This is the archive of all “The Captains Log” postings from Captain Master Mike Williams, Delta Queen, reporting the work and situation at the wharf in New Orleans while preparing the Mississippi Queen and the Delta Queen for their return to the rivers in 2002.
March 04, 2002
Hello, everyone. I was aboard the “Queens” in NOLA a couple of weeks ago. The Delta Queen rests easily,in good shape,and was laid up well. I am hopeful for the future but have no news to relay.I am confident that we will all hear the whistles blow again, and am looking forward to that day!
April 09, 2002
It is 6:30pm New Orleans time, and I just returned from a “walkaround” the old Steamer Delta Queen. It is raining, with lots of thunder, a dreary, dark evening here at Robin Street Wharf. I had to hop up onto the bow of the Delta Queen as the river is very high, and the boat is empty of fuel and water, so her gunnel is riding high , about 4 feet above the level of the wharf. I made my way up through the darkened interior, my footsteps echoing off the cardboarded floors. To most folks it would probably be spooky, or a little unnerving, to walk around an old steamboat at night in a thunderstorm, but not me. I have never felt more at home, or more comfortable anywhere on this earth than on this gentle old boat. Her every timber and door welcome me, and I feel great peace just being back aboard her again. I pause to listen, The Delta Queen will tell a listener so much, and I can her her gently rub against the creosote timbers of the wharf, I can hear the rain patter on the outer decks, and I smile to hear that creak in the bulkhead by the piano in the Texas Lounge as she rocks gently against her lines, that creak has been there for years, it’s just more pronounced when the boats empty of fuel and water. I pause to softly play a sweet tune on the ole upright piano in the Texas lounge, with memories of Phyllis and happy evenings with friends around us. I wandered back through the silent aft cabin lounge, where I pause and listen, but hear no slamming doors, no hint of any spiritual movement tonight, The Delta Queen is asleep tonight, and dreaming, Dreaming of the moment when she will again be awakened by the first loud crew member to board, shouting to his fellows, and making the happy noise of a boat being brought out of layup and prepared to bring happiness to the river faring folk for yet another season. I realize how truely blessed I have been to be here now, and to have been here for so many moments aboard this beautiful old vessel with so many light-hearted friends. I feel so lucky, because so many of you good folk would love to be where I am right now. But please, don’t be envious, for you are here, with us, right now , on The Delta Queen! In spirit, in hope, and in great confidence that the Steamer Delta Queen will soon steam ahead again!
April 10, 2002
Hey all, hello from Robin Street, Just wanted to make an entry in “The Captains Log” and let you all know what’s going on here. We are making great progress in getting the Magnificent Mississippi Queen ready to sail. Most of the starboard side is painted (by professional painters!) and the interior areas are being dressed up. carpet cleaned, and replaced in some areas, new drapes and fittings in passenger cabins, Mate Buford and the deck crew have been painting and cleaning in the crew holds, it is really starting to look spiffy, Mikel York, David Simmons and Teresa Eberling are all here, the best crew you could ever imagine, all seasoned lay-up veterans! Today was the first day I personally acknowledged that it was going to happen, that we were ahead in the ball game on every front, and that we will positively, without a doubt, be steamboating again soon! And yes, Chief Dennis Shenk is also here, adding his expertise to the mix, he’s a cranky coot but he is a devoted steamboater and knows the MQ as well as anyone! We are glad to have him in the mix! Sales are great, but there are lots of great cruises yet to book, like the upper Mississippi, Chattanooga on the Delta Queen in the fall, and many others! Come on, what are you waiting for ,go ahead and call, I promise you, this year it will be more special than ever, we will make it that way for you, you deserve it! Staenboatin” Lives!
April 13, 2002
Hey, folks, don’t worry about it, when it comes to our steamboats, yes, I am a nut! Just like anyone else who in their life ever connected with that which made them feel alive! I am not offended at all by someone who thinks I am a nut, because I would love to share some steamboat time on the river with them and see them become enlightened to that great, unique American experience that we all cherish. We are all steamboat “nuts” and proud of it! And personally, I must say, that there is not a finer, more devoted group of people in the world, and I am proud to call you all good friends! Steamboat nuts? You better believe it! Come on, join in, you will love it!
We are just wrapping up another hard day of work here at Robin Street Wharf, it started out as a dreary, overcast day, then bloomed into a beautiful, cool day with a partly cloudy sky. Mate Buford and the deck crew immediately set to work painting in both the paddlewheel and up on the calliope bar deck. I love it when the weather is nice, it puts ole Mate Buford in a good mood, he loves to get out there on deck and make progress painting! As we speak, chiefs Tad Kornecki and Dave Lorman are filling the distilled water tanks with fresh “Culligan” water, in preparation of firing up the boilers! Up in the passenger areas, Barbara Burch and Teresa Eberling have already had all the carpets cleaned and have set up the dining room furniture, it looks like the Mississippi Queen is ready to sail today! The paint crew scurry from cabin to cabin doing final touch up and detail work, and so far, we are well on schedule. Today I fired up all wheelhouse electronics, radars, radios, navigation lights,fog horn, and tested all water tight doors and fire doors—everything worked the first time ! Can you believe it? Tell me this boat doesn’t want to sail! God Bless her, sail soon she shall!
April 18, 2002
We had a very good day here at Robin St. Wharf, New Orleans. The weather has favored us, unbelievably, sunshine and moderate temperatures. A painters dream. Buford and the deck crew are making great progress all over the boat. The paddlewheel, fantails, and backboard have all been completely pressure washed and painted, and as you approach the boat from down stream walking up the wharf from the office, the Mississippi Queen looks like a new vessel! Hey believe it or not, we have office folk here who are taking people on tours of the crew storerooms and laundry areas to show them how good the boat looks inside as well!Engineering work progresses well , and folks if there was a major problem to report, I would! So far, so good. Yesterday I chlorinated the potable watertanks in compliance with all Federal Regs, under the cooperation of Chief Engineers Dave Lorman and Tad Kornecki, we filled the no. 5 tank pairs with 40000 gallons of fresh,super chlorinated water. which will set 24 hours and them be pumped through every faucet on the boat, insuring, fresh, clean water. The tanks will then be dumped and refilled again in preparation for the crews arrival on April 22nd.
The river has finally begun a slow fall, you might think , good, but now I have to continually watch all three boats and slack off lines five times a day! Now I know how a mother duck with 10 ducklings feels! Oh well, just part of the grand “steamboatin” experience. Honestly, I hope all of you river city folks fared the recent high water well, I know it got fairly high up there in some places, and we have been thinking of you. Hey, Steamboaters, look at it this way, if we would have been sailing, we would have been stuck somewhere between bridges or changing our schedule to deal with the high water. Some of you will agree, and then some of you real hard core steamboaters will say, Yeah that’s the thrill of it, to be out there and deal with the whims of “Old Man River”. God Bless us River Addicts!
April 21, 2002
Hello folks, I’m beat! I spent most of the day stripping the old tile off of the floor in the Mqs crew mess. Everything else goes well, I am now living in the Captains room on the Delta Queen, and it feels like home. The river is on a slow fall and I continually have to slack off the lines on all three boats to keep them from hanging up on the wharf. River traffic is very heavy, ships, tugs everything moving North and South, a good sign I suppose. I have to wonder how much Old Man River can hold. We may move the boats next week, take the MQ out under her own power, move the Delta Queen out by tug, and flip the MQ around and reland at Robin ST. in the Dqs spot, facing downstream, so we can finish painting the outboard side of the vessel. And folks, she is looking great! Thank you all for your devotion, we will make this a special steamboat year for you! And for you crewmembers out there, we are looking forward to seeing you all again soon! And we do mean, you all!
April 27, 2002
Today was agrand day for steamboatin, because today, the Magnificient Mississippi Queen sailed for the first time in months! Today we did the first actual sea/ river trial of the MQ in action, and it went very well. The day dawned bright and clear, and an early morning wind out of the south had me a bit worried, but it rapidly subsided as the forecast had promised. Tugboats Karche, Heide and Mildred M. all arrived as scheduled at 8 am, and the Heide and the Karche made up alongside of the Delta Queen in preparation to move her to the upper end of the wharf once the MQ was clear. Captain John Sutton was in command of the tugs handling the Delta Queen. At about 8:15 am, with Captain Kenny Williams at the helm, the MQ departed Robin Street Wharf, northbound, on a two hour trial run. I was impressed at how well the big MQ moved off of the dock as I gave engine and rudder commands to Capt. Kenny. The MQ danced off the dock and headed north like a colt being let out of the barn in the morning, I could feel her exuberance beneath my feet as she trembled to life! The river was high, but we started out on a slow ahead, then after a few minutes went to a half ahead, and then after a go ahead from our great engineering staff, full ahead we went, northbound on the Mississippi again! What a grand experience on such a perfect morning. I knew immediately that the hopes and hearts of many of you true steamboat friends were sailing with us, and I thought of how thrilled we all would have been together, sharing this very special steamboatin moment. I can assure you, my friends, you were all there with us, as we went up that chocolate brown river this morning! We proceeded up the river to just below 6 mile point, where I asked Captain Kenny to turn her, and give the engines a good test astern. He backed her slow at first, then half, and then, with the encouragement of Chief Engineer Dave Lorman, full astern! The Old MQ flipped around south like the proverbial outhouse door, amazing all of us with her rapid manueverability. She’s a class backer! As we headed south, we radioed ahead to Capt. Sutton on the Delta Queen, and he began to command the tugs and move the Delta Queen off the dock and up river, to make room for us to put the MQ in a downstream landing spot, right in front of the Steamboat terminal, to prepare her to board passengers, ( and to complete painting on the port side!)As we rounded the bend avove the New Orleans bridges, there was the Delta Queen, being held up high above the old River City Casino Dock, awaiting for our arrival. Working closely with Capt. Kenny the pilot, I walked the Mississippi Queen slowly around the point, occassionly backing and coming ahead to keep the stern in close to the dock in the strong current. I’m sure it did’nt look very good from the wharf, what with the bow pointed almost straight across the river, and the stern almost scraping the wharf, but folks, it’s the only way to do it in high water. We worked her slowly down, in and around the Delta Queen until we touched gently against the wharf, and mate Buford and crew lassoed the bollards and wrapped her off tight. Once we were all secure, Capt. Sutton on the Delta Queen eased the old girl gently against the dock, facing up river, and head deckhand Teron Spencer wrapped all lines off perfectly. The deck crews ran out gangways, and us Captains, mates and pilots all met on the wharf to congradulate each other. The office staff was exuberant, I think they are finally catching on that we actually know what we are doing out here! They are great folks and we need them as good members of the steamboat team! As always, I went to the engine room to thank to Chief,firemen, tenders, and especially the engineer at the controls, my friend Jeff Smith, for superb dexterity and swift response on the throttle, it means a lot to have an engineer at the controls that you know and trust, thanks Jeff!
