Sunday, October 25, 2009

Things did not go well and I have been putting some distance from this adventure. Don't give up on me. I am working on it.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Beautiful morning broke on the pristine looking Fat Lady and the Ace deckhand and the Pilot awoke cursing a sinful pastime long practiced in downtown LaCrosse, all you can drink for $5. There was a new crewmember, who came aboard during the night. The Engineer had gone back to the Twin Cities and picked up the Girlfriend. The Girlfriend seemed very friendly and pleasant and gave no hint of the adventures ahead with her. I must say, I consider myself a semi-worldy man and have been to several county fairs and have seen the Snake Lady dance, but I was ill-prepared for what would unfold over the following days. I found myself sitting with her on the second deck, while waiting for the boat to get ready. I tried to work on my stuff as i watched her take a cookie from the galley and stuff into her more than ample cleavage. I was torn between complementing her on her ingenious way of moistening the overly dry M&M cookie and thinking, "My god, is this boat going to be big enough now"? The lifting of the cookie from her bosom and the question, "Do you want a bite of my cookie?", forced me in to hiding.
We then concentrated on the mission for the day, the highly anticipated getting fixed on Brennan's dry dock. No more plastic bags over cooling system cap, no pumping excess shaft alley water to cool the main engine, no buddy pump turned on every 10 minutes to cool generator, and the empty Miller High Life bottle can be recycled! We called Brennan's repair Superintendent, called the CP Rail bridge over the Black River, woke up Buck and started up the Black River. In all my years on the River, I had never went up the Black. As we passed through the tilting bridge we wondered if in the old days, before they built the new control house, if the bridge tender didn't sit in a Gimball? chair as the bridge tilted him to a 45 degree list. We wandered into one of the most concentrated and busy little harbors I've ever seen.
After many under coordinated phone conversations, we found a spot to tie off, which promptly blocked a work crew in. I said my hellos on the bank and quickly headed up for lunch with my old buddy Kent Pehler
. A good hour plus of lying to each other and using the "That is proprietary information' phrase on each other, I went to wait for the verdict on when and how we could be dry docked. It didn't take long. The supe came over and gave us the information I knew in St.Paul we would hear. "Too much risk, won't touch the boat! Built in 1954, the blueprints of the boat were long missing and too manythings could go wrong without a up to date picture of the bottom.
our tails between our legs, we searched for a place to tie off. Right next door was the worldwide headquarters of the Skipperliner yacht shipyard, excursion boat landing, restaurant, and most importantly, a marina with a dock big enough for the Lady. We thought getting out of the St. paul marina was tight. This marina made it look like an interstate. As we crept in I wondered what a 40+ ft Sea Ray would cost or how it would look without a bow. We landed without incident and sent the rest of the weekenders home. It left just the Engineer, the Girlfriend, the Captain, and the LaCrosse tour guide for the former two. Ah, what an evening. I haven't been with a first class bar disrupt0r since my youth spent in low places. It came to a head in a little bar downtown, that we had been in the previous evening. It caught my eye because the owner was showing old film of steamboats. We spent time talking about old river pictures and we heard how the UW LaCrosses' Murphy library was deficient in what they said they had for old river pictures and the bar owner was the real expert in town on river lore. That Mon. nite I decided to carry on the previous conversations and see what he had. The bar was filthy and the owner was sleeping in front of his computer and when we woke him, he turned and blinded us with his headlamp. "Sit down or get out of my bar", he snarled. A touch by the Girlfriend on his arm elicited an even stronger response with even better language. I thought, maybe he is a River man, he did have the swearing part down. When the Engineer came out of the head, I mentioned that headlight man wouldn't be able to put up with the Girlfriend and we should leave. I didn't wait for either and vacated the now hostile surroundings. Out on the sidewalk, I heard loud screaming emanating from the interior. My companions made a hurried exit with the proprietor in hot pursuit. "What caused that", I asked. The Engineer pointed at the Girlfriend and described how when things further deteriorated and the now ambulatory owner threatened to call the police. "What kind of geek says police and not cops?", he cried. "And what else?", I asked. It seems the Girlfriend then pulled down her pants and invited the owner to kiss her rear facing parts. Then the Engineer mentioned that maybe the owner should go back to his pedophile porn on the computer. And the night was still young. We did attempt to move away from the whirlwind the Girlfriend had become, but the Downtown was too small that night. A ride was finally procurred from the Birthday Girl and after pizza and the clock striking 0300, I had once again, enough fun in LaCrosse. Tomorrow would come the answer to or prayers at Skipperliner.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sunday morning found us fogbound in downtown Winona. Pretty, but impossible to navigate. One of the statutory faults when operating on the river is: if you have an accident running in the fog, you are at fault, nothing else need be said. The able crew, who did not stay up looking at darkened beer signs and thinking of the Honkey Tonk across the River until 0300, were up and raring to go. They fetched the Ace Deckhand(Ace) and asked him to impart his knowledge of when the shut out fog would disappear. 1000 the Ace replied, with nary a hesitation. He was really thinking of Buck the Engineer, who helped wait up for the fog until 0300. Buck, sleeping down in the sleeping quarters in Hell next to the screaming Cat generator, needed every bit of sleep he could get. At 0930 the the high Captain, as all those Captains before him, gently tried to get the able crew motivated to depart the Port without them jumping ship. The nervous pacing of the Captain caused most of the crew to scatter and check what the Galley Wenches had prepared. Three separate delicious egg dishes motivated the crew to cast off, top around, and head south to the final Port of the first leg. LaCrosse, Queen City of the Coulees.
Only 2 locks today, the fog burned off, and we were making good time, almost 7 MPH. We soon came upon Lock #6 and the quaint little town of Trempeleau, a town where the main highway going through it is the Mississippi River. The roads that lead into Trempeleau, go there, to get one to the River. No one just passes through Trempeleau on the road to somewhere else. There is comfort in knowing people are there because they want to be, not because a road runs through or by it.

