SALEM — Hugh Kerr has a lot of oars in the water. He owns a company that makes leather motorcycle apparel, he runs a popular Indian restaurant in downtown Salem, and he operates a pedicab business that transports tourists around the city.
On Friday night, Kerr enters the water all the way when he launches Salem Harbor Cruises, the first of six entertainment cruises that will depart from the city this spring, summer and fall.
"We think there's a huge void on the North Shore for seaboard entertainment," said Kerr, who is partnering with Bill Walker of Water Transportation Alternatives, the Quincy company that operates the Salem ferry.
This new cruise business is starting up as plans advance for the development of the city's waterfront. Work is expected to begin this year on a harborwalk, and the city hopes to get state funding soon to build a new pier.
"A number of businesspeople in Salem were really enthusiastic about seeing this happen," Walker said.
The three-hour evening cruises aboard the Voyager III, which has three decks and holds more than 200 people, will feature an entertainer, dancing on deck, appetizers from two local restaurants (Finz and A Passage to India), and a cash bar.
But this is no booze cruise, Kerr said.
"Absolutely not," he said. "This is going to be a classy, quality cruise experience."
For the maiden voyage, the promoters are going all the way to Florida to fly in singer and songwriter Jenna Drey, who has had several singles on the Billboard dance chart.
Most of the cruises will have themes. The first this Friday night is a "Salem Pride Cruise" that will benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation, named in memory of the gay college student beaten to death in a 1998 hate crime in Wyoming.
Kerr said he got the idea for the cruise after talking with friends and customers at his restaurant.
"My gay friends say there's nothing for gay people to do just for gay people," he said.
There will be five more music and dance cruises: June 27, Sunset dance cocktail cruise; July 18, Jolly Roger Reggae Cruise (costumes optional); Aug. 1, (to be announced); Aug. 23, Blues on the Bay Cruise; Sept. 20, Sinatra Saturday Cruise; and Oct. 25, Rainbow Costume Cruise. All of the cruises are for adults 21 and over, except the Halloween event, where the minimum age is 18.
The Voyager III will depart at 8 p.m. from the Salem ferry dock at the Blaney Street landing, where there is free parking. Tickets are $39 ($35 per person for a couple).
On the waterfront
Mahi Mahi — One-hour cruise on 47-passenger sightseeing boat (800-992-MAHI or www.mahicruises.com)
Schooner Fame — Two-hour cruise on replica War of 1812 privateer (978-729-7600 or www.schoonerfame.com)
Flagship Adventures — Private charters on hard-bottom inflatable boats (978-744-3524 or www.flagshipadventures.com)
Hannah Glover — Private charters on 149-passenger lunch and dinner boat (781-639-0600 or www.therockmore.com)
Rockmore restaurant — Floating restaurant in the harbor; free rides to get there (781-639-0600 or www.therockmore.com)
Salem Water Taxi — Half-hour rides on launch boats (978-740-9890 or www.salemwatertaxi.com)
Blaney Street Landing
Salem ferry — Ferry rides between Salem and Boston (978-741-0220 or www.salemferry.com)
Salem Harbor cruises — Three-hour entertainment cruises (978-741-0220 or www.salemferry.com/shc.shtml)