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.