The warm sunny day on the water with cold refreshments sometimes causes strange thoughts to surface and sure enough just before we got to Lock #7 a couple of the female members started talking trash about how they could handle the lines in the locks. The able male deck crew looked to the Ace and he agreed to the swap and told the crestfallen men, that they should stand by to assist, if need be. In the end only one stepped forward and she shall remain anonymous, but if you go through the crew list, I am sure the following description of locking through the Dresbach Lock, will enlighten some of our readers. Ace stated that she would probably get more assistance from the lockmen than he got at Lock 6. "You think?", she said with a knowing grin. The first thing was fitting her with the safety work/life vest under the expert eyes of the experienced Lockman. He had seen many "life vests" fitted to a female form in his lock! "The vest is too small at the top", she cried. "No time to adjust the vest", Ace said. "You will just have to pull your stuff up over the top", Ace called out, with the approving nod of the eagle-eyed Lockman. When the lock had dropped down to its' limit, the line would have to be worked off of the kevel/fitting on the deck. "Now, she said watch this", as she pushed her stuff back down to allow an excellent view of cleavage to the Lockman, who steadfastly refused to relinquish his post in case he needed to assist the green deckhand. Ace explained to her the time honored deckhand skill of throwing the heavy lock line off of the head 12-15 feet above her on the wall. He expressed a strong opinion that it would be impossible for a greenhorn like herself to accomplish. "Come on!", cried the able Lockman, "I know you can do it". She gave a half-assed flip of the line and it miraculously flipped off of the head at the feet of the Lockman. With a wave to her new buddy, she shrugged out of the too tight work vest and stated that she knew she could handle it. Chastened the Ace once again realized he had faced the awesome power of a woman's "charms" and coiled up the line.
Piloting of the mighty Fat Lady Pie proved to be a challenge. The boat was designed to push barges and the steering rudders were set up to provide steering to several thousand pounds of barges and cargo in front. The only thing we were pushing was water and it allowed very little resistance. The most minute movement of the steering control would swing the boat from side to side. To those early observer bank pilots who commented on the serpentine movement of the boat through the St. Paul Harbor, I challenge them to come aboard and keep that barn door rudder swinging beast on track.
The usual steering personnel in the pilothouse realized that The Queen City of the Coulees was in sight, they would be soon going home, and there was still too much liquid ballast aboard. They turned over the steering duties to the Ace. The Ace had never liked piloting a boat, his finely tuned temperament wasn't made for a career where the daily ingestion of several packs of cigarettes, pots of coffee, and the large bottles of Maloxx didn't keep their corpses from looking like men in their 60's when they had died in their forties. Sure enough, they turn over the boat right above the LaCrosse railroad bridge and after nervously telling the bridge he was northbound when he was really southbound, Ace was informed that a westbound train had already crossed the fai-safe switch and he could no longer swing. it is a time honored tradition for pilots to test new and nervous pilots with a southbound lock or bridge. Ace had stepped into it now. He had a boat that couldn't be put into reverse on the starboard engine and he just knew that train engineer was going slow with a 100 unit train to check out Ace's deodorant. The day Abraham Lincoln and the railroad he worked for, beat steamboat men in Rock Island. they got to build bridges in every bend, rivermen became cursed.
We finally landed at city front in LaCrosse. They have one of the most accessible and pretty parks you'll ever find. The sightseers came from everywhere. It is not often a towboat with a For Sale sign shows up. As some of the crew waited for the cars to come and bring them home, the liquid ballast disappeared and the friendly citizens chatted and asked questions. One interesting gentleman and his toothless crony stopped. What was interesting is, I believe he was mistaken on what year he was living in. As he talked we noticed he gesticulated with his hemostat and a roach.
The first wave of crew departed and the balance of the crew went uptown to eat and check out the historic downtown. The last entry is only this: $5 dollars for all the beer or rail drinks you can drink. Nothing else need said!
OK, I can take a breath and get caught up.

