River Life

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This is my first furtive attempt at trying my hand at blogging.

I guess that I am surely not much of an “early adopter” when it comes to doing things like this—but I decided after having first come here back in 2010, with the coming of another year, I was going to devote time to creating what I hope will be a high quality and interesting Blog page.

Coincidentally, in 2010, my parents decided to purchase a very nice river going “houseboat” style of boat so we could fulfill some dreams and check off one more item on our “bucket lists” so we could get back to boating on a waterway we love dearly—the Ohio River. Our boat is actually more appropriately described as a “river cruiser.”

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This boat is very different from the sort of houseboats found on many of the impoundment lakes located around the country like Cumberland, Norris, Kentucky, Norman, Lanier and others in the south, and the really massive ones like Lake Havasu out in the western US.

On those lakes, it seems that everyone is vying to have the biggest, baddest, sexiest or whatever sorts of boats–with many of them costing well into the seven figures and they resemble the sorts of homes their owners have on land, those rambling “McMansions” found in the exurbs of cities like Cincinnati, Louisville, Atlanta, Charlotte etc.

With those boats–many well in excess of 100 feet and growing, they often have multiple interior decks and even several exterior ones. Some are so big and elaborate that they actually have a landing pad for a helicopter and the boat serves as home base for a fleet of other watercraft such as jet skis, ski and wake board boats, pontoons and other “water toys.”  They often have hot tubs aboard.

The owners of the boats usually arrive “down at the lake” late on Friday afternoons or early evening and when everyone is ready–dad drives the houseboat while the kids drive the others up to their favorite cove, where the big boat drops anchors and ties off lines to the trees on the shoreline.

I am not being critical of that sort of boating because whether you boat on an inland lake, a river, coastal waters or offshore the boating life to me is pretty damn good—its just that running a boat on one of those usually nice calm and flat lakes like Cumberland is a very different thing than the sort of boating we do on the river.

With a river going boat–most trips are relatively short and we basically stay in the vicinity around Cincinnati–taking nice cruises or dropping anchor along a quiet shore, cooking hamburgers on the grill or eating food we have brought aboard. We also like to take trips to other towns up and down the river–traveling many hours to reach them.

There is just something special about settling into the rhythm and flow of the river, not really moving all that fast, but the real point of a river excursion is really more about enjoying the trip as much as reaching our destination.

Our boat, a 70 foot long Monticello River Yacht, is very nice both inside and out, but it is certainly not “over the top” like its lake bound counterparts. Our boat, The River Breeze, is docked at the FourSeasons Marina located in Cincinnati’s east end in a harbor located off the actual river itself.

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The River Breeze has a hull design and shape that is better suited to the vagaries of a big and powerful river—strong currents and eddies that one of the flat bottomed lake house boats have trouble navigating.

For the past decade or so, when I would spend time down in Cincinnati, especially some event held along the Ohio, such as the periodic Tall Stacks Music Heritage and Arts Festivals, I would pine for being able to once again get back to running a boat on the Ohio, something I had done many years prior when I was a young boy.

I would have been very content to have a small and simple boat to be able to once again get out on that river–never expecting or even dreaming that a wish would be realized, and I would be able to pilot a boat like River Breeze.

I am pretty much “The Captain” of the boat since I am the main person who operates it. In the winter of 2011, I took a course to earn a US Coast Guard Captain’s license and now have one—more for my own satisfaction and sense of accomplishment, along with knowing that the course provided me with even greater knowledge on how to safely and properly run a boat of this sort. I have to say that my skills and competency (and confidence) in operating this boat have grown in the few short years we have owned this vessel.

People who don’t know boating and might look at a waterway like the Ohio and say–“Well—it isn’t all that wide, how hard can it be to run a boat on it?”

I can say, that rivers, just like the oceans, the Great Lakes and other major waterways, offer their own unique conditions, challenges, risks and dangers, not the least of which are when it is a nice summer’s day, close to a large area like Cincinnati and Louisville–the large number on the of recreational power boats out on the river pose the biggest challenges to safe navigation. Many of the operators of those boats, have little knowledge, understanding or appreciation for the what it takes to properly run a boat on any waterway.

The river does see its share of large “tow boats” pushing huge barges with the total weight of those vessels running into the tens of thousands of tons. They cannot easily maneuver or stop their forward momentum once they get underway—-a fact that seems lost upon so many of those who operate small boats like pontoons, fiberglass “runabouts,” fishing boats and “jet skis.” Those people seem to have a great knack for being right where the captains of the tow boats want their boats to be–especially when they are “running the gauntlet” that is downtown Cincinnati, with all its bridges.

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Why The Attraction For the River?

