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The River: The river as a rapids, destruction of Ludlow Bromley Yacht Club, and more drama


The riverboat captain is a storyteller, and Captain Don Sanders will be sharing the stories of his long association with the river — from discovery to a way of love and life. This a part of a long and continuing story.

By Capt. Don Sanders
Special to NKyTribune

What a week this has been on the river! Heavy rains have, again, swollen the Upper Mississippi River and turned it into a mill race between St. Louis and Cairo, where the Ohio and the Upper join and form the mighty Lower Mississippi River.

Towboat pilot, Captain Kyle Pfenning, who bills himself as “ just a southwestern Oklahoma farm-boy living the Mark Twain life working on the Mississippi River.”


Towboat pilot, Captain Kyle Pfenning, who bills himself as “ just a southwestern Oklahoma farm-boy living the Mark Twain life working on the Mississippi River,” posted a Facebook video of that stretch of the river showing navigational buoys diving beneath the surface in the swift current.
  
“It’s a rapids, man… virtually a rapids!” Cap’n Kyle exclaimed over the roar of the swirling water.

With a week of record-breaking temperatures in the Middle Ohio Valley where work slowed to a crawl aboard the Rafter CLYDE as I spiffed up the boat for prospective buyers. A couple of times, it wasn’t until after 4 p.m., once the sun was low enough in the western sky to drop the temps a few degrees on the Rabbit Hash General Store thermometer mounted in the forward cabin of the CLYDE, that chores resumed. Still, there’s the main deck alongside the outer guards that need prepping and painting, but with some effort in the oncoming cooler days, they will be ready for the next prospects.   

With a week of record-breaking temperatures in the Middle Ohio Valley where work slowed to a crawl aboard the Rafter CLYDE as I spiffed up the boat for prospective buyers. 

Of course, all the talk on the river this week was of the destruction of the Ludlow Bromley Yacht Club by some fifteen barges in tow with Florida Marine Transport’s seven-year-old towboat, the DALE ARTIQUE. Just after 0600 on the morning of Wednesday, 02 October 2019, the ARTIQUE allided with the marina, virtually destroying the 30-some-year-old popular restaurant, harbor, and watering hole.   

Fortunately, there were no deaths, injuries, or pollution events resulting from the incident. As I never second-guess such hapless occurrences, I will wait for the findings of the United States Coast Guard and other investigative officials before adding my nickles-worth to the fray of public opinion.   

As unfortunate as the accident was, the real blessing remains how free of such destructive incidents the commercial sector of the river abides in spite of the thousands of towboats moving tens-of-thousands of barges through these same waters each year. Many of the barges loaded with deadly and noxious chemicals could prove destructive, not only to the immediate object of impact but to the surrounding communities as well.   

The talk on the river this week was of the destruction of the Ludlow Bromley Yacht Club by some fifteen barges in tow with Florida Marine Transport’s seven-year-old towboat, the DALE ARTIQUE.

These hazardous loads pass unnoticed at all hours of every day. Thanks to the skills and professionalism of those crewing the towing vessels, rarely do a mishap occur. Only when a rare accidental mischance happens is the public’s attention directed to the dangers of commercial barge traffic passing by their front doors. 

An example of a narrow escape from tragedy happened around 0519 hours on 19 March of 1972, when a liquid chlorine barge broke loose from its tow and lodged against McAlpine Lock & Dam on the Ohio River and could not be pulled free. The Mayor of surrounding Louisville, Kentucky, ordered the evacuation of 4,800 residents of the Portland area closest to the danger. After the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers debated various schemes to free the deadly chlorine barge from the dam, including the use of explosives, cooler heads prevailed and called upon no other than Captain John Beatty to help resolve the quandary.    

With his two minesweeper ships, Captain John straddled the sunken chlorine barge and with great cable straps, held it securely while divers attached hoses and pumped 640 tons of liquid chlorine into an empty tank barge; saving the city. Captain Beatty and his courageous crew will, forever, be remembered in the annals of river history for their daring deeds. 

