A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The River: Finally the words he had anxiously awaited — ‘The CLYDE and crew have landed safely’


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

Was I lost at the end of the day last week! According to my calculations on Thursday, 23 July 2020, Capt. Tim Roberts had the CLYDE running full ahead through the once hazardous Gorge of the Tennessee River in the middle of the night so he could “tie off, tonight,” as I said, “at a Chattanooga city dock.” The Captain’s last nightly communication added, “ We are about two miles from our stop tonight at Mile 412. Going to try and tie to a city dock in case we get another big blow. Should make Chattanooga tomorrow.” The Ross Landing dock in Chattanooga is at Mile 464. The CLYDE was actually at the city dock at Bridgeport, Tennessee, some 52 miles downstream with the Gorge and Nickajack Lock and Dam between the two locations. Let’s begin again at Mile 412 below Bridgeport.

Captain Tim Roberts: “Got up at 4:30 to get an early start only to discover the impeller finally gave out.”

Friday, 24 July 2020. Mile 412, Tennessee River.

Captain Tim Roberts: “Got up at 4:30 to get an early start only to discover the impeller finally gave out. Luckily we had one, so I replaced it. We got underway at six.”

Thus, started the social media blitz concerning carrying enough spare parts on a long trip and the condition of the impeller:

“Never leave home without a lot of spare parts… can never have too many spares… always good to carry a few extra onboard… I’ve replaced older impellers that didn’t look that bad before… impellers every two years and batteries every three years… belts and hoses before any long trip…usually good for a few years unless you got grass or mud in the raw water intake…how long has that been installed?…  in Aurora, we never had issues with ingesting seaweed… never had breakdowns…”

All sage advice and comments that were truly appreciated, but the bottom line was, the CLYDE needed a specific spare part, a water pump impeller, and one was aboard.

Clearing Nickajack Lock – The boat cleared the lock at Nickajack Dam, Mile 424, at 0915 a.m.

An hour after departure, the CLYDE paddled beneath the Shelby Rhinehart Bridge connecting South Pittsburg and New Hope, TN. The boat cleared the lock at Nickajack Dam, Mile 424, at 0915, and passed the defunct Hales Bar Dam an hour later. The old dam, constructed from 1905-1913 primarily to hold back the whirlpools along the Tennessee River, was the nation’s first hydroelectric dam. Unfortunately, it was supposedly built on cursed Native American land and eventually required replacing. Some say that may also be true about the rest of the nation.

About that same time, my message read:

“I lost track of the CLYDE last night and forgot about Nickajack Lock. So, you did get to see the Gorge in the daylight?”

Rick promptly answered along with a breathtaking panoramic shot of the Gorge of the Tennessee River:

“We’re in the Gorge, now, at Mile 452. Trying to make the “Nooga” by tonight.”

As I noted before, the Gorge of the Tennessee River below Chattanooga is where the river twists and turns for some 26 miles through a massive gap in an ancient rock formation known as Walden Ridge. Before the Hales Bar hydroelectric dam raised the level of the river in 1913, treacherous rapids, and rocks with colorful names caused some extremely hazardous conditions in the Gorge.

Rick promptly answered along with a breathtaking panoramic shot of the Gorge of the Tennessee River.

The “Suck,” the “Boiling Pot,” the “Skillet,” and the “Pan” struck terror into the hearts of boatmen and travelers on the river as it tumbled through the Gorge of the Tennessee. Though now, Captain Tim was not fearful of those old drowned haunts in the Gorge, he was concerned whether, or not, he could tie off that night, at Ross Landing, the Chattanooga city dock.

At 6:51 am, Saturday, 25 July 2020, this note from Captain Roberts was waiting in my message box:

“CLYDE and crew made Ross Landing, Chattanooga, at 2039 hours (8:39 pm) last night.”

Hearing no more from the CLYDE for nine hours, at 3:49 pm, Saturday afternoon, I sent an almost desperate inquiry:

“What’s going on? Through Chickamauga Lock, yet?”