In summary, steamboatin’ is alive and well as we speak. Soon, the Mississippi Queen will once again grace our nations waterways with her magnificience. Not to long after,the Beautiful, graceful beloved steamboat Delta Queen will follow her daughter, heading up river, to carry the eternal message that something good, something of the American past and present remain melded together and shall not be taken away from us, for any reason, for steamboats are the heart and soul of this great nation, and they lay in the center of our being, just as the Mississippi River connects the heart of our nation.
April 30, 2002
Today folks, I was suppossed to be going home, but one of the other fellows couldn’t return right away, so I have been asked to stay on until the 5th until Capt. Gabe comes back. I have to admit that I am looking forward to going home to my beautiful wife and daughter, but somehow I knew that I would be here to see this project of love all the way through. Yesterday was another day of hard work for us, now mostly detail stuff, millions of little details trying to primp and tweak every little item as near to perfection that we can. Several more crewmembers came back today, and tommorrow, the companionways and decks will ring with the joyful calls of fellow steamboat crewmen and women preparing the Magnificient Mississippi Queen to sail. In every voice I hear the barely disguised elation at being back aboard, the relief from the dawning realization that steamboatin’ yet lives,and the almost child-like exuberation and anticipation of ports and friends nearly lost, to be soon seen again! Oh, yes steamboating is yet alive, just imagine the first time when the boat glides into your port, you”ll hear the landing whistle sound,the melodic tones of the calliope from afar, won’t it be grand! We can’t wait to see you all again!
May 1, 2002
Here on the Steamer Mississippi Queen we are today in a common goal, to get our Certificate of inspection from the US Coast Guard, and to have the MQ looking better than she has in years. We are rapidly approaching both, as the Coast Guard begins our annual inspection tommorrow and today the remainder of the entire crew has returned. It is a noisy, happy scene of seeming confusion, but each respective department has begun putting the finishing touches on the boat, and in a day or so, it will shine like new. As usual, we have had the normal pre-sailing glitches, but every problem has been worked through calmly. It is great to have the whole crew back a week before boarding passengers, because we get to throughly test all systems and work out the bugs before guests come on board. The Mississippi Queen is now a totally self sufficient, operational vessel. Fully fueled,water tanks run over with fresh, cold drinking water,the steam plant providing hot water and electricity,she is a living entity. With the beginning of the 2 day Coast Guard Inspection, we are nearing the day we shall sail again, wish us luck!
Of course I go up to the Delta Queen every day to check her lines and bilges, and to just say hello. She rests quietly, tugging gently against her lines in the wakes of passing ships and tows. Inside, she is still dry and clean, but there are hints of mildew beginning to show on some of her outer deck overheads. I’m going to try to give her a quick bleach solution wash down before I go home. In the cabins on her upper decks, you can smell the Oregon Cedar scent of the lumber with which she was built, still detectable after all of these years and especially strong now due to the lack of air conditioning. Basically, shes still fine, but each time I leave her I feel as I were leaving my grandmother in a nursing home. I feel she calls to me to take her home, home to her family, you, the steamboaters, and to the river towns and folks who are her real family and to whom she really belongs. This noble endeavor to revive steamboating has just begun. Of course we want to see the Grand American Queen sail again also, but we all know that the steamboat family will never be complete until the Legendary Delta Queen sails again. We will keep or hopes high and our faith strong, until we are reunited on the decks of the DElta Queen again. Good Night from “The Wharf”.
May 2, 2002
It is twilight here at “The Wharf”, the fading end to another hot but productive day aboard the Mississippi Queen. I arose at 5am from a restless night of tossing and turning, having been kept awake running over Coast Guard requirements and boat business in my head. I wish I could say that I slept well and that I wasn’t concerned, but I feel greatly indebted the this vessel and her crew and am committed to do my best to see us through this struggle. I always wonder if I have done enough, if perhaps I would have done some things differently, maybe things would be better. My blistered hands and sore back tell me that I have worked, I just hope that all of our efforts pay off by giving our guests better steamboating adventures than ever before. Amongst all of the shore staff and crew here at the wharf, there is a renewed and determined mindset to be better than ever, and to show the steamboating public that we are worthy of their trust again. I sat today and listened as our office management staff spoke to the crew of the Mississippi Queen to discuss the future of the company and of steamboating. It wasn’t a typical staff type meeting, it had the sense of real family members talking openly together. I watched as one of the top guys in the company spoke of his concern for our past passengers and of the crews, and saw him near tears as he spoke of our common dedication to making this the bset steamboatin’ year ever, especially for you devoted river and steamboat fans.With sincerity, honest concern and undogged determination, we will resurrect the Grand and uniquely American tradition of Steamboat Cruising, so that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will be able to touch, feel and live the river experience.
Tommorrow we hope to finish our Coast Guard inspection, and I will let you know the outcome. So far, it has gone very well. With the reciept of the Certificate of Inspection from the Coast Guard, (never easily won!) I will be able to breathe easier, but not relax. When the Magnificient Mississippi Queen sails away May 7th for Memphis, Tennessee, I will proudly wave goodbye, then turn and walk up river to visit the Delta Queen. I’ll finally be able to tell her that now, you, I, and all of the people here and across the country, have come to take her home to our hearts again! Good night from the wharf!
May 3, 2002
I know everyone is concerned about tommorrows sale, and I am too, but I really have no more information than some of you. Suffice it to say that with the sale, we will sail, so onward we go in to another chapter of steamboating history.
This morning I waited nervously near the MIssissippi Queens’ gangway for the US Coast Guard Inspectors to arrive and begin the second day of their inspection. 9 am came and went and no inspectors appeared. At about 9:30 I went into the office to call the Inspection office when our Marine Director Ron Adams told me that the Coast Guard had just called, and said that they were tied up for the day and wouldn’t be able to come back until Monday! But the good news was that they said they hadn’t seen anything terribly wrong on their inspection the day before, and that they would deliver our Certificate of Inspection on Monday! Hooray! A major hurdle past, and a big step towards being back in business! I rushed back to the boat and spread the good news to all, and I believe I heard a collective sigh of relief from everyone. Now everyone has redirected their focus back to the task at hand, which is making the boat as clean, pretty and ready for our very special guests on the 7th! Be warned, we here intend to have fun with you and show you a good time! Get ready to kick back, relax, have a few laughs, and just watch the river roll by! River conditions are good and improving all the time, with a slow falling river, we shouldn’t have any trouble with making our scheduled stops. We have contacted our friends in each of the ports we will be visiting, so be prepared for special, welcome back greetings along the way! Soon you’ll be walking the path between the huge, ancient oak trees at Oak Alley Plantation, looking for friendly spirits at “The Mertles” plantation at St. Francisville, or sipping a Whiskey Sour at Natchez UnderThe Hill. Ah yes, back again! Make no mistake, the remainder of this season will be extra special as the boats begin to sail again. Come on back and give it a try, there are good cruises still available on both the MQ and the DQ, be a part of this historical year! I know the recent events have really been an eyeopener for me, and I plan to rededicate myself to serving and just being a good friend to you people who love the same things as me- steamboats, the river, and America the Beautiful!
Good night from the Wharf!
May 9, 2002
Hello everyone, sorry about my silence for the last few days but you can understand why. Now that everything is official, let me say they we are happy that Delaware North was the sucessful bidder and we look forward to working with them to bring the steamboatin’ way of life back to prominence. I am at home now, finally getting some R&R, and already beginning to formulate a plan to start preparing the Delta Queen to sail. Much work lies ahead, but now we can move forward into the steamboat future with confidence and a sense of direction. I think only good things will come from the folks at Delaware North. Someone posted a message that they hoped the Delta Queen would continue to explore, and I can’t reveal details now but I am hoping to submit a plan to our new management in the near future along those lines. Delaware North has already stated that they believe in Historic Restoration, and to that end we will all strive. I hope that we have begun to embark on the grandest steamboat adventure of all time, a once in a life time event the likes of steamboatin hasn’t seen since the race between the Natchez and the Robert E. Lee! Long Live the Queens!
June 14, 2002
Hey, everyone, I am soon to return to Robin Street, “The Wharf” and if there is any way possible, I will renew the nightly postings of ” The Captains Log”. I want you to live, breathe and feel the real river life as it transpires at the dock, no holds barred, I know as seasoned river adventurers you will strain at every line pull, worry with every storm and stand with us as we, you and I live every moment of steamboat life together! I will draw from your strength and return it to you in spades, getting ready to steamboat for real! Steamboating is rough, tough and real, isn’t it grand?
