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The Delta Queens Captains Log...Monday, November 24

Posted 01-24-2012 at 04:49 PM by Capt Mike
I arose at 6 am after a few hours rest,and my usual peek out the door confirmed that for once, the weather man was right! The wind was now blowing from the north at about 30 miles per hour, and the temperature was about 30 degrees. Bitter cold with the wind chill! I put on long johns and an extra coat, yanked my ball cap down tight on my head and stepped out into the cold. The morning was crystal clear and crisp, typical weather after the passing of a winter cold front. The pilot and I discussed the plans for the day as I had my first cup of coffee. We would get underway at 7:30 am, proceed up past Morgan City and through the bridges above. The Atchafalaya River stage was 1.6 today, plenty low enough for us to clear the lowest bridge. At 4 feet on the Morgan City gauge, there wouldn't be enough clearance for our 52 feet, even with the radars, masts and smokestack down. Although we had no clearance worries today, I admit to being concerned about the forecast river stages for the next couple of days. There had been heavy rains in the upper Red River Valley, the main tributary to the Atchafalaya River. Once up into the river, we would still have a few bridges and suspended pipelines to pass under to get to the Old River Lock, where we would re enter the Mississippi River. I would just have to hope for the best!
At 7:30 am, I gave the order to get underway, and the pilot backed the Delta Queen away from the bank and headed her up the channel towards the Morgan City bridges. We contacted the Coast Guard traffic control system, who gave us clearance to continue on up through the bridges. We had made a slight turn and were full ahead on the engines just about to pass through the first bridge when a large oil rig supply boat quickly backed away from the shore and started down stream through the bridges! We hurriedly called the boat and told him we were committed and couldn"t stop, he quickly realized his mistake and pulled over to the side of the channel between the 2 bridges and stopped, and we passed him on the port side only 20 feet off, narrowly missing a collision! Dam it! Some of these idiots don't pay attention!, He had gotten underway, turned south bound into the bridges without traffic control permission and hadn"t bothered to look over his shoulder!
We quickly cleared the last bridge, with about 4 feet of space from the top of the pilothouse to the underside of the bridge. I breathed a sigh of relief to be leaving the congested intercoastal waterway behind, and I took a seat on the bench to relax for a while. Here above Morgan City, the Atchafalaya River splits into dozens of different bayous and side channels, and can be confusing to a pilot. There are very few bouys on this river, so it caught my attention when I spotted one in the distance, off our port bow. I looked at the bouy in the binoculars, it was a red one. Hmmm... it was on the wrong side of the bow for our upstream course, surely he"ll (the pilot) will change course soon. We got closer to the bouy, and the pilot was still steering to the wrong side of it! I paused a moment. Closer, and I could now see clearly he was heading in the wrong direction! I spoke up quickly. "Captain, we better turn left and leave that bouy on our starboard side!" "What?" he asked, startled. I pointed at the bushes sticking up out of the water where he was headed. "You're gonna to run aground, change course to port now!" He quickly looked at the bouy through his binoculars, and said "SH*t!, and steered the boat hard to port clearing the bouy with about 20 feet to spare!
Neither of us said anything as we continued on up the channel. Even the best pilot will make a mistake occassionally, thats why we always have 2 people in the pilot house while we are underway.
The rest of the morning and afternoon passed uneventfully. About 1:30 pm I slowed the boat down and eased her bow gently into the bank at mile 88. This was the sight of a crumbling old cabin, where Harold and Mertle Bigler had lived many years ago. They had been a couple who had lived their entire lives out here in this immense swamp, in this very spot. As we held the Delta Queens bow against the shore, our guest Cajun Lecturer Greg Guirard told the story of the Biglers, and of how they had lived their lives in peace here, far away from the madness of the civilized world.
After about a half hour, the lecture was finished, and the passengers stood on the forward Texas deck bow as I backed the boat slowly away from the bank and the silent old cabin. As we turned the Delta Queen out into the river and came ahead full on the engines, we all watched in quiet thought as the old cabin slipped slowly away from sight, and the solitude of the swamp once again embraced the old home and the spirits of the Biglers...
I made my evening rounds of the vessel rounding each deck, looking into each lower compartment, passing through the crew holds. In the mid crew hold, a door was open revealing 3 of our waiters having a church meeting. I stopped briefly and said good evening, the went on my way, not wanting to intrude. I passed through the midship water tight door to the aft hold, where I nearly collided with a band member and his shiny saxaphone, hustling out of his cabin door enroute to the Orleans room above for the evening show. Up the steps and into the crew mess, I poured a glass of milk and paused for a moment. 3 deckhands and a bar tender stood transfixed watching a football game, and didn't even notice me there. Good, that's the way I like it. I headed back up towards my cabin, sensing that the boat was telling me that all was well, as the paddle wheel made her waterfall song...
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Sigh, oh to be riding on her again, no matter rain, shine or cold. She is missed....
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Posted 01-24-2012 at 08:00 PM by Jo Ann Schoen Jo Ann Schoen is offline
 
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