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The Captains Log November 20th, 2003

Posted 11-21-2012 at 09:58 AM by Capt Mike
A rainy night here in Florida, while digging through my archives I dropped one of my log books and it fell open to todays date, only nine years past... November 20, 2003
I had mamaged to get a couple of hours of light sleep when I was called as we approached Oak Alley plantation, descending the river from the north. I was wide awake in a moment, snapped to attention as I hurriedly dressed for duty. For night landings, I always kept my pants hanging on a hook next to my bunk, a pull- over sweatshirt, and my socks laying side by side, my unlaced shoes pulled open, ready for quick entry, I could be fully dressed and out the door in 45 seconds...As I ducked out of my cabin door I was greeted by a crisp, clear night. I looked up at the star filled sky just in time to see a shooting star streak across the sky. The light scent of smoke hung in the still air, the smell and the tell-tale sign of the fall ritual of burning the sugar cane fields, preparing the stalks for harvest.
As I stood by in the wheelhouse, the pilot rang a dead slow ahead on the telegraph and was answered from below; he swung the Delta Queen slowly around in a graceful turn, allowing her to fall slowly down almost abreast of the landing. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the wheelhouse, the usual sign that faithfull watchman Michael Cameron was on duty...I stepped out onto the bridgewing and paused, marveling at the fact that here I was, on an old steamboat, turning on a mile wide river at 1 in the morning, about to land at an old southern plantation, while a stalwart crew and 163 passengers slept below. For a moment I wondered what year is it, 1836? 1872? It might as well have been...I snapped back to the present went the pilot called,"All stop, Capt." The Delta Queen was just below the landing and barely creeping up the river as I took over, guiding the pilot with engine and rudder commands over the 2 way radio. The river was very low, and a large sand bar protruded from the shore, preventing me from getting the boat as close to the landing as usual. I had to gently push the bow of the boat into the shore then on a hard left rudder and a half ahead, was able to swing the bow in close enough to the shore to make the gangplank just barely reach the bank. The deckhands and mate struggled for 45 minutes to drag the 2 inch lines up the steep rocky bank. I remained patient, as we weren't in a hurry this night, and I remembered how it was to be a deckhand, the sultry hot nights, and the bitter cold winter days, dragging the heavy lines up steep banks and to distant trees. Low river is the worst for steamboat deckhands; for every foot the river falls adds ten feet farther up the hill to the tie...Sometimes I miss the deck work and the feeling of working with a close knit group of guys, doing an extremely rare job, working the deck of a glorious old steamboat through hundreds of locks, landings and departures, on a dozen different rivers, someplace different every day...daresay a million men wish they could be here now!
The mate and crew finally got all the lines secure, 2 bow lines, a tight spring line and a snug stern line, the powerfull steam capstan hishing steam as they snugged her one last time. "All fast, ring finished with engines" I called to the pilot. He slung the engine order telegraph to "Finished With Engines", and the engineer below reciprocated, the chain and gear device clanging and clicking in response.
I thanked the pilot and made my way out of the pilothouse, headed below for some rest before morning light. As I made my way down the steps, I paused and watched as the mate and 4 deckhands began building a long pathway up the hill side to the walkway at the top of the bank. They would labor for a couple of hours, using all of our extra gangways, "barrel stages", carpets and planks to build a neat safe, trail up to the top of the bank, a good watches' work indeed! At my cabin door, a quick glance at my watch told me it was almost 3 am, and the faint but tantalizing aroma of frying bacon told me the faithful chef was already at work down below in the galley.
Steamboatin" has its moments!
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Capt Mike, I thought I read somewhere that you were working on a book to capture the experiences here. Any truth to that?
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Posted 11-26-2012 at 11:19 AM by George Burch George Burch is offline
 
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