June 25, 2002
Hello everyone! Today I arrived back at the wharf, and rather than go to the office, I went straight up river and boarded the Delta Queen. She sits silent, patient and alone, and as I walked through her darkened interior I felt the greatest sense of happiness that I can describe. I talked to her, and told her how much I had missed her and that now, she must awaken, for we were returning to gently shake her from her slumber and prepare her to take back to her family again. What a good boat she is, god bless her wood lined soul! She sits high, tight and dry at the wharf, her interior is as if she just put into port yesterday, clean, dry, quiet. Outside,she has a light coating of mildew, as if she had but been out for a camping trip for a week or so,but nothing that Buford the Mississippi mate and a couple of steadfast deckhands can’t clean off with a good day’s scrubbing! Down in the crew holds, she is as clean and as dry as tinder, not a drop of condensation for this old double hulled gal! It is as if the day the disheartened crew left, unknowing of the future of their beloved friend, the Delta Queen once again stopped in time, as if to pause in love and devotion to say to all of us who love her, “I will wait for you to return”. Who can tell of the silent conversations whispered in darkened hallways late at night on the empty boat, as those who “dwell” aboard and protect the old boat waited for what was sure, our return, and the renewal of another generation of wonderful, American Steamboat memories! And so, soon my friends, to the heart and soul of this great nation will return the symbol of freedom, and the steadfast,undying symbol of the American Rivers, The Delta Queens Lives! More to follow soon! God Bless!
June 26, 2002
As I sit here at the wharf and look out the window, we are having a regular “gulley washer” of a rainstorm, it is really blowing and raining hard. Fear not, the Delta Queen is triple and quadruple tied off, I saw to it myself, (yes, I actually doubled and tripled up the lines myself) And to my credit, I love to see a heavy rain like this, because, it really does wash the decks off quite well, and actually saves us some work. And even still, an early summer rain on the decks of an old steamboat is not a bad experience, I can testify!
Well, folks, today we turned the Delta Queen around and dropped her down, (facing down river) to just above the American Queen, so that we could have quicker, closer access to her. The river is at a reasonable level, and the tug boats Mildred M, and the Karche, arrived just before 10am. Buford the mate had all lines laid out and ready as the tugs made up along our port side.I instructed the tugs to push straight in on a “slow” bell to hold us against the dock, and then called the mate to let all lines go. Buford the mate called all lines gone, then I directed the tugs to both begin backing on their lines straight out, slow astern. The Delta Queen eased off the dock as if she knew where she was going, and at the right moment, I called to the bow tug to pull her hard down river, and for the stern tug to push her upriver for all she was worth! The old Delta Queen spun around like a top in the light breeze, and soon was aligned with the dock, facing down river, about 150 feet above the stern of the American Queen. I used the Delta Queens own bow thruster to steady her up with the current while the other tug broke away and shifted to the outboard side, and when he was in position,I directed both tugs to shove straight in, slow, and the Delta Queen gently kissed the wharf, nearly in perfect position! Mate Buford checked down the spring line, and the hand on the stern called, “we got a good breast line on the stern Capt.!” Tied off in good shape and right in front of the office we were, and it was funny to hear some of the office staff, coming out of the building for their lunch break, saying, ” when did they move the Delta Queen?” God bless them, they have been so focused on their business, that they don’t even look out the window! That is what you can expect from us folks, total devotion to your steamboatin’ experience! All is well here, in fact, better than ever, and the Delta Queen says hello to you all, and she can’t wait to embrace you all again!
June 27, 2002
Another great day here at the wharf to report. I spent my day immersed in the very bowels of the Delta Queen, crawling every inch of her ballast, water, and fuel tanks. I emerged from the labyirinth coated in rust and dirt, but I am happy to report all looks good below the water line of the Delta Queen! Nothing more than the usual stuff for the fuel or water tanks, as many of you know, we are due for our 5 year annual Coast Guard Required dry-docking and hull inspection. We are now spending our days preparing the vessel for her trip to Avondale Main Dry dock, hopefully to arrive there on the 29th of July, ( That’s the earliest we could get in ) and we expect to be in there about a week. Fear not, I know the hull of the old girl is in good shape, and we shouldn’t be delayed long! Can you believe it? Only 8 weeks from today and the Delta Queen is scheduled to depart New Orleans with passengers aboard! Come with us! We will be ready for you! Steamboatin’ Lives!
July 1, 2002
Lot’s to report today, really don”t know where to begin! Another nice, hot day here at the “wharf” sweating our butts off as we work through this beautiful, hot Sunday! First thing this morning I checked my trot- line, ( YES, ALL REAL RIVER BOATERS KEEP A TROT LINE IN PORT!) I had 1 Fiddler, meaning small Blue catfish! that’s all, so far, I know there are some 100 pounders under the wharves this time of year, I will let you know of any big catches!
I spent most of the day checking, counting and bagging life jackets on the Delta Queen, we have plenty, even after me destroying/ rejecting 25 of them! The Coast Guard will allow self inspection of jackets if you have a good track of honesty with them , and I try to maintain that professional trust, it is essential! As usual, I made the rounds of the boat, checking bilges, lines, etc,etc. The biggest worry right now is the rapidly falling river, I have been sounding alongside the DQ and the AQ for days, and the river is falling about a foot a day, and already, the Delta Queen and the American Queen are getting aground as the sand fills in around them. But fear not, I will summon tug boats to pull all vessels off to the safety of deeper waters! Robin Street is cursed by being right below a point in the river, and when high water comes, it creates upstream currents, or eddies, that flow upstream along the shoreline, and drop sand and mud alond the wharves, usually, right where the Queens are sitting! Funny thing about the New Orleans Wharf Board, if you rent or lease a wharf, you have to pay to have it dredged, but if it is an empty, unleased wharf, it is dredged and kept open for free! I personally think that this is wrong, and if you do too, please contact your local Congressman or Senator to let them know! OK, Well, about, I was out on the main deck bow, and I heard a loud, “Peep,peep peep”. After careful inspection I found a lost, 4 week old mallard duckling crying for it’s mother. It sawm up and down alongside the Delta Queen, and as the Captain, dammit, I had to take action!, Using a net that the engineers use to clean their sea strainers, I made a lucky swoop and plucked the baby duck out of the river.He was mad, he was happy, he was scared to death, take your pick, but he was saved! Fortunately, I had seen where his mother had built her nest, about a thousand feet down river from where I had found the little fella, so I hand carried him down to just above the sight of the nest and dropped him in amongst his peeping brothers and sisters, all 13 of them! So much for graditude! In about ten seconds, he was lost in his family, and I couldn’t even pick him out of the bunch! Gosh darn it, the ungrateful ducks of the Mississippi! Life at the wharf goes on!
July 2, 2002
Not all days on the river are full of wonder and enchantment, and here at the “wharf’, it is the same. We have been working in the early summer swelter to prepare the Delta Queen to go to the drydock, but it is a difficult task we attempt. At the last writing I reported on how due to the falling river that the boats were getting aground. Boy, was I right! On my first 6:00 am round of the Delta Queen, I found that she had taken on a 2 degree list to starboard in less that 24 hours!. That told me immediately that the river had fallen and that the boat was beginning to hang up on the bottom bad along her dockside, port side. When our director of Marine Operations Ron Adams arrived, I informed him of the situation and requested that he summon the tug boats to get us off before the river fell anymore. He consulted with the port engineer, Scott Fassler, and they immediately agreed to call for tug assist. At 12:45, the 8oo horsepower tug boats “Heide and the Regina ” landed alongside the Delta Queen and via marine radio I directed them to make fast with line so that they would be able to pull straight out and to push straight in. When all was ready, I called for both tugs to push straight in to the dock on the Delta Queen, and on a different radio told mate Buford to let all lines go. I had hoped that when the lines were gone and I stopped the tugs, the Delta Queen would float easily away from the dock. No such luck! She was undeniably, certified hard aground! When I saw that she didn’t move by stopping the tugs, I called for the little boats to pull her out slow. The lines tighten as the tugs strained back, but the Delta Queen didn’t budge. I called to the tugs, “Both tugs straight out on a half astern”. The lines squealed as the strain increased, the Old Delta Quen sat steadfast, locked in a love embrace with the bottom of the river. Finally, I called to the tugs, “Ok, both tugs, jerk her out for all your’e worth!I threw the Delta Queens own bow thruster pushing full out to starboard towards the river, the lines on the tugs groaned and complained, and then POW, the brand new 2 1/2 inch nylon lines on the bow tug snapped like a shot gun being fired! A moment later, Boom! There when the stern tugs lines, flung in the air like confetti! The Delta Queen sat stoically, and in the back of my mind I could imagine Captain Mary say, ” I told you, you should have moved her yesterday!” After conversing with the tugs about our perdicament, we agreed to retie the tugs and gradually work up and down alongside the old boat to wash the mud away that held her cemented in place. Finally, after an hour of shifting the tugs up and down the side of the Delta Queen, her bow began to slowly drift out, and then suddenly the stern broke her bottom lock and went swinging rapidly out into the river, dragging our shore power cables out at a rapid pace with chief engineer Dennis Shenk running after them on the wharf and cursing that idiot#*#!* Captain! Hey, folks, at least I can report taht Chief Shenk can stiill run pretty damn fast! We stopped her swing out in time, and with a little more wheel washing we were able to nest the Delta Queen back against the dock and resecure her for the evening. One tug has stayed behind and is continuing to wheel wash the mud and sand away from the dock,. Tommorrow we will do the same with the Grand American Queen, to make sure she is freed up, and we hope to move both boats up temporarily to the old “River City” Casino dock, where there is deep water, and then to Dredge and wheel wash out along the entire Robin Street Wharf!. I have my boat handling chores cut out for me! I have no doubt that we will succeed, and I will try to keep you informed, after all, it’s just routine river work, here at “The Wharf”!
