in the Kanawha Valley, to a boat operator from Louisiana.
The couple hadn't been marketing the boat for sale. Dick Daugherty said running the sternwheeler has been a labor of love since he bought the vessel, then known as the "Spirit of South Charleston," from Frank Burdette in 2009.
"We've had a great time with it," Daugherty said.
But after four seasons of hosting private parties and offering commercial tours during fairs and festivals along the river, the couple began to notice they were running short on time for other things in life.
Both work full-time: Dick Daugherty owns West Virginia Used Auto Sales in Cross Lanes, Nancy is associate
director of the West Virginia University Geriatric Education Center in Charleston.
"From basically March through October (the Spirit of West Virginia) is another full-time job that we've engaged in," Dick Daugherty said.
He said that leaves little time to drive down to Charlotte to visit their 13- and 10-year-old grandchildren.
"We're missing our grandkids growing up," Daugherty said.
So when a retired tugboat operator from Louisiana approached the couple saying he had heard about the boat and wanted to buy it, they saw it as an opportunity to free up some more time for family.
"He made us an offer we couldn't refuse, essentially," Daugherty said, "because he came to us at a moment where we thought we ought to be doing something different than running a riverboat."
Daugherty has grown up along (and on) the Kanawha River. He bought his first johnboat when he was 12, and spent much of his free time during his teens on the water.
Back in the early 1970s, though, that wasn't a popular form of recreation in the Kanawha Valley, he said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act were still in their infancy, and the Kanawha River was highly tainted by the valley's chemical companies.
"The only river traffic really back then were the towboats," Daugherty said. "The river was kind of orangeish and there were no fish, at least none that you could eat if you caught them."
The cleanup of the river has spawned a new recreational boating atmosphere, complete with bass tournaments, marinas and other boater-friendly events.
"I've grown up watching it evolve into really nice recreation right here in our backyard," Daugherty said.