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Date: August 10, 2002 at 18:54:09
From: Captain Mike, [user-119at1j.biz.mindspring.com]
Subject: The Captains Log


Today dawned the same as a thousand others, except before first light the intrepid crew of the Delta Queen was aboard the boat in the drydock as the first light gave hint of arrival. Myself,mate Buford and deck crew, and engine staff all arrived before 5 am to make final preparations for the vessel to sail. First, in the scant before dawn light, I walked the drydock, down around the Delta Queens hull, checking all docking plugs, bow thruster screens, overboard discharge ports, etc. All seemed to be in order. Still at this early hour, dock workers toiled with brooms and dustpans to sweep the last tiny remnants of sandblast material from the drydock surface. These days, no waste goes in the river, thank god! There is an uneasy air of expectation amongst us all, to refloat the boat is indeed a special event, but one that must be taken seriously. We set about assigning teams to search and check each hull tank and compartment as the boat is slowly sunk back into the embrace of the warm, muddy, Mississippi. The call is given , and slowly the light green water begins to trickle, then rush unashamedly across the flat surface of the dock, almost like a hundred thousand fans rushing the field after their team has just won the world series! Soon, the lapping river covers the supporting blocks upon which the Delta Queen rests, and then, the call comes from the dock foreman, "She's floatin"! Held in place, directly in the center of the dock by rigid steel cables, the Delta Queen trembles impatiently at the sudden chill of her hull. We go by teams through each tank, ballast, fuel oil, diesel oil, potable water, crawling, looking, listening for the telltale whisper of leaking water. Nothing, nary a drop! After a half hour of 20 men crawling every tank, every weld, every seam, we all conclude, we are good to go! Word is radioed to the dock fore man, and slowly the Delta Queen is winched over to the port side of the dry dock and locked into position. When all measurements were taken and engineers satisfied, the huge, rolling dry dock crane re-delivered the Delta Queens board-bristling paddlewheel, and ever so gently set it back into its journal bearing seats. Smooth as glass, there it was, I couldn't believe how well it had all gone! Now it was time to go. The dock was completely submerged, a federal pilot was aboard, the tug boats were summoned and made fast. Slowly, smoothly, the tug boats gently eased the old girl out of the upper end of the dock and out into the river. I shook hands with the pilot and quickly showed him the way down to the awaiting pilot boat below. Waving goodbye, my mind quickly snapped to our disposition. Middle of river, two tugs, one on each side of the stern. One big tractor tug made fast with one tow line on the bow. Well, the ship pilots off, she's mine! Without even going to the pilot house, I called on my handheld marine radio to the tugs, "Both stern tugs stop, bow tug pull her hard down river to starboard." All boats responded and echoed the commands and soon the Delta Queen was spinning like a top, turning down river. At the appropriate time I called for the mighty bow tug to stop pulling, and as the Delta Queen swung nearly straight down river, I called for the bow tug to "Let her go", and for the side tugs to come full ahead! The bow tug cleared and wished us well, and soon we were headed down river on a clear, but very windy Louisiana day. Working carefully with the two tugs along side, I guided the Delta Queen the 11 miles down the wind swept river,and in about 2 hours we found orselves approaching our home at Robin Street Wharf. I surveyed the situation with concern. The wind gauge in the DQs pilothouse was showing gusts to 40 mph, ONSHORE! Damn!, I knew this was going to be fun! I had to park this dead boat( NO POWER) 20 feet from the bow of the American Queen, with tug boats in a ferocious on shore wind! This is one of those times when I would like to let some of our steamboat friends take over and see what being a river captain is really all about! Well, here I was and it was time to face up to the challenge. I am well beyond the point of no return! I have learned that the best way to deal with situations like these is to 100% commit every fiber of your being to focusing on getting your vessel securely and safely against the dock. I become a mindless machine, intent on clear, consise engine and rudder commands to the tugs, it can be no other way, we must completely understand and trust each other. We finally drop past and just below the main Gangways of the American Queen, only 20 feet off and closing. I carefully coax and talk to the two tugs as if they are my children, coaxing and cajoling them to respond exactly to my slightest wish, It is like a symphony, a few misunderstood notes and we crunch something with 3000 tons, but if perfectly performed, it will end as a flawless concherto. The Delta Queen eased against to dock as gently as a motherlaying her new born to sleep on a down bed. Within moments the mate called up, we got her Capt., all fast and safe at home! Safe at home indeed! A day closer to your hearts, and a hell of a worry off of mine! Good night from the Wharf!


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