July 4, 2002
Hello everyone, and Happy Independance Day from the Southern Steamboat Headquarters! We are having hot days and a falling river, but all goes well. Tuesday, we did a lot of boat shuffling due to the falling river. First, we had three tug boat wash the mud from under the Delta Queen, and then we pulled her out and moved her up to the old River City Casino dock justup river from Robin Street, and tied her off uneventfully. Then, we had the three tugs tie off along the wharf, and they used their prop wash to clear out the mud and sand and to deepen the area right along the wharf. After about three hours of “prop washing” the wharf, I had the tug boats drop down and tie off just above the Grand American Queen, who had her rudders buried in the mud and sand. She was never in any danger, but we thought it prudent to free her up and to move her to deeper water, as the river continues it’s slow fall towards a normal, summertime stage. After about two hours of tug propwashing under the AQ, our engineers fired up the Z-drive propellers on the boat, and we gradually rotated them back and forth, futher washing away the mud. Sunddenly, as we throttled up the powerful props to full speed out, The Grand American Queen broke loose from the mud and swung away from the dock. I quickly stopped the Z-drives, and the big boats swing out was arrested by her double stern lines. I called to the tugs via marine radio to stand clear, and with “Buford” the mate down on deck handling lines, we set the American Queen free! Using her super manueverable z-drives, I backed her slowly, under her own power straight out into the river, then straight back, all the way to the upper end of Robin Street Wharf, where I settled her back gently against the wharf and Buford and crew tied her back off. Then, we all shifted back up to the Delta Queen, which was just behind the American Queen. There I resecured the tugs , Buford and crew let her go, and we pulled the DQ out, dropped her down around the AQ and resecured her against the wharf in front of the office. Needless to say, I have been keeping up with my boat handling skills,and it was good practice to work with tugs, z-drives and bow thrusters. What would Mark Twain think of all of these fancy gadgets? Happy 4th of July from your friends at Steamboat Central! God Bless America!
July 7, 2002
I strolled upon the Legedary Delta Queen this morning at 6:30am, as the flaring dawn began to show itself on top of the wharehouses, a half a mile across the river. My first matter of concern was the Delta Queens easily noticeable list to starboard, out away from the wharf. The big 2″ mooring lines hung loose, as relaxed as cows under a shade tree on a hot summers day. A growing gap between the boats hull and the wharf betrayed the fact that the Delta Queen was gradually slipping on down, further out away from the dock as the river continued it’s slow but sure fall. It is the time of year when the Great Mid American watershed, for 2000 miles to the north, east and west, has begun to shrink, and the rivers and streams to the north all now draw away from their drying, cracked mud banks. Not a hint of a breeze to stir the limp flag on the foremast from its torpor. Another quiet, hot day at the wharf. I set my mind to the first task of the day, to warm the bow thruster and turn on the Delta Queens steering gear and to prepare to try to get her off the quadmire slowly building around her hull. I walked back off the gangway and down river a couple of hundred feet to look at the boat from a distance, and to judge her lean. A good captain always surveys his boat not only from on board her decks but also from afar. How true it is that quite often we can’t see things “right in front of our face”. Looking back on the old steamboat in the early morning light, I get a chill. My god,look at her! Even after all of these years, her shape, her lines, it’s as if I where standing on a wharf a hundred years ago, looking at a steamer standing in at the dock. Not a straight line to her, no flat, drab metal plates, no smartly flung stack or vaulted glass atriums! She is truly, 100% slendid by-God Steamboat, the genuine article! She sits quietly, her bow lines a bit disheveled, only adding to her beautiful texture. The heat and humidity of the deep southern summer only add to the realization that I am living very close to the way of river folk of years gone by. As I walk across the gangway to reboard the boat, a catfish swirls and splashes just below, and leaves only a rapidly expanding ring of smooth, brown water to betray his passing. I went to the wheelhouse to work the controls, and after 30 minutes of gently swinging the old boat in and out against her lines, she settled out tight along the outer edge of the slowing growing mud bar. Soon the river will be near sea level and will stop falling. Down below in the Dining room, Mate Buford and Craig Hall, the Delta Queens’ magnificent carpenter, are nearly completed sanding the floor to near original condition. It’s going to glow like new when they finish! A relaxed, hot, but happy day here at the Wharf, and one day closer to Steamboating with you, on the Delta Queen!
July 13, 2002
The sweltering southern days slowly pass here at the wharf, and work continues on the old Delta Queen. We still watch as the river gradually falls down, now beginning to show the deep black mud beneath the wooden wharf. The slight odor of creosote wafts from the old wharf support timbers, baked by the summertime sun. Work aboard the Delta Queen has picked up pace, as last Monday our engine room staff and “the boiler repair gang” arrived aboard. In the fireroom, they have set about breaking loose and removing the old refractory, the ceramic lining of the fireboxes where the oil fires are blasted to create the steam. It is sort of like the lining of a pottery kiln, except much larger, and it has to be renewed each year. There will be about 2 tons of the old lining removed, and it is tedious, hard work. I watched as several men struggled to carry the old crumbled material up out of the lower fire room, up two flights of stairs, then out across the gangway to the dumpster sitting on the wharf. Each bucket weighs about 40 pounds, and I saw the men cringe and strain as they lifted and carried the buckets. Drenched with sweat, they toil, but complain not do they, for they work as if they where wharfmen and roustabouts of a hundred summers passed. Not defeated nor enslaved by hard work on the river, but steadfast and resolved to complete the days task, and then to enjoy the rewards of the cooler end of the day. Surely, thought I, there must be a better way. I surveyed the scene, then saw the swinging davit arm hanging unused just above the gangway. Of course! I went to the bow thruster room where I procured a length of line, and grabbed a single wheel wooden block, the type we use in our rigging on our main gangway. I went up to the Texas Deck, where I proceeded to attach the block to the swing-davit, and then threaded the rope through the block and let the slack length hand all the way down to the bow. There, I attacked a small steel hook to the rope, thereby allowing a man to stand on the wharf by the gangway, and pull the buckets up to the dumpster with ease! They thanked me profusely, but I actually felt a little guilty for not having thought of it sooner! As I rounded the stern of the cabin deck on my way to unlock some doors for the painters, I saw two of our engineers on the stern fantail, attempting to remove the paddlewheel bearings, in preparation to take the wheel off before drydocking. They were directly exposed and unprotected from the blistering sun, assigned a task that would take all day. The weather channel reported a heat index of 110 ! That won’t do at all, I thought. I went forward and soon returned with a large, plastic tarp, and proceeded to tie it in place above the paddlewheel bearings where the men were working. Instant shade, and supplemented by a big fan I installed made a tough, hot job at least a little more bearable! I’m not a saviour, or a wonderful guy, but as captain I do realize that the key to the success of the Delta Queen begins with her crew, and we need them now more than ever! The hard work, the heat, the falling river, all will seem small on that great day when the Delta Queen steams away from the wharf again!
July 20, 2002
Sorry for the silence from the Wharf. We have been completely immersed in our task of preparing the Delta Queen to sail, and the long, sweltering days leave us all drained. I have continued the fight to keep the vessel off of ground as the Mississippi steadily shrinks in her mud lined banks. A couple of days ago, I couldn’t get her to move, even swinging the rudders and pushing out full with the bow thruster did no good. She wouldn’t budge from her love embrace with the mud on the bottom of the river. Dejected, I suantered over to the office and told my boss, Mr. Ron Adams, that we needed to once again summon a tug boat to wash the mud away from under the hull. He agreed immediately, and soon the 800 horsepower tug boat “Heide” arrived and secured herself against the wharf, just in front of the Delta Queens bow, and began washing the mud away from underneath.After about an hour, the old ladys’ bow began to fall in and out against her lines, and we knew that she was floating again. We were able to get the bow back in against the wharf, which was great because we had been just about out of gangway! As the river had slowly fallen, I had progressively been swinging the boat further and further out into the river, leaving us nearly 20 feet off of the Wharf! Now, with her bow back against the wharfs wooden timbers and well within gangway reach, I can breath easier for a week or so. The river stage stands at about 3.2 feet, and at 2 feet or so on the gauge we will begin to be affected by tides and winds, more so than the river stage itself. The lowest stage on record was in 1988, when the river stage ranged between 0.9 and 2 feet, depending on tide and wind influence from the gulf. The real determining factor is the flow of the Mississippi at the Red River Gauge above New Orleans, in 1988, the minimal flows were at 115,000 cubic feet per second, and that allowed for salt water intrusion into the New Orleans area. We are not quite there yet, but flow forecasts predict a possibility of nearing those same flows as in 1988. (As per the Corp of Engineers) Fear not, the Delta Queen sailed and completed all of her schedules in 1988, and though the towboats suffered because they had to drastically reduce the size and draft of their barge tows, we did fine. Actually, to see the river at such low levels is a rare treat, and in 1988 we discovered the wrecks of civil war gunboats and long lost steamers that had been forgotten by time, only to be re- exposed to us during that low water. It is a great time for river “buffs” to take a cruise because it is indeed a rare view of the river, usually only seen once in a life time. If you missed it in 1988, don’t miss it now! Come see the Mississippi River exposed and revealed! It is a wonderful oportunity to begin to understand how the “Big Muddy” works.
Today at the wharf, as we completed the assigned tasks, a hellaiscious summer thunderstorm beset itself upon us. I was in the office, immersed in the wonderment of Federal Requirements for passenger vessels when it began to lightning, and I mean seriously, with flashes and booms every 10 seconds. It didn’t take long for me to get on my rain slicker and dash across the wharf to the boat, because there is no place better to be in a heavy summer squall than on the Delta Queen! And a good thing too. As soon as I got across the gangway and entered the forward lounge, all hell broke loose!A sudden, fierce gust of wing rocked the boat, and slammed her against the wharf. In the forward and after cabin lounges, where the doors had been propped open by the painters, the torrent of hurricane force , wind- driven rain roared through the cabin, tumbling furniture before it! I struggled out against the roaring tempest at each door way, freeing the wind-pinned doors and letting them slam shut with the onslaught. From bow to stern I raced, closing doors and windows as fast as I could. Water flowing from the cabin deck starboard over heads showed that I was a little late, but it was a managable amount and no worse than the Delta Queen has ever seen in her days on the river. Then, as quickly as it had come , the storm suddenly subsided, leaving only a growing rainbow around the bow of the Delta Queen. I am not kidding! A rainbow formed directly on the bow of the Delta Queen, and the boiler repair men who had been working late, stood with me in amazement, each of us standing as close to the ends of a rainbow as any of us ever had! At least 8 of us stood there, for nearly 15 minutes, and watched in awe as both ends of a small rain bow danced around the bow of the Delta Queen! I walked to the very edge of the gunnel, and reached out to touch the brillant colors, and it retreated from may grasp. I remarked that surely, this was a good omen. After a long pause of silence, one of the guys said, “I’m going to play the lottery tonight”! We all laughed, but secretly, inside, I smiled, and said, “Thankyou”. For I knew that the rainbow was special, and meant just for the DeltaQueen!Good night from the wharf!
