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Date: August 04, 2002 at 00:19:41
From: Captain Mike, [user-119at1j.biz.mindspring.com]
Subject: The Captains Log


I arose at 4am, and quickly prepared for the busy day ahead. In 15 minutes I was ready and out the door with a thick, black cup of Community coffee steaming in my hand. I paused at the gangway of the Delta Queen, and made a quick survey of conditions. The boat, sitting level and trim, gently tugging back and forth on her bow lines in the wake of a since passed boat. She knows, and she's ready! The rivers surface is smooth and black as ink in the pre-dawn night. A cluster of lights down at the lower end of Robin St. wharf reveal that the big Bisso tug boats are already here, and are waiting for me to call them into action. I swing up to the wheelhouse, and I notice that my pace is a little quicker than normal, but I realize it is just the thrill of finally getting back out into the river. In the pilothouse, I reach up and turn on the masthead navigation lights, and configure them to show us as a "vessel restricted in ability to manuever, underway". I crack open the marine radio to the local working channel and hear nothing. Good, no traffic this morning. I notice that the flag on the foremast hangs loose and relaxed. A perfect day to tow a 285 foot long sail up the river. Weather forecast for calm winds and no storms coming. Soon, down below on the wharf, I hear the familiar loud voice of the first mate, hollering at a late arriving deckhand. "Where the hell you been? You almost got left behind! For the love of god you guys are gonna give me a stroke! Go back there and throw that water hose off, and single up those lines! Hurry up! And so on, what a true river mate, a tough worker but really respected by his hands. I call to the tugs via marine radio, and soon they start edging our way. The mighty tug "Vera Bisso", over 5,000 horse power, slowly approaches the Delta Queens bow. The tugs captain calls on the radio, "I dunno, capt. Mike, if I can get alongside, I draw 18 feet." 18 feet! Dam, what a tug, I think to my self. And with the 4,000 horsepower tug Ed Bisso hooking up to the stern, there will be no shortage of horsepower today! The Delta Queens deck crew assist the tugs in making fast to the outboard side. The Delta Queen is tied off facing down river, port side to the wharf, in order to tow her, we will have to flip her around, bow up river. From the bow, mate Buford calls on his radio, "Capt., the tug guys want me to put one of their lines on the wooden bitts on the peak, but I think they will break". I quickly coverse with the tug captain and he assures me that he will be gentle, but he needs to put his line there to have a good lead to flip us around. I tell the mate to go ahead and put the line there. Soon, the tugs call all ready, and I have the deckhands let all lines go. I call all gone, and direct the tugs to start pulling straight out, slow astern. The old boat begins immediately coming out away from the wharf, when from all the way down on the bow I hear a huge crack! pow! The wooden bitts surrendered to the power of the mighty tug and the 12"X12" timbers fold over like cardboard. We at least got the DQ turned around and facing up river, and with the tug Ed Bisso on the stern ,maintained complete control. I had the mate and crew quickly rig a towing bridal with our own bow lines, and hooked that onto the big tugs tow line, and he proceeded to tow us up the river under perfect control without any more problems. Captain Lesson 1A- Listen to your mate! The wooden bitts were not original (Replaced last about 10 years ago) and a close inspection revealed that they were significantly rotted at the bases. Really, a perfect time for them to fail, on the way to the ship yard, hum, how covienient, isn't it? ( Thanks Capt. M!) The towed trip the 11 miles up the river to the dock was uneventful but beautiful, and once again I found myself sitting alone in the pilothouse of the Steamer Delta Queen watching another sunrise on the Lower Mississippi river. There are worse places to be.
As we passed under the Huey P. Long bridge, about a half a mile below the drydock we were assigned to, a small tender boat came out along side, and a Federal Ship Pilot came aboard to take the boat into the drydock itself (Required by the shipyard) After a wait, holding out in the river as final dock preparations were made, the dry dock called and said they were completely sunk, had 20 feet of water over the dock and we ready for us to enter. I just stood back in the wheelhouse and watched as the talented young pilot talked and walked the Delta Queen smoothly into position in the drydock. We secured her off along the land side off the dock on the DQs port side. Within 5 minutes, the huge rolling crane had rolled into position, slings were attached, and the 44 ton paddlewheel was slowly and gently lifted into the air. It rose higher and higher above our heads, until it was some 50 feet above the Delta Queen, looking like a huge, Macys', Thanksgiving day parade balloon, as workers with tag lines steadied it up in the breeze as it was gently set in its' steel holding cradle. Soon, the Delta Queen was pulled back with winches into the exact middle of the dock, and the steel cables locked her into position. Yard workers paused and took exact measurements on bow and stern, and the ok was given, and they began to raise the huge dock under the Delta Queen.Amazingly, in 15 minutes, she was high and dry, sitting exactly in the middle of the dock and perfectly centered on the supporting blocks. A wonderful end to a long day! She looks good, considering over five years bottomside to the river. A complete hull report tommorrow! Good Night from 'The Wharf, or, Drydock I should say!


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