Collision in the Fog
Oct. 26, 2000, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans
It was very early in the morning, and I was still in bed, although the raft was already underway, as we made our last big push to get to New Orleans. I awakened to a sense of something not being right, and sure enough, in a moment there was a pounding on my door. "Get out on deck, hurry!" Grabbing my lifejacket and my camera, I rushed out the door without even stopping to finish getting dressed. We were surrounded by dense fog, and appearing through the murk, just off our port side, was a huge barge, coming straight for us.
"Hard to starboard" Ed yelled to the helm. I jumped on top of the dog house and started snapping pictures. Suddenly I noticed that Dwight was still inside the paddlewheel boat, right in the path of the oncoming monster. "Get OUT of there," I yelled to him, and at the same moment, Poppa yelled at me, "Get DOWN from there, you fool!" Reluctantly I jumped down to the deck and kept on snapping photos as the barge crunched into the side section of the raft, just ahead of the paddlewheel boat, pieces of 2x6's flying into the air like splinters, and the small pontoons crushed together, shoving the entire garden up onto the middle of the main deck in a heap. In seconds, it was all over, and already the barge was backing away. The fog was still so thick that we could barely see the tug at the other end of the barge.
We were way out of the channel by now, and aground, so out of any further danger. "What happened?" I asked Ed. Apparently, we had been running outside the channel when we came to a buoy that was too close to the bank and had to enter the channel to clear it. Ed called on the radio announcing our position to surrounding traffic, and immediately a voice came back - a tow was headed upriver straight for us, and on the same side of the channel that we were on. The tow captain radioed that he was going to turn to his port side, and head into the bank. At the same moment, we turned to our starboard, headed for the same bank, thus minimiizing the impact, as we came almost parallel to each other in the last moments before the collision.
Now we were sitting way up on the bank, our entire first section high and dry. The damage was minimal - the great thing about a raft - it can't be sunk, and everything is so easy to put back together! Just reposition, and nail and screw and tie and you're ready to go again. But getting off the bank was another story. We tried every technique we could think of, and eventually came to the conclusion that we had to disconnect the first section from the rest of the raft. Even after that, we were unable to budge it one inch. Just then, a small boat from a nearby tug (who was busy moving barges from one section of the shore to another), came over and offered their assistance. With the powerful engines of the tug, we finally got off, but not before finding the limit of strength of a few of our smaller lines! The small boat towed us out to where the rest of the Vilma B was waiting, circling just outside of the channel, and we reconnected. By now the fog had lifted, and we headed on downriver.
The next day, the towboat that had collided with us passed us going back downriver, without a barge. We waved and gave the high sign - can't stop a raft for long!
Click on the small thumbnail photos to see them full size
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