After leaving Madison at 2:30pm yesterday, we skimmed downstream enjoying a magnificently clear and bright autumn day. The banks were dotted with adorable towns and rolling hillsides brushed delicately with gentle fall pastels. Guest lecturer Jerry Sutphin (writer and producer of the Delta Queen documentary “Tested by Time”) delighted guests with his lecture and slides about the boat’s history.

DQ docked behind the Belle of Louisville

DQ docked behind the Belle of Louisville

We pulled into Louisville, KY around 8pm last night and docked next to the Belle of Louisville. Laura Sable presented her incredible “Great Ladies of Song” show to great acclaim. Afterward the band played for dancing and Phyllis Dale wound up a rowdy crowd with her performance in the Texas Lounge.

As they completed their duties, some of the Delta Queen crew slipped ashore for a crew party at a local bowling alley. After enjoying some of Phyllis’ shenanigans, Laura and I went up the hill to join the crew. It was a festive night of warm feelings as everyone danced around the realization that our days together on the river are drawing to a close.

Morning arrived accompanied by a cold front and rain. This was especially disappointing as we had planned a special Tribute Event for Louisville to be held on the Delta Queen’s Texas Deck bow. In response, the Belle of Louisville folks also had planned a riverfront party. With the rain hurling down in sheets, we all met early this morning to brainstorm “plan B” ideas. In order to keep attendees out of the rain, the Belle folks kindly offered to let us hold the event in the Belle of Louisville’s cavernous second deck – even though it would pose great logistical difficulties for them to clean and reset for their evening cruise.

Miraculously, about a half-hour before the event, the front pushed through, breaking the clouds apart until the sun gleamed off the freshly rinsed boats and riverfront. Our prayers had been answered! “Plan C” was quickly reconfigured to hold the event on the landing in front of the Delta Queen. It couldn’t have worked out better. All the local TV stations covered the event with the speeches and presentations back-dropped by the Delta Queen with a passionate crowd of supporters sporting an array of “Save the Delta Queen” themed posters. It will make a lovely and powerful image on the area news.

DQ fans rally at the Tribute Event

DQ fans rally at the Tribute Event

I was honored to make remarks on behalf of the Delta Queen. Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson shared warm sentiments. Additional support was shared by Belle of Louisville Executive Director Linda Harris and Mike Barry from the Kentucky Derby Festival. Delta Queen Captain John Dugger presented the mayor with a commemorative plaque.

 

 

 

 

Allowing the Belle to "hold" the DQ's Steamboat Race trophy antlers until our return.

Allowing the Belle to "hold" the Delta Queen's Steamboat Race trophy antlers until we can return.

He then added another special presentation…the Steamboat Race trophy antlers. Each year since 1963, the Delta Queen and the Belle of Louisville have competed in a great steamboat race the week before the Kentucky Derby. The winner gets to carry the antlers on their bow for the year. The Delta Queen won this year and has been proudly displaying the trophy but we presented the antlers back to the Belle of Louisville to “hold” for us until we can return and reclaim them! Belle Captain Doty seemed genuinely moved by the gesture. There is little more on this planet more fun than the steamboat race. Mark Twain wrote about steamboat racing: “This is sport that makes a body’s very liver curl with enjoyment.”

After the event, Travis Vasconcelos presented a fantastic concert on the Delta Queen’s steam calliope. Travis hails from Louisville and has previously worked as a calliopist and lecturer onboard the Belle and the Delta Queen. Travis is a calliopist extraordinaire. I must say in the more than a decade I have spent aboard riverboats, I have heard many wonderful calliopists. But I do here honestly and openly declare that I have never experienced the skill, flair, daring displays of dexterity and cunning keyboard craftsmanship exhibited by Travis. He is the best there is. And he was apparently moved by the historical significance of the occasion to present perhaps the most astounding calliope musical razzmatazz that has ever been undertaken by a mere mortal. Wow! I wish I had videoed to be able to share it with you, dear Reader, but I simply stood transfixed in sheer delight and awe.

With the rain subsided, the Belle of Louisville’s riverfront festival proceeded as planned. We took a stroll, visited with old friends along the waterfront, tasted some barbeque, and enjoyed the band.

The Belle departs

The Belle departs

The Belle of Louisville departed just before the Delta Queen. She is a glorious sight to behold. A crowd gathered along the waterfront as the Delta Queen prepared for departure. Many brought signs and banners. They frequently unified into chants of “Save the Delta Queen.”

As the Delta Queen departed with Captain Gabe Chengery playing “My Old Kentucky Home” on the Calliope, the Belle of Louisville lined up beside us in much the same fashion that the great race begins each year. The Belle of Louisville was previously named the Avalon and as both boats proceeded upriver side by side, Captain Gabe played “Avalon” as a touching and fitting tribute. The two oldest steamboats, paddled side by side, whispering to each other of the memories they had shared and marking their final moments of history together.

Cabin attendant Theresa savors the sounds of the calliope with a full heart.

Cabin attendant Theresa savors the sounds of the calliope with a full heart.

There were not many dry eyes remaining. Out of sheer courtesy and good manners, the Delta Queen slowed up to allow the Belle the blissful feeling of pushing ahead in the lead (a sensation they have not experienced in a long time!). The Belle continued on upriver as the Delta Queen swung around and made her way back downstream. Captain Gabe headed off to his dinner and I took over at the calliope to toss out another musical treat in appreciation to the crowd that still lingered along the shore to soak in every last droplet of riverboat bliss before the Delta Queen disappeared into the canal and headed down toward the lock chamber at McAlpine lock and dam.

I had been in full motion since early in the morning. It was a day that lasted forever. For me it will remain a day that I hope will last forever in my memories.

Here’s a big steam whistle salute to the city and citizens of Louisville and the wonderful staff and crew of the Belle of Louisville. Whistle Salute

–END–

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