Many of those who spend their life making a living from a river like the Ohio, like Capt. Bernstein of Cincinnati’s BB River boats puts it: “Once that river water and mud gets in your blood, it never really leaves!”

I think that perhaps there is some truth to this old saw by the “river rats” like Capt. Bernstein.

When I was just a little boy, barely able to walk, my mom and dad decided that their way to escape from the pressures of work and the world was gonna best be done aboard a boat. My dad was a young executive in the early 1960s, working for General Motors, learning to run production plants. It was his way to get out of the pressure cooker that was such a place back in the days long before GM was almost brought to its knees and had to be bailed out.

We boated the river on our late 1950s era 21 foot, plywood Chris-Craft cabin cruiser, going up and down the river. In those days, there were many islands located between Louisville and Cincinnati that boaters would beach their boats and spend many a night, but over the years thanks to changes made to the river by the Corps of Engineers and Mother Nature herself—those islands with the exception of one not far from a very interesting place called Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, still exists, but it too is fast being eroded away.

Such is the way of a river. As many a song, poems and essays have noted—a river is a constantly changing thing—almost like it really is a living beast.

Later in my life–I wound up moving to the Southeastern US–first moving to Savannah, Georgia and later, other places in the south and I had already spent much time in various places in Florida on both coasts thanks to some vagabond grandparents who had retired in the early 1970s to the Sunshine State.

I came to love living along the ocean, the marshes and sounds of places like Savannah, Hilton Head Island, Miami, Tampa and elsewhere.

Later still, I joined the US Coast Guard and was posted to vessels based out of both Key West and Miami Beach.  Even though I was living “the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle” in the southeast coast and on down into the Caribbean, as gorgeous as those places are—there was always this pull back to the river!!!

I am back on the river now and I love it–I don’t know how much time I will get to remain boating the river since my parents are getting older and presently, my father is recovering from a stroke he suffered just two weeks ago as of this writing.

We hope for a full recovery and that he too can once again “go down to the river.”

That line–for those who catch the reference—comes from the Bruce Springsteen song “The River.”

I love this song and just about any piece of music, poetry, essays or other prose that deals with rivers as their subjects.

For a number of years now—I have been trying to make out for myself the real appeal of a river–and I try to get some meaning about the metaphorical connections between rivers and our lives as human beings—I just have not quite figured it out yet—but I do keep trying and over the course of my blogging here perhaps one day I will find “the answers to questions that haunted me so”–I intend to deal with many subjects in this blog space ranging from essays of this sort, to doing profile stories of interesting people and places, some “newsy” things and whatever else tickles my fancy—-but the subject of rivers–my river or any river for that matter—is a subject I intend to continue to explore in the coming weeks, months and years: “God Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise”–I will keep coming back and doing pieces relating to “River Life.”

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4 responses to “River Life

  1. Sadly, the time we had this boat was “short and sweet,” more bittersweet to be honest. My dad had wanted this boat as I am sure getting one was something on his mental “bucket list.” He had retired from and sold a company he had come to own and operate and wanted to get something that I am sure was in his dreams. We bought River Breeze in early summer 2010 and we did get to have two good years taking it on river trips, mostly all in or close to the Cincinnati area, but just before Christmas 2012, my father had a bad stroke and that was the end of his life has he had known it. I talk about this in another blog entry. He did pass in April 2013 and it took awhile for our family to pick up the pieces. In 2014, I moved the boat from Cincinnati, first down to Turtle Creek Marina down in Southern Indiana(a place that was a favorite destination with the boat and the last photo in this entry was taken there on one such trip, in late fall with cool evenings but the water still warm, makes for foggy mornings like this one was) for a time then on down to Louisville, where we listed the boat that summer, having a lot of work done on it to make it more marketable. In June 2015, we sold the boat to a family from the Louisville area and with that sale successfully concluded, closed that chapter in our family’s story.

  2. You’ve had an interesting life, Mike! Enjoyed reading that. I’ll bet your last days of your dad on the river were happy for him. I hope so, anyway! Living on the rives seems so idyllic!

  3. Even though I am now down in Florida and enjoying explorations of the waters of this state, I just got back from a few days down in the Florida Keys, I feel I am not done with the Ohio and by some means, I will make my dream trip of running the Ohio from beginning to end…..

  4. I remember a TV show produced by a station in Louisville, about two guys who put in at he headwaters of the Ohio, then followed it to the Mississippi, then went all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. They stopped along the way, met some interesting people, saw historic sites, and comtemplated their lives. I believe one of the station’s roving reporters narrated the whole thing. If I’m not wrong, it was Byron Crawford, who really made his segments interesting and fun!

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