On the very evening after the Ludlow Bromley YC collision, I was chatting with Captain Josh Larkin, a pilot on the LUCKY LADY ferryboat. Josh was off-duty and at home on Facebook, which has seemingly taken the place of the older and much slower “Sternline Telegraph” that, for generations, carried river gossip from one end of the fluvial community to the other. 

With his two minesweeper ships, Captain John straddled the sunken chlorine barge and with great cable straps, held it securely while divers attached hoses and pumped 640 tons of liquid chlorine into an empty tank barge; saving the city.  


As we chatted, another message appeared in the box in the left-hand corner of the screen from “Shantyboat Mike” Fletcher saying an empty barge at the Aurora Marine Terminal looked like it had broken loose from its moorings, and as it was past closing time at the dock, did I have an emergency number to call? 

After I called a local river associate and was unable to connect with him, I messaged Josh:

“Someone just messaged me and said a barge at the Aurora Terminal has the head free and out into the river. I tried to call someone who didn’t answer and know no one else to call.”  

Josh replied: “I’ll call my old boss at the towing company and let him know.”

“Okay,” I answered. “Your boss should know who to call.” 

The ENDEAVOR came alongside the errant barge and secured it from running away on its unscheduled adventures


Josh: “ I called my buddies at C&B Towing, and they said the M/V ENDEAVOR was around that area; headed to Patriot. So if it is broken free, they will call C&B, and they will catch it.” 

About that time, I wanted to watch what was happening just down the hill from my house; so I dressed and went down to the park alongside the river where Shantyboat Mike and our pal, Captain Ron Abdon, were waiting at a picnic table where I joined the two and watched as the ENDEAVOR came alongside the errant barge and secured it from running away on its unscheduled adventures. The river had enough excitement for one day, and I was satisfied that all of us working together with our brethren afloat, prevented a possible runaway barge.   

A little later, Captain Josh and his lovely river lady, ferryboat deckhand Kay Kuehn, joined the three old rivermen at the table on the riverside where we gabbed until Ron and Mike had to catch the ferry to Rabbit Hash. Josh, Kayla, and I adjourned to the Rafter CLYDE, where we enjoyed the old-time steamboat ambiance until we adjourned and went our separate ways – until next time. 

Captain Don Sanders is a river man. He has been a riverboat captain with the Delta Queen Steamboat Company and with Rising Star Casino. He learned to fly an airplane before he learned to drive a “machine” and became a captain in the USAF. He is an adventurer, a historian, and a storyteller. Now, he is a columnist for the NKyTribune and will share his stories of growing up in Covington and his stories of the river. Hang on for the ride — the river never looked so good. 

A little later, Captain Josh and his lovely river lady, ferryboat deckhand Kay Kuehn, joined the three old rivermen at the table on the riverside.

Lovely river lady, ferryboat deckhand Kayla Kuehn.   


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6 Comments

  1. DL says:

    Lots of excitement for one day. Great write-up!

  2. Cornelia Reade-Hale says:

    Wow.2 river misadventures and one adverted one spelled out in river terms but so anyone can understsnd.
    Reading the coordination of effort in FB.phone calls and personal interaction the term ” it takes a village” came to mind. Thank you Capt Don for your part in “corralling” the potential hazard maker.

  3. Ronald Sutton says:

    As usual a good Yarn from Capt. Don. How did a lovely lady like her get mixed up with that Bunch?

  4. Béla K. Berty says:

    Is riverboating mostly peaceful (boring?) interrupted by moments of terror?

    • Connie Bays says:

      Never a dull moment it seems! Glad to hear your teamwork averted another disaster! Good work! I always enjoy your stories, no matter the subject. Keep them coming Captain!

  5. Cap'n Don says:

    Thanks for the comments, my friends. See you on the river, sometimes.

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