July 24, 2002
Well folks, the Mississippi River at Memphis is going below zero on the gauge for the first time in quite a while. What does that mean? It means that Old Man River is going to show us parts not seen in years! Many of you may remember 1988, the year of the all time low for the “Big Muddy”. The steamboats cruised and were not much affected, but the tow boats suffered alot because they had to drastically reduce the size and draft of their barges. The neat thing about severe low water is the parts of the bottom of the river that will be exposed that are rarely seen. I thought that I would never see the Mississippi that low again, but it is possible that we will get close again this year. There are no garrantees with mother nature but it promises to be interesting! Some of you call recall when the crew of the Delta Queen discovered the wreck of a Civil War gunboat sticking out of the river bottom in 1988s low water, a find that was later confirmed by the Louisiana Department of Archeology to be that of a union gunboat sunk at the battle of Port Hudson in 1863! We also saw every usually submerged rock, old barge, rock dike and snag like never before! The greatest problem from low water is the channel delays that it causes for all river traffic. What once were mile wide channel areas shrink down to only a couple of hundred feet, so traffic has to share the trickle, and take turns passing through the narrow areas! God Bless it, that is what I love about the river, it always changes, and even though you may have traversed it a thousand times, it is NEVER the same! I don’t fear the river, but I repect it immensely, beyond description, and I always look forward to casting myself out to it’s call, not in challenge, but in surrender to the magical, addicting thrill of being free, free and spirited on the greatest river in the world! This year we return, not in a pompous or artificial re-creation of the old river days, but to humbly and eagerly thrust ourselves to living the river life, the Steamboat way, the way that has’nt changed. Once again, we will LIVE and BREATHE steamboating, in every minute sense, and be gloriously frightened, beautifully awestruck, and profoundly dumbfounded at our own insignificance upon the “Father Of Waters”! The whistle will soon again resonate off of startled hillsides, the calliope will cast a happy hello to the towns tucked on the wooded shores, and somewhere soon, in a small town along an American river, a young boy will rush in to his river side home and yell,”Mom! Dad! The Delta Queen is coming up around the bend!” I want to be there! With you! God Bless from the wharf!
July 26, 2002
It is 3pm at the wharf. Rolling,dark clouds drag low across the sullen New Orleans sky, racing off to the northeast as if late for an important appointment. As I round the top deck of the Delta Queen, as sudden gust of much-rain cooled wind brushes my face, and forewarns of another late afternoon tempest on the Mississippi. A quick glance to the southwest confirms what the cool, moist breeze has told me, rain coming, and coming fast and hard. I swing quickly to the wheel house and crack open the VHF marine radio, and quickly tune to the weather channel. I want to know how hard it is coming and how tough it will be. The usual forecast spews forth in monotonous tones, “frequent lighting, heavy downpours exceeding 2 inches per hour, high wind gusts exceeding 60 miles per hour, etc,etc” I relax, and mentally review how the Delta Queen and the American Queen are tied off. On the bow of the DQ,3 doubled bow lines, leading fore and aft, a quadrupled spring line, and two doulbled stern lines, one fore and aft leading-she’s not going anywhere. Likewise for the big old AQ, multiple doubled head, spring, midship and TRIPLED up stern lines, if she leaves in the wind she’s gonna take the wharf with her! The wheelhouse phone jangles and startles me momentarily, it is the boiler room, and it is raining down into the stack, and pouring down onto the boiler header plates where they are trying to weld! Dammit! I forgot to check the smokestack! The driving wind has blown the canvas tarp cover off and it is pouring buckets down the stack! I start to rush out the back door of the pilothouse to re-cover the stack, and BOOM! lightning strikes nearby, sending me back in the door like a whipped dog! A step inside and duty calls again, and back I go, rushing out to the rickety ladder already in place on the side of the stack, already soaked to the bone in spite of the heavy rainjacket I wear. I rapidly scale the stack-house and begin tugging the heavy, rain sodden tarp back into place, hoping to get it resecured before the next blast of lightning. I pulled the tarp tight and drained the rapidly building puddles off. No flashes yet. Every ounce of my soul told me to hurry! I struggled with the heavy tarp, fluttering in the heavy on slaught of wind. Standing straight up, I finally pulled the tarp into position, covering the whole stack top, and and brilliant white flash blinded me, and before I could cringe, and ear-shattering blast exploded around me! Here was I perched atop a steamboats stack, 60 feet above the water in a ferocious lightning storm! I realized for just a moment, how grand it was, then my senses snapped back to reality and I thought, “What the hell is wrong with me?” Thankfully back to reason I quickly climbed back down the ladder and retreated to the shelter of the wheelhouse. WeW! Just goes to show you, you never know when you will find adventure on the river! I sure hope to see some of you folks back out here with us again, I feel a lot better when we have a boat load of steamboaters to share the “Adventures” with! All progress well here, 30 days from tomorrow we sail, we sail!
July 28, 2002
It’s early Sunday morning at the wharf in New Orleans. I grab the first cup of coffee and walk the 20 paces to the gangway of the Delta Queen. Before I board, I step back and survey the old boat. Her lines are tight, she looks level and trim. I better slack her off this morning and work her rudders just to make sure she”s still free. You can always tell a Sunday morning here at the wharf, it is so quiet, both on the dock and on the river. Most river men who work the local river are off on Sundays, but even the ship traffic is almost non existant, with many Captains prefering to make the trip out to sea in daylight. The rivers suface is gray and smooth as glass, reflecting the towering cumulus clouds that soar above like silver-lined cathedrals. I make my way aboard and down to the bow, and pause to look at the waters smooth surface. Very little current, and yet the river is still alive. A stream of bubbles moves slowly upstream alongside the Delta Queens hull, revealing the presence of Mr. Catfish as he whiskers through the mud in search of an early morning meal. I proceed to the capstan, where I slowly unwind the main bow line. As the heavy, soft rope begins to hang loose, I pause and watch. Very slowly,the 3000 tons of the old steamboat begins to ease away from the dock, causing me to smile and say, “Good Girl!” She”s floating free.That is always good news early in the morning. Off I go, wandering through the quite boat, and my footsteps gently echo in the dining room, where the ironwood floor glows golden in the early morning light. Down through the engine room, and up around the decks, all is well, I start to climb the steps to the wheelhouse to take advantage of the rare quiet to do some paperwork, and gentle rain begins to fall. I have to smile. God, I love Sunday mornings on the river, on the Delta Queen! We will be glad to share some with you, and we will, soon!
July 31, 2002
Let me please just say that having been here during times of trial, like Betty Blake was, and having the love for this old vessel that she did, I know exactly how she felt about this old boat. In the Delta Queen she found purpose and reason for her life, in that the Delta Queen has brought much joy to many peoples lives, and to attempt to preserve such a thing is a noble endeavor! But Betty, Phyllis, myself and many others do what we do because the Delta Queen represents that something intangible, that unique thing that just cannot be described by words, and was’nt meant to be. I am humbled at the likes of Gordon Greene, Captain Mary, (my spiritual grandmother), Mary becker and Letha Jane, (A wonderful firecracker!) And of course Capt. Fred Way, my “writing mentor”, who gave me a pen one day and said, “don’t try to be poetic, just write what you really feel.” He passed away not long after that, but I still have the pen…. All of these things should remind us to not quarrel over who said what, but to spend our time striving not to relive steamboat history, but to make it! The grandest thing about steamboats is not the history we leave behind, but that you and I, we were there, we actually lived it, we smelled the pungent odor of the river bank in the early morning fog, we heard the swirl and wash of the muddy water as it swept away from the bow of the Delta Queen, we felt the warm, salty trickle of summer rain drops wash down our faces, or watched as autumn leaves, sent aloft by fall winds, swept pastel colors across or bow. Oh, yes, there are rivers yet undiscovered to be found, muddy banks with high slopes to challenge deckhands as they struggle to choke a tree, and indeed, places not yet marked by the touch of the Delta Queen! Shall we argue or quibble about who said what? I respectfully say no! Let’s get about living the business that the wonderful and unimitable Betty Blake loved so much! Steamboatin!
August 01, 2002
Judy, the DQ is not in dry dock yet, due to a delay at the shipyard with another vessel. We will probably go in on Sunday, for about a week, and still get out with plenty of time to complete preparations to sail. No worry. In regards to the Waterways Journal article, I can only say that I am just happy to be back at work on the Delta Queen, especially since recent events! Don’t worry, I can assure you that every person here remains dedicated to re-establishing the strength of this company, to insure that steamboatin’ remains alive and well. The only things our guests have to worry about is which part of the river to cruise next, and which great steamboat to take!
August 02, 2002
News Flash! The drydock at Avondale ship yard has suddenly become open, the Delta Queen leaves tommorrow for the drydock at 5am! Hurray! One major step towards sailing again! Bisso tugs will arrive at 5am and we will set her free and head the 11 miles upriver to the yard. On board we will have myself, Buford the mate and deckcrew, Chief Tad Kornecki and fabulous engine staff! The old girl sits restlessly, tugging at her lines, floating free of the mud, she wants to go and get a good back scratching at the dock, then back to work! She knows! She knows! Next report, from the drydock!