I forgot an incident that happened on Lake Pepin on Saturday, the second day of the trip. I was taking a quiet minute to relax in the Galley, when I felt the boat making a 180 degree turn in the middle of the Lake. It was not a good sign and rushed out the door after stepping the dog food dish. As I clambered up the two sets of spiral staircases ( I told you it is a fancy boat!) , I noticed we seemed to be surrounded by a lot of sailboats. I got into the pilothouse and asked what was going on. I don't remember who was piloting, but they said they had been steering off the red buoys and realized they were going too close to the Wisconsin shore and had to steer hard back to Minnesota. "Buoys", I exclaimed, "there are no buoys in the middle of Lake Pepin"! "Well look at those, we took them to be normal river buoys", they said. They were close but they were the marking buoys for a sail boat regatta and we were right in the middle of them. I tried not to make eye contact with any of the sailors as slunk back to the galley for a stiff one. Only 1750 miles to go!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The back door to hell

The water supply for the port main. And no, it should not be doing this - for you landlubbers.

Notice the perfectly shaped plug in our hose from the skin cooler. Not just any beer bottle will do. miller High Life has the perfect long taper to fit. I want to thank Buck for straightening me out on the procurement of the plug. I offered to go through the trash to find just the right one. He pointed out that he was above soiling his hands on a plug from the trash and I should help lighten the weight by drinking a fresh one. The sacrifices I am making for this trip are amazing even me! We were able to utilize the excess water coming in from the packingless shafts to cool the port main engine.

Red Wing

The day broke way to early for the crew who diligently stayed up until 0530 making sure the boat was safe and lightening the load of bottled liquids. With the demise of the Queen boats, we were probably the biggest passenger carrying vessel at the city front this year and we got held up off the wall because of the excessive sand flushed into the river from the storm sewer. We gazed longingly at the bright lights of Brad's Harbor Bar, with his Jamaican crew and thought, if we could have put10 miles behind us, we could have made last call.
Robert Wilson of the infamous Red Wing Wilsons, stopped by to see us. As an old salt of many years, he declined to accompany us on our adventure. Jerry Barth, father of Treasure Island Marina manager, Summer, drove by and wished us well. It is nice that in Red Wing, elderly gentlemen of Jerry's years can drive by the riverfront and enjoy the beauty of the river, unlike the City of St. Paul's Harriet Island, where they took that away. Mike Wilson, the most notorious of the aforementioned family, stopped by to wish us well and present a cap to Gene. It was stolen, I mean acquired, from the city of Red Wing's Public Works. It is heads above anything the City of St. Paul's Public Works has given to Gene. I believe the only thing Gene has gotten from St. Paul is a middle finger digit.
After a tender farewell to the Jewel of the Upper Miss, we cast off. Problems with the boat didn't go away, but the scenery of Lake Pepin and the beautiful weather forced those thoughts back down to Hell and Buck kept us going and safe. The huge For Sale signs, with Gene's cell phone number on them, kept Gene busy with pontoon boaters looking to move up to something larger. What do you call tire kickers on the water?
As we departed Lock 5A, I strained for a glimpse of the notorious Freddy's Float, hoping I might see some stragglers in wet t-shirts holding over, but alas I think Freddy only operates during the prime t-shirt weather. Carnivale in Rio and Freddy's on the 4th of July are on my bucket list. No wind, trees reflecting on the river (causing a false bank), a slight haze, and the lights of Winona had the able pilothouse crew tightening their sphincters. it had me wishing had brought some Mark Twain with me to show them that they were better equipped than the old Steamboat men. I have neglected to introduce the pilot house stalwarts. First of all is our main pilot, Mike Cassidy, the only one armed pilot I have ever worked with. Mike had a water related incident a while back that caused a temporary loss off his right arm Gene's son-in-law, the unflappable Jerry Deyo, handled the searchlight duties.. Jerry did fine and probably went to sleep thinking is red right ascending or is it red right descending. At least we didn't have an Intercoastal sailor trying to tell us it is red right returning. Tom O'Rourke did a fine job piloting and reminsced how much finer the accommodations were, than the last time he went downriver on the Lois E for Tom Moosbrugger. A beautiful city front in Winona beckoned the weary crew and we secured for the night. We were in a town before last call and we turned to the one person we knew had intimate knowledge of the Winona nightlife, Gene's daughter Shiela Deyo. Shiela had spent many years while at Winona State studying the subject and had just recently assisted her youngest daughter, Maddie,in the same subject. I washed the grime of hell off of myself and put on my finest off-white shirt and pants for our excursion. When asked why the light colors I pointed out that I did not want to be left behind and they could see me in the dark. Buck came up out of Hell and after two days of suffering was ready for Winona's finest. Shiela rained on our plans and told us that last call was in 10 minutes. Once again if we could have put 10 miles behind us, we could have made it. I said there is always Wisconsin across the river. They have been welcoming Minnesotans for years. Then someone with more sense point out that we had no car. buck lamented the morality of Minnesota and we decided to once again help lighten the load of liquid we carried to get more weight off of the boat