It wasn’t until 7:18 pm that I received a reply with a lovely photo of the setting sun beyond the paddlewheel of the CLYDE:

“Yup, we are about 16 miles from Watts Bar Lock. Going to anchor-up afterward.”

Sunday, 26 July 2020. The Rafter CLYDE II Facebook narrative for the day read:

Chattanooga 7-24-20 – CLYDE and crew made Ross Landing, Chattanooga, at 2039 hours (8:39 p.m.) last night. 

• CLYDE is on Watts Bar Lake. Overnighted at Sand Island, and getting closer to home.

• Anchored at an old hang-out, Sand Island, Mile 538 @ 1:30 am.

• Pulled anchor at 0700 this morning headed for Bluesprings Marina for a final fuel stop.

• 410. Capt Tim: “The towboat BEARCAT is a familiar sight as I see her regularly from the pilothouse of the STAR. She started chasing us in Chattanooga and finally overtook us north of Kingston.”

• 1413. Dr. Julie: “CLYDE is making excellent progress. My friends and I were able to take pictures of CLYDE when she was in Kingston, TN, this morning, going under the TN Highway 58 Bridge.”

• 1700. We’re way past Kingston. We just stopped for a quick crew change.
 
• 1830. About two miles from our anchorage at Mile 590. I had to anchor quickly to wait out a severe blow in a very narrow channel.

• 2033. We are anchored 12 miles below Fort Loudoun Dam (Mi. 602.3).
 
Several dedicated followers of the paddlewheeler’s memorable trip made these comments:

Departing Ft. Loudoun Lock – As CLYDE paddled out of the lock, a camera recording the comings and goings of vessels using the government facility recorded the splish-splashing red paddlewheel propelling the boat beyond the chamber.

Dr. Julie: “I talked to Capt. Tim and he went through Watts Bar Dam going to Blue Springs Marina for fuel and then headed toward Kingston, TN to spend the night. She is slow and steady as she heads to her final port – Home Sweet Home!”

Billy Ferree: “It’s good to be able to follow the CLYDE to its new home.”

Mary Sward Charlton, a retired Riverlorian for the DELTA QUEEN and AMERICAN QUEEN steamboats: “Bringing back memories of so many wonderful trips on the DELTA QUEEN!”

Capt. Michael Blitgen: “Everyone who goes up the TN River has the BEARCAT’s cell number as they are the go-to boat for any questions or concerns about anything up there!”

Betty Rullman Schutte, formerly of the DELTA QUEEN crew: “I am loving following this story. I found myself with a knot in my stomach while reading about the lack of communication from Captain Tim during the bad storm they endured. Great writing and storytelling!!”

When Jeff Wilkes posted: “As always an excellent job!!!! The CLYDE has had a lot of people’s attention up the Beautiful Tennessee River !!”

Landing Tellico_2-27-20 – The CLYDE and Crew landed safely at 2:10 pm, Eastern Daylight Savings Time. 

I replied: “The Rafter CLYDE will be a lovely addition to the lovely Tennessee Valley as she follows in the footpath of her namesake, the original CLYDE.”

Meanwhile, the banter between the CLYDE and my desk, nearly a thousand river miles apart, continued:

Me: “Keep your eyes out for the SUN*FISH. What’s your mileage?”

CLYDE: “577.”

Me. “You’re almost to the barn.”

CLYDE: “Hopefully, the doors are open.”

Me: “I’m sure Julie’ll have them wide open. She’s liable to have the Governor and the high school band waiting to welcome you.”

At 8:53, Sunday evening, Captain Tim informed me:

“We are anchored for the night some twelve miles below Ft. Loudoun Lock. About two miles from our anchorage at Mile 590. Had to quickly anchor to wait out a hard blow in a very narrow channel.”

“Ok,” I answered, “Tomorrow’s the BIG day.”

Monday, 27 July 2020. Mile 590 Tennessee River. The Home Stretch.