August 03, 2002
The Delta Queen is safe, high and dry at Avondale ship yards! Here it is after 6pm, i have just gotten off since starting out at 4am, she looks good, hull in good shape, wheel is off already. Full, detailed report tommorrow!
August 04, 2002
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!
August 04, 2002
I hope everyone is satisfied with the posting time,to be honest, I would rather that you guys out there are happy! As a mariner and a licensed airplane pilot, I can read the time and interpolate it no matter where it originates from! I am honored that Franz chose Central U.S. time, but I wish everyone to be satisfied!
We had a pretty good day in the drydock, another hot day, but a breezy one as an off shore tropical depression begins to move in. Looks like lots of rain for the next few days. No worry, we will shift to inside work as necessary. Today, the Delta Queen got her well deserved “Back scratching” that I have been talking about. The skilled workers at the Avondale Drydock carefully and slowly “slurry blasted the hul down, nice and smooth. Slurry blasting is different from sand blasting in that water and a special, environmentallly friendly abrasive material are combined and shot out of a special hose under very high pressure to remove moss, rust, and old flaking paint from the hull (With almost no dust!) The end result was that by late this afternoon, the DQs hull had begun to look as smooth as a new babys’ butt!. Once the slurry blasting is done, the hull will be sprayed with an anti- corrosion primer and then painted with 2 coats of black marine paint. I can only imagine how it must feel to the old girl, to have her back and bottom cleaned and well- scratched for the first time in almost 6 years! Her upper deck bulkheads and all of her interior passenger cabins have been painted and touched up, and even amongst the shipyard mess you can she her beginning to shape up! She remains an awesome sight, out of the water, and I never tire of being able to walk around and under the hull of this great old boat, even though this is my 6th drydocking with her. Tommorrow, we go full speed ahead on all repairs, and step on more day closer to sailing again!
August 05, 2002
Ok,folks, the hull is not going to change anytime in the near future! It is precisely as Judy said, her bottom has simply grown some what with age! And her hog, or sag, has not increased at all for several years, it was merely a matter of her “relaxing” into her new supporting hull. Wider yes, a little chubbier and less attractive from the bow, perhaps, but I would proudly put her up against any other boat on the river for durability and endurance! By the way, that fat bow of hers is made up of 1 inch thick Sheffield steel, thicker and much stronger than most boats or barges on the river! I knew it! As soon as the old gal has her bottomside exposed, people have to start taking shots! Not me! I love her in spite of her imperfections. Her changes simply reflect how she has been subject not only to time, but to the ideas and influences of many people. If I had a hundred million dollars, I would take two years, put her in the finest ship yard, and completely, 100 per cent restore her to EXACTLY the way she was when new in California! But that dream is sort of like each of us wishing to go back to our childhoods, to times that we percieved to be better, but don’t you see, that is what the Delta Queen is doing for us, marking and acting as a chronicaler of time, letting us touch what was and was is. She shall most likely out last most of us, I know she will outlast me.
In regards to photos, I would love to show you all photos of this beautiful old vessel out of the water, but the devoted security folks at the Avondale Shipyard forbid any photography. Avondale is of course a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, a military contractor, and folks, they are serious about checking ID, bags and safety gear coming and going, as well they should! Could you imagine how it would look if the Captain of the Delta Queen was caught trying to sneak a camera into a naval ship yard? No thanks, not for me! I love you guys and wish I could show you all, but I also love my country and wish to do whatever I can to keep it safe. When we installed the new hull on the Delta Queen, over 10 years ago, I took the time to video and chronicle the entire four month project. I edited the tape and narrated it and even set in some music. It shows you exactly, every inch of the process, as well as the interior as well as the exterior repair and construction. If you would like a copy, I will make you one for my expense cost. Just contact me at my e-mail, and I will give you details.Otherwise, all is going well, in the dry dock. I had intended to spend tonight describing more detail of the work, but I felt that I should pause to defend the old ladys’ honor! Thank you all for your comments, and looking in on, “The Delta Queen”.!
August 07, 2002
Shipyards are surreal places to me, and to see the Steamer Delta Queen high out of the water is strange, impressive but strange. Already I feel her uneasiness,like a grandparent in an elder care facility, asking the kids, when can we leave? Today at 6:30 am, I noticed a 3/4 degree list to port, and thought, my that’s odd! We are listing and we are not even in the water! I soon contacted the dry dock foreman, (who seemed to be a bit annoyed) and inquired as to why the dry dock was listing. He explained, Well, Mike, it’s because we have a huge sump tank that is collecting rain water down at the end of the dry dock, and it’s getting full, and making the dock list a little”. Well, I’m not sorry for asking, even if it sounds foolish, because I was on the Delta Queen in a smaller drydock at the same ship yard in 1983, when at about 2 am in the morning, the drydock began to sink by itself! An alert watchman noticed the rapidly increasing lean and called for assistance just in time, I won’t tell you the name of the watchman, but it was me! Hey folks, I learn from my teacher, the river, and I don’t forget! And when the guys today told me not to worry, I looked at them and said, “What? don’t worry? This is my boat, and I will tell you when I will worry about it!” Apparrently, they were surprised that someone aboard would notice such “little” things! You bet your ass we do! The folks at Avondale actually do a fine job, and are at the top of their craft. But the Delta Queen belongs to you and I, and we shall not forsake that trust. Here she sits, this mirror of the past, dwarfed bow and stern by close tied, goliath Navy ships. Dwarfed by their close presence but unintimidated, she shrugs off their size like a grandmother chiding a recalcitrant child!
Today a couple of yard workers, tank repairmen, approached me and said, ” Captain Mike, could we speak with you for a moment, please?'” A little surprised at their seemingly solemn request, I paused and said, “Of course”. The tall older fellow spoke first. ” We saw a tv show about a ghost on this boat, and, we were just wondering what it was all about.” Looking closely at their demeanor, I knew immediately that they were quite serious. I responded in the best way I could. ” Yes, there is a spirit aboard, that of a gentle and graceful old woman, she means no harm, but she’s a little stern at times. So, if you are welding late at night down in the tanks on the Delta Queen, and you look up and see an old, beautiful lady with penetrating eyes staring at you, don’t be afraid, she’s not there to frighten you, she’s watching out for you and protecting as you repair and protect her home.” Surely there is no greater reward aboard than to have “a visit” even the most brief, indeed, it is a blessing. The two fellows proceeded to rig their lights and welding gear down to the tanks, and each morning, I see them before they get off of the late shift, and I say, “Well?” They report, “nothing so far”, but Gideon, one of the welders, said, “Captain, I aint seen her, but I feel better knowing she’s lookin’ out for us while we fix her boat.” Amen, brother, Amen!
August 09, 2002
It’s just after sunrise and I find myself walking down a long steel gangway to the floating drydock which cradles the Delta Queen. I follow a long string of men, and a few women, all wearing safety helmets, heading down to the docks for a day. I surveyed the procession of which I was a part and thought how wonderfully American it was. Men and women, ship fitters of all trades, welders, painters, pipefitters and more, to the dock to work on and prepare this symbol of American history, the Delta Queen to sail again. These folks have all worked on many types of vessels from all around the world, but they are especially proud to be tending this great old steamboat. I have had to give several tours to curious workers and yard staff, but I don’t mind at all sharing our boat with them.
The morning is warm but fresh as a fair breeze sweeps across the dock, a cooling and refreshing change. This morning is different though, because we are all now making final preparations to bring the Delta Queen back home to Robin Street Wharf. Her hull has had routine repairs, been sand blasted smooth, primered and painted, and now shines black in the swelling day light. Workers go to the task of cleaning the dry dock surface, picking up tools and gear, and double checking all that has been done. I stand back at a distance on the big dock, and admire the boat from afar. She looks beautiful, with most of her upper decks already painted, and her newly painted shiny black hull and new white lettering. The aroma of fresh paint will be replaced with the familiar scent of the pungent river tommorrow morning at 6 am, as we will genlty sink the drydock and refloat the Delta Queen. The clang of hammer on steel and the flash of welders arc will soon be replaced with the swish of the Mississippi around her hull. Heading back home for the final preparations to see you all again!
I have been over whelmed by requests for the Delta Queen hull replacement tape. I thought that perhaps a few folks would want copies, but it seem that there are dozens of people asking, and really more than I had anticipated. I would like everyone to be able to see this tape, and to facilitate that I have offered to give the tape and all rights to the company and let them produce and distribute it as they deem fit. This historical document rightfully belongs to the Delta Queen, and the company has great facilities for this type of production. I will let everyone know of progress and will keep you informed. We hope to be able to show it on some of our cruises, so folks on board who are interested will be able to get a real inside look at the whole, ship yard process. Thanks everyone for your interest, and a full, out of the drydock report tommorrow!
August 10, 2002
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!
August 12, 2002
A day of rain, here at the wharf, cloudy, overcast, sullen, I love days like this! I can’t explain, but a dark ,rainy day somehow takes me back to different times, almost ancient. I somehow feel connected to the old days! Old days, INDEED! Here we reside on a rugged, yet splendid old river steamboat! Rugged only because she is still in her lay up and splendid because of what she will soon become! Her decks are littered and oily and the dust of months at idle lay at rest, but not for long! Today, several of our splendid officer corp arrived, and they began immediately to clean the galley and the crew quarters, and by the end of the day I had seen dramatic improvement! It is odd, the layup period that I have experienced now for 50 days, with just a skeleton crew, has been rough, but now, with the return of some vital hotel staff there is a whole new feel to the venture. It becomes more intense as we approach the deadlines before us. I dread the final two weeks as much as I welcome them. To bring a vessel through a layup such as this is an intense, almost religious experience, and by god now, at this point, those of us here intend for it to end successfully, with the Delta Queen sailing away from the wharf in pristine condition! The river rain washes the decks with all of it’s summer fury, the workers scurry to and from the boat , sheltering under pieces of discarded cardboard, or rain coats fashioned from old garbage bags, and some where, deep down in the # 2 boiler fire box of the oldest overnight passenger steamboat in the country, a boiler maker tamps in some paste around a block of refractory, to insulate the firebox and to prepare the Delta Queen to make fire, and steam, next week. A deckhand, on his own, saw a line on the bow getting limp, and with out the mates instruction, unwraps, strains, and pulls the line tight, and holding with all of his tempestuous might, re wraps the line and halfhitches it off. The reduction in slack means that the boat will surge less from the wakes of passing boats, and the deckhands deed marks him as one who will forever be tied to the river, for he cares, and he has learned. God help him! He will be a mate! then perhaps a pilot, and who knows, A captain! I have just had a feeling like I have been here before!The Delta Queen is soon to awaken!
