Miss Augusta, a luxury yacht that will soon take passengers on public and private cruises out of Augusta, set sail for the first time Sunday out of the Yacht Club of St. Louis in St. Charles.
The vessel is a 105-foot Skipperliner yacht with three decks, dining and two bars.
Sunday's event was part of a christening of the yacht, which is owned by Jerri and David Hoffmann and the Hoffmann Family of Companies, who have been working to create a national wine and tourism destination in the Augusta and Washington area. Sunday marked the near-completion of a big part of those plans.
"It feels amazing to see a dream come true, and this is a dream come true," Jerri Hoffman said.
Sunday's christening began as David Hoffmann cracked a champagne bottle against the side of the boat. Then around 1:30 p.m., the boat set off on the Mississippi River full of local figures, Hoffmann Family of Companies employees and media.
Starting Nov. 11, the yacht will be doing public and private cruises out of St. Charles, but in the spring, when the Hoffmanns have finished constructing a dock at Klondike Park in Augusta, operations will move there.
"This is a beautiful area and (people) can come and enjoy the cruises here, but we're excited to get to Augusta where we're building a dock," said Jenny Gazella, who runs the Hoffmann Family of Companies' yacht operations.
Gazella said the dock is currently under construction to give the park the infrastructure to support the ship. She also said that visitors at the dock will park at Mt. Pleasant Estates, which the Hoffmanns own, and be transported by trolley to Klondike Park. "We bus them over so we don't take away from the public's parking."
Gazella said that the maiden voyage went great.
"It's really great to see people on here and enjoying it," she said.
Katy Blakely is the vessel manager of Miss Augusta.
"We're very excited," she said of her staff. "We don't have anything like this in the county, so it's nice to be able to bring it."
David Hoffmann is very excited to bring it to the area too.
"It's going to be really fun," he said.
The couple are Washington natives, but their entrepreneurial endeavors have mostly been in Naples, Florida, where they've created a tourism destination similar to what they hope to achieve in Augusta. This difference between the Augusta and Washington area and Naples, Florida is that this is home for the couple.
"It's just incredible to go sort of full circle in life," Jerri Hoffmann said. "We've always had a foot in the door in Washington, and now we have more than a foot in the door. It's very gratifying to be back here."
And local leaders are happy to have them back.
"To have a yacht of this magnitude on the Missouri River would be something unheard of but great to have," said Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy, who rode the yacht Sunday. "I think it will be a great addition to what we already have in the area."
Lucy said people will be pleasantly surprised to see something so big and nice coming down the river. She also thinks it will be a tourism boost.
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann came aboard the ship Sunday too.
"I've always said this is one of the great aspects of the St. Louis region that people don't know about," he said referring to the scenery of the river. "We're very happy with what the Hoffmanns have done and think it's going to be great for both Franklin and St. Charles County."
Miss Augusta is part of the couple's bigger vision for the region. David and Jerri Hoffmann have purchased more than two dozen properties in the area, including four wineries — Montelle Winery, Augusta Winery, Mount Pleasant Estates and Balducci Vineyards — and several businesses, including the Augusta Emporium general store and Kickstand Augusta bike shop. The couple also plans to build a 15,000-square-foot, 65-room hotel and conference center in southwestern St. Charles County and an 18-room boutique hotel in southern Warren County.