6:42 am. Captain Tim: “Underway.”

Me: “Roger that. Keep me up to date, please.”

When the Skipper announced at 9:35 am, “Cleared Fort Loudoun Lock,” he meant that all the lockages were behind the CLYDE. Ahead lay twenty-some-miles of water in the “home stretch” to CLYDE’s new residence on the Little Tennessee River, a tributary of the parent waterway. As CLYDE paddled out of the lock, a camera recording the comings and goings of vessels using the government facility recorded the splish-splashing red paddlewheel propelling the boat beyond the chamber. After eight years of affiliation with the rafter, seeing her underway from ashore is still a neoteric experience I’ve yet to take for granted.

Three hours later, when I heard nothing more about the disposition of the paddlewheeler, I relayed a hint Capt. Tim’s way:

“The suspense is killing me.”

And when that failed to elicit a response from the captain, I tried texting Rick Welton, who was ashore and following along by road:

“Hey, Rick. Where are they now?”

At 1:40 Rick returned:
 
“Wouldn’t you know it? Quite a blow came up right before entering our marina, so they’re biding some time for it to pass. Should be soon.”

“Thunderstorms, here, too,” I remarked. “Checked the weather there and saw what you’re getting.”

On the dock, Dr. Johnston stretched an attractive banner with the words: “WELCOME HOME CLYDE and CREW.” 


“The cell should pass in a few minutes,” he answered.

“How is it now” Passed? All Okay?” I asked.

Then came the words I’d been anxiously awaiting:

“The CLYDE and Crew landed safely at 2:10 pm, Eastern Daylight Savings Time. The smokestacks cleared by only an inch or two at the most.”

At 2:26 I messaged Captain Tim Roberts one last time:

“Congratulations, Captain Tim. Mighty-fine job.”

On the dock where the CLYDE lay nestled and resting peacefully after her long and arduous ordeal, Dr. Johnston stretched an attractive banner with the words: “WELCOME HOME CLYDE and CREW.” To either side of the script was an artistically-accurate drawing of the boat done by Ms. Lee Ann Ward, Clyde’s “Marine Engineer” during my tenure.

In a photograph capturing the essence of the bustle on the dock after the lines were all made fast, Captain Tim was busy connecting the shore power cord to the electrical system of the Rafter CLYDE. Shoving the connectors together, the captain energized the coppery veins of the Mississippi River-born, Ohio River-bred sternwheeler with the water-generated energy of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Symbolically, the Rafter CLYDE now belonged to the river called the “Hogohegee” and the “Tenasi” — the Tennessee.

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.


Related Posts

9 Comments

  1. Jeff Miller says:

    Congrats to Dr Julie, Capt Tim and the crew. Thanks for sharing the adventure.
    Also special thanks to Captain Don’t Sanders for making it all possible, and for his engaging columns in the NY Tribune

  2. Jeff Miller says:

    Congrats to Dr Julie, Capt Tim and the crew. Thanks for sharing the adventure.
    Also special thanks to Captain Don Sanders for making it all possible, and for his engaging columns in the NY Tribune

  3. Jo Ann W Schoen says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this journey with your readers.

  4. Well said and Written. Glad she got to her new home with a minimum of incidents and kerfuffle. Quite a feat of seamanship with a small boat with IMO minimal power. Hoping we are kept apprised of the Female improvements.

  5. Bob Sanders says:

    End of one era; beginning of a new one with Dr. Johnston.

  6. Terri christie says:

    Wonderful read

  7. Cirnelia Reade-Hale says:

    Another awesome piece of the jaunt of the Rafter Clyde told in your usual fantastic manner.. It must be mix of pain & joy to folliw her.
    Yea for the Clyde & crew in her new home. .

  8. Mike Washenko says:

    Another great read Capt, thanks for sharing the adventure of the Clyde.

  9. Luv it Donald! Luv reading your article(s)! Your memories will never fade from your heart!

Leave a Comment