August 13, 2002
The Delta Queen rests uneasily at the wharf, her port side nestled in the soft quagmire of the rivers’ bottom, her starboard side easily afloat. As I speak we are filling the forward tanks with diesel fuel, to power the generators, which, newly rebuilt, will be fired up and put on line soon. Fear not, I have not left the vessel unattended while fueling! Chief Dennis Shenk, Engineer John Kilbert, and port engineer Scott Fassler (Also licensed as a Chief) are all on hand as we fill the bow tanks. Actually, I really enjoy being there to assist in landing and securing the fuel boat, and helping getting the process going. Just us long time Delta Queen guys, taking on the first fuel of the season, it sounds silly, but it was special to me. As a navigation guy working with engineers, I have found that it is sometimes hard to gain the trust of the mechanical guys, but these guys are truly the best, and I would want to be with them on the river anywhere! We hear so much about Captains and pilots and such, but without the steamboat engineer, we wouldn’t get very far! And in my opinion, the Delta Queen has the best! (As well she should!)
I personally had to put up the required fueling flag, which was quite a task because the rope lanyard had broken off and slid all the way to the top of the mast.I climbed the main mast support arms like a sailor going aloft to trim the sails, and soon had our solid red fueling flag fluttering in the breeze.
Today the wonderful hotel staff pulled all of the protective cardboard from the lounges and the passenger areas, and set about dusting, cleaning and setting up furniture. By the end of the day, I swear it looked like she was about to go out on a cruise! Man, it made me feel better right away! I know that it all relies on the mechanical pieces coming together, and they are, but just seeing the cabin lounge back in its slendor did wonders for my heart! To top it off, right at the end of the day, the Steamer Natchez came cruising slowly by and blew a salute on her magnificent steam whistle, while Captain Doc Hawley played on the calliope, “The Delta Queen Waltz”, by the late great steamboater John Hartford. Sometimes, even with the struggles and the hard work, steamboatin’ is grand! The grandest part is when we open the doors, strike up the band, and you folks walk back aboard and back into the heart of the Delta Queen, and she asks, with tears in her eyes, “Where have you been?”!
August 15, 2002
My legs ache and my feet are dog-tired, as are those of all of the devoted Delta Queen crew who rush each day to prepare the vessel to sail. The weather forecast was for heavy rain today, which would have put a tremendous damper on our painting plans, but low and behold, not a drop appeared! Luck or providence, you decide! We got a lot done today, generators running, sprinkler system filled and functional, PA system fired up by our A Number one chief electrician John Kilbert! Our potable water tanks have been chlorinated and flushed and refilled, and today, the grand Staircase carpeting was uncovered and cleaned, leaving the Magnificent stairway exposed in all of its slendor for the first time in months! I stood at the bottom of the staircase and looked at its’ beauty as if in a dream, I remembered the wonderful times greeting steamboat family at the foot of the stairs. I imagined the good times to come, as we once again embraced each other at this marking point in steamboat history! From stem to stern, the Delta Queen is beginning to glow, and I can really feel it now, amongst the crew, engineers who were doubtful last week, now are happy, energetic, and are charging forward! Deckhands who couldn’t believe they would ever drag a line up a riverbank again were singing as they painted in the paddlewheel!The brass from the office came over and said how great the boat was starting to look, and that they wouldn’t have believed it possible! Possible, hell! It is and always was inevitable that steamboating would survive and be triumpant! Especially when lead through the battle by the Steamer Delta Queen! Soon, another part of Steamboatin’ returns, proud mother of the Mississippi Queen, intent on not only touching us all with her charm and that of her daughter the Mississippi Queen, but to gently awaken from her tender slumber, the slendid and Grand American Queen! Soon, the family reunited and complete again!
August 17, 2002
I did’nt sleep well last night, in my mind I keep reviewing the details that must be attended to the next day, so much to do, so little time! Every one of us here want these first cruises to be perfect, I can see it in the determination, and the set of the jaw as our devoted crew toil each day with heavy loads on their backs. Gone are the days of only the men enduring backbreaking labor on the rivers! Today I am witness to the young women of the Delta Queen dragging matresses and heavy bundles aboard, the likes of which will tax the strongest man! I am infinitely inpressed and deeply proud of these young people who manifest their devotion to the Delta Queen each day, and testify to such with sweat drenched shirts and the rapid pace at which they attack their tasks! No obstacle shall overwhelm us now, for we endeavor to sail, and to steam, and to steam we shall!
Now each day I round the vessel, every deck and every hold, a dozen times a day, fretting and looking for details overlooked in the fury of preparation. But, each day now, as we progress towards readying the vessel, I have become more and more comforted and wiser to the fact that no longer am I alone in my love and hope for the Delta Queen, that there are many others who care and are determined that she shall sail, and I must say that it is a tremendous relief to finally find rest in a devoted crews commitment! Have I been a fool to worry, to wander the decks at night, to tighten this valve, to close this door and that window against the night fog, to listen for that strange, unfamiliar sound, to sniff for that unusual odor? I think not, I think and become more convinced that the love we expend in this life is returned later. I feel an investment in the Delta Queen shall not be in vain; and perhaps, many years from now, the happy tinkle of champagne glasses and the buzz of pleasant conversation will still gently echo off of the walls of the Delta Queen, and our memories will remain indelibly imprinted there forever! by these words, set your marks, The Delta Queen is coming home, to you!
August 19, 2002
There was a time in June when I had first boarded the Delta Queen, in all of her unkempt mess that I thought that this day would’nt come, the day when I actually realized that she would sail again! How can I relay the struggle, share the sweat drenched days, the worries and the fears with you? To feel the weight of the burden of attempting to reawaken a 75 year old steamboat after more than seven months at idle slumber! As I sit here at this receptive but blissfully ignorant keyboard, I can only recognise and acknowledge that those of us here at the wharf have perservered only because we have felt your presence with us each and every day! This job that we have shared, this monumental task, has become a vision quest, a quest to hear the steamers’ whistle blow again, and echo off of the hills of Americas rivers, and to touch our hearts again!
This morning was special, because the fine folks from the United States Coast Guard were coming to begin the most important inspection of the Delta Queen in my lifetime, the inspection, that if sucessful, would send the great lady of the rivers back to her river faring ways. A Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection and blessing to sail is NEVER a given, as we all know from past history. The struggle continues every day to keep this vessel going. Again, I had another sleepless night, tossing and turning. I told myself over and over, there are no problems I can solve here or now, might as well get some sleep. Ha! Fat chance! As soon as I close my eyes, I start picturing that leaking fire hose on station 21, that radar in the wheelhouse that was working fine until today, and then just quit, and will the service man be there in time for the Coast Guard, and will the battery on the motor boat charge up in time for tommorrow, and why does’nt this damn river stop falling! After a few hours of this tempest in my mind I resolved to stop the worry, and to focus on the positive. On the first couple of cruises, we will have some of the Greene family aboard, (Always an honor!) and other folks of historical note like the wonderful author, Stan Garvey, Wonderful friend and Steamboat Captain of fame, Captain “Doc” Hawley, and dozens of repeat guests from many years gone by!
Finally, I fell asleep, about 10 minutes before the alarm clock sounded its’ shrill alarm. I bounded out of the rack, ready to go, relieved at no longer being involved in the struggle to doze! Finally, the task at hand, the day of the Coast Guard Inspection! I stepped out at 6am to an early morning sky, with the rising sun backlighting a glorious towering cumulous cloud. The rivers surface was calm and opague and flat in the breezeless morning air, as if “the Old Man” was holding his breath. A slight scent of the drying, exposed mud under the wooden wharf revealed the low river, and with a sip of black coffee I crossed the gangway to the Delta Queen. She sits earily quiet this morning, her bow lines hang loose, and no squeaks or groans from her gangway. Shes’ taken a liking to laying in the mud again, I reckon, dad burn it! If this river falls any more we’ll be relegated to giving tours of the bottom! I really am not too concerned, I can get her out of the mud, just means I’ll have to worry her back and forth with the rudders and the bow thruster for a while. My morning check of the river stage forecast reveals “Hope from Above”, in the sense of heavy rains and a slowly rising river far up north. Might help us out in a week or so, if it ever trickles down here! As I make my morning rounds, deck by deck, I find an odd sight. On the Starboard sundeck, facing the rising sun, sits on the handrail, a beautiful, young female dove. As I paused some 50 feet away from her, she looks at me for a moment, and then turned back toward the sun and began to coo, that sweet, gentle early morning call that only doves have. She stopped after a couple of moments, and paraded a few feet up and down the rail a couple of times, and then fluttered away, heading out across the wide, still river. A small down feather slowly drifted like a falling leaf and settled on the deck, the only trace of her having visited. I picked up the weightless trace of her, and immediately knew that we had been visited by a gentle, loving spirit, whose message I percieved to be one of good fortune, and of counseling patience. I knew in that moment that these hard times of preparation would pass, and that it was inevitable that the Delta Queen would sail again.
A full progress report tommorrow!
August 21, 2002
When the Delta Queen ceased operation in January, a noise rippled out into time; it seemed that the echo in history would never return. Today, I shall report that the boilers of the Delta Queen are fully pressurized,on line and ready to go! The refinished Orleans room floor was uncovered, revealing the golden glow of the original, 75 year old iron wood,newly and completely restored better that ever by ships carpenter Craig Hall and assistant Tony Willis. It is hard to describe the level of activity aboard, all of the crew has now returned and the decks,halls and passageways ring with happy shouts of welcome, and of river friends and fellow crewmen reunited! I paused in the forward lounge, and savored the rush of activity, and noted that this is no hurry inspired by panic or desperation, no indeed! It is the joyous return to a way of life that is very special and still unique.
Today we accomplished much. Coast Guard Inspectors were aboard and we completed several crucial areas of inspection. most of the outer decks and crew hold floors were painted, further adding to the fresh boat feel. Now we are being to wrap her up and to begin to apply that attention to detail and that special touch that we pride ourselves on! The Delta Queen fully alive again! That sound heard back in January, now has returned, as an echo bringing the Delta Queen back from a once uncertain future, to her rightful place as the greatest representative of our past!
August 23, 2002
The dawn this morning was special; clear with no rain. Yesterday was a huge wash out as the late summer thunderstorms did their routine after noon performance. The crew focused on inside detail work, hanging new curtains, hanging artwork, polishing furniture. The dining room is fully set up, the tables set in neat rows and draped with fresh linen cloths. The galley sends the tempting aroma of the chefs labors drifting through the vessel. Back in the engine room, engineers confer in huddles, scrutinize the many gauges and tweak the valves of this now living entity. A special day has dawned; the day that mother of the fleet will sail again, under her own power. We have decided to take a 2 hour river trial cruise up the river to check out all vessel machinery and systems.
At about 7:30 am, Coast Guard inspectors arrived aboard, and we discussed our intentions for the morning. Soon, two tug boats arrived, one to escort us up the river, and the other to stay behind and prop wash away the ever accumulating mud along the wharf. At about 8:30, I made an “All ashore” announcement, and five minutes later called for the mate to bring in the gangway. As we were about to depart, a couple of late arriving servicemen came running along the dock, and were quickly boarded by the mate via a ladder kept on the bow for just that reason. A couple of more minutes waiting for a southbound ship to pass, then, I called to the pilot (Captain Mike Swigert) To come ahead slow, and full left rudder. As the deckhands trew of the stern lines the Delta Queen swung slowly out into the river, and finally cleared the bow of the American Queen. With a straight rudder, she pulled her bow out of the soft mud of the bottom and backed quickly out into the river. Full right rudder and thrusting her head full to port got her swinging around like the proverbial outhouse door, then steadied up and facing up river, I asked the pilot to come ahead slow, and very gradually go to half ahead, and then to full. This lasted on a couple of minutes when the pilothouse phone rang, and the Chief Engineer asked, “What are you waiting for?” I explained that I was trying to take it easy on the machinery and bring him slowly to full power. “We’re ready to open her up if you are” came the reply. Without further delay the pilot swung the shining brass engine telegraph to FULL AHEAD, and the Delta Queen surged ahead. The wharves of the New Orleans harbor slipped by, owing to the fact that there is very little current and that the chief was turning the paddlewheel at 16 RPMs! All was going smoothly when the marine radio crackled with a call. It was the escort tug boat “Shane C” calling us. “Cap, how far up are you gonna go, we can’t keep up with ya, do ya want us to wait?” The 75 year old Delta Queen was out running the tug boat! We slowed the spry old gal down to 12 rpms, and watched as the tug slowly caught up. The Coast Guard inspector who sat quietly on the bench just smiled. After about and hour, we turned the Delta Queen downbound just below Upper Nine Mile point. As we went, various tug boats, docks, and big towboats called to say that they were happy to see us back, wishing us luck, and glad that steamboats had survived. Bless them! All river men and connected to the river in their souls, kindred spirits! The morning continued to favor us with nary a wind, and a sky decorated with fair weather cumulus clouds. 10:30 am found the Delta Queen slowly drifting past the American Queen, where we carefully spun her around facing upstream and nestled her gently against the wharf just below her grand daughter, the AQ. It was if the Delta Queen was telling the big ,new boat “That is how you make an entrance, dear!” Once secure, and gangway in place, the flurry of activity began again. “Bucket brigades” of crewmembers passed boxes, bundles and crates, hand to hand, arm to arm, which was then shuttled below for storage. At 1pm, I surprised the gallant crew by sounding the General Alarm tone, to signal an Emergency Drill. They moved quickly and manned all stations and reported in to the wheelhouse, like clockwork. The Coast Guard instructed us to perform several emergency procedures, and the crew responded in unison. After 25 minutes, the inspectors were satisfied and I rang the all clear signal. The 2 mates, myself and the inspectors all met in the pilot house. The mates and I all stole anxious glances at each other as the Inspector summarized his review of the inspection. Dammit already, did we pass, do we get the Certificate of Inspection? You can never really tell, sometimes we have to go do other things to satisfy them. My heart leaped as he opened his blue binder, and I saw it! The Certificate of Inspection for the Steamer Delta Queen! He smiled and said congratulations as he handed me this most hard won document. It meant that the last obstacle to the Delta Queen sailing was now past! I quickly notified the chief and thanked him for the dedicated effort of his staff, and I hurried around the boat telling everyone of our success. What a superb crew! A fine steamboat! And a very lucky, blessed man I am to be called Captain!
August 26, 2002
Right now it is dawn here at the wharf, and I sit overlooking the Delta Queen in all of her glory. In the early morning stillness it’s as if the sky is holding its breath, awed to be a vaulted viewer from above on this special day. The Queen rests comfortably, fully fueled and watered, bow nestled against the wharf, stern out some 50 feet off of the dock, safely in deep water. Down below in her holds, the intrepid crew is stirring, no doubt filled with anticipation of the day ahead. From the galley the tempting aroma of biscits and hot coffee signal the chef has already been busy. Another staemboatin’ day! And indeed, today is the day! I have always believed that this day would come, and I never thought that steamboating would pass, but confess to worrying about its future and which way it would go. As I look at this wonderful old vessel I realized that she knew all along of what was to come, and did not worry; she has simply waited for us to rouse her from her slumber. So today we sail again, and though you may not be physically be aboard when the whislte blows, We hope it will echo in your heart, and return to you the love that brought her back, once again, saved by love, the Steamer Delta Queen!
August 29, 2002
It’s about 6 pm here at the wharf, and the Delta Queen will be departing in a little over an hour on her SECOND cruise! This short 3 day trip up to Oak Alley Plantation and Baton Rouge was wonderful! On board we had the likes of Doc Hawley, Stan Garvey the author, Jane Greene and other fine folks. I am happy to report that the vessel ran flawlessly! Not a problem to report! After the first nights departure I stood alone out on the dark Texas bow as the deck trembled gently under my feet. I savored the warm, pungent river air as it flowed over the bow of the boat and cascaded away astern. From the Texas lounge came the sounds of music and happy laughter. The clear night sky adorned itself with stars; and I sighed with relief, and warmed with emotion I thought, finally, mission accomplished!
Thank you all for your support, it IS the reason we do these things. I continue to keep my log and hope to post some of it when I return home in a week. Tonight, as you sleep, rest easily; for on a rising river, north of New Orleans, there’s a paddlewheeler, and through the night she steams; the full moon glows, the willows wave, as the Delta Queen rolls by.
September 25, 2002
I have enjoyed watching the empassioned response as the boats move up and down the rivers. I watch, via the internet, the progress of our beloved boats along Americas’ rivers. Here I sit, ravaged by yet another tropical storm on the coast of Florida, and yearn only to be back with you, immersed in the steamboat world! Rested and now fully refreshed, I am ready to plunge again into the real love of my life; the Delta Queen, the boats, the river, and you! Each day I turn the page of the captains log, to make fresh entries; I return to the Delta Queen on October 5th at St. Louis,the home of my birth, damn that river and that town for her siren song! I need to be there! Warm embaces again soon!
October 3, 2002
Here I sit in a darkened room in my house, wondering what to say. I should be happy that on Saturday, I return to the Delta Queen in St. Louis, to assume the role of master and to take her to Nashville, and then on to Chattanooga. I am happy to return to her, because she will once again lay her worries upon my shoulders. I know that sounds strange, but it is true! As a few hundred folks pack their bags and make arrangements to leave their homes for a week, I sit here and begin to worry about the cruises to come. Oh, don’t worry, I take care of that for you! Now, I watch via the internet the river stages of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, and worry about how they will be influenced by the recent hurricanes and tropical storms. So far, so good! I worry about routine crew concerns and other reports from the boat, (yes, I do keep day to day touch with various sources on the boat!) and I try to stay in touch with the very pulse of the boat. I am happy to report that all is well on the Delta Queen, all rudders, thrusters and other pertinent gear are reported to be fully functional, and I am ready to assume command on the 5th of October at St. Louis, the home of my birth.
From all reports that I have, everything functional aboard the vessel is operating fine. The engineering staff reports needing to adjust the stern thruster settings a bit but most of you who know me know that I need no stern thruster! I grew up without it! Don’t get me wrong, it is working fine, but I want you folks to live the whole experience and therefore we will share all trials and tribulations together! I promised to share the “real steamboat adventure” with you, and I shall! To that end, now, looking ahead- A captains concerns: I am watching the levels of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers to see how they might be affected by the recent tropical storms and hurricane. My concern that is if they dump a lot of rain on these river valleys, we may not be able to squeeze the Delta Queen under the bridges! So far, the forecast river levels are good, the region is absorbing the recent rainfalls quite well due to the prolonged drought in the area. At this point everything is go for some great round trips between Nashville and Chattanooga in the fall! Who knows what will transpire? Last year, while moored at Florence, Alabama, on the Tennessee River, Lightning struck the calliope and it be began to play by its’ self! True story! I can’t wait to see my steamboat family again, and to share with you, good or bad, the trials, tribulations and worries of a steamboat Captain! We will talk again soon!