Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Dixie Belle by Bandit - A Trip Through Time

The Dixie Belle by Bandit
A Trip Through Time

Following our review of the Mary Celeste, I shared the link with Analyse Dean, who is Bandit.  I was encouraged to write a review of her Dixie Bell, a period paddle-wheel steamer.  Just a review of a ship representing history wouldn't do so we decided to take this review in a different direction with a lot more creativity.  We hope you enjoy it.

Before we become all creative, we have some stories to tell.  Lizzy's roots are in Minnesota along the Mississippi river and she has a fascination with paddle-wheel steamers and has been on many.  She speaks with fondness of the ships she has sailed aboard and the Dixie Belle brought out many of those memories.  My background goes back to my mother who was raised along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers across from St. Louis.  Her father trucked produce from the farms to the cities and no doubt relied upon shipping to move his freight.  That shipping would have been a mix of boats including paddle-wheel steamers. 

Our Story

It was a rough night.  We landed in Galveston with a load of grain and passengers of a dubious nature.  Cargo was never a big problem, it rested inert waiting to be delivered and my only hope is we could keep it dry and deliver it on time.  Passengers, they are another story.  We have a mix of Southern Belles, gamblers, grifters and snake oil salesmen. All of them looking for new opportunities along the Gulf coast.

Last night was no difference and of little surprise.  A card game erupted into threats and accusations over a pair of extra aces were put down on the pile.  Not only did I have to navigate this behemoth through the narrow passes and tides of the inland waterway, I had to cool some inflamed tempers, I still needed to get my cargo and passengers between Pelican Island to the docks on the leeward side of the Galveston island.  I'm still worried, I saw a storm building in the Gulf and we still needed to push off for Vicksburg soon.

What made matters worse, my crew ended up in the jail after a drunken brawl in some bar along the Strand.  This  journey was gong to be especially hard short handed.  Loading the coal and firing up the boilers was going to fall to me.  Fortunately, I had one passenger who carried with her a quiet demeanor, fiery eyes and every bit of grace you would expect to find in any Southern Belle but there was more about her which puzzled me. 

Bags of rice were loaded quickly enough by the dock hands and the coal tenders were full along with water for the boilers.  My passenger made her way onboard and found a place to safely observe our departure.  At least this part of the morning has gone well, now it was time to light the boilers and then we could get underway. 

With a  roar and hiss, both boilers came to life, my old steam engines were ready to turn the paddle wheel. I tapped on both gauges to be sure the readings were correct and confident they were, I made my way to the wheel house. I yelled to the dock crew to release our lines and with a blow of the whistle and chime of the ship's bell, we began to make turns leaving Galveston for a Northeast passage to Fort Point and into the Gulf toward New Orleans and ultimately Vicksburg.

This part of the journey was uneventful without the usual seas I've seen with storms.  On a shallow draft boat like the Dixie Belle, I needed to be careful to avoid big waves.  If the storm approached, I would try to make for a shore landing along the coast.  As it would turn out, I looked to the South and the storm which had loomed the night before seemed to be farther away.  Maybe we would not encounter any rough weather or changes to our course.

I heard a knock on the wheel house door and my Southern Belle passenger approached seeking some conversation.  She asked how long I had been at sea. I explained I had been on the water most of my life, growing up on rafts on the Mississippi near St. Louis.  She was quiet for awhile and taking notice of the awkward silence, I asked her about how she came to Galveston.  She told me she had land holdings and business to complete from her family estate and now that she was done, she could return to her family in Minnesota.  I pondered that for a moment and asked her "Minnesota?  This boat only goes to Vicksburg."   She laughed explaining she would take the train from Vickburg the rest of the way.  Nodding my head, I told her I hoped she had a safe journey then looked back toward her seeing those eyes lit with fire. 

Excusing myself to check on my boilers and put more coal on the fire, I brushed past her.  We looked at one another and I felt my heart skip a beat.  She smiled knowing she was in control of everything going on around her.  Shaking thoughts about this enigmatic woman out of my head, I still had to tend to the Dixie Belle and get her, our cargo and passenger safely to our destination. 

We steamed East for what seemed like forever.  The splashes from the paddles pushing us forward, the roar from the steam engines and sound of gulls looking for a quick meal surrounded us.  Louisiana was in sight to our North and the storm which had me worried wasn't to be seen at all.  A safe voyage the Dixie's last trip to Galveston, she was going to spend the rest of her life on the Mississippi.  I placed my hand on the window sill and said to her, "Old girl, you've seen a war, storms and carried everything and everyone safely, I wish you the long life." 

We found the inlet to the Mississippi river through the Delta.  Now it was the winding passage and extra vigilance that comes with this river.  The Dixie Belle claimed her river fearlessly.  I trusted this ship like no other, she never failed me.  We would make Vicksburg on time once we made it through this twisting part of the Old Man by cities such as New Orleans and Baton Rouge.  The Belle, she pushed on past barges and other river boats, she knew she had come back home.

The river widened and the current pushing against us was steady.  The Belle's boilers were making enough steam to keep us going forward at an even pace.  Vicksburg was in the distance and my time as the Belle's captain would be coming to an end.  Her future would be handed off to a new captain and crew who would haul cargo and passengers from St. Louis to New Orleans.  The new captain was a young man who crewed for me.  He shared the same love as I for this majestic Queen of the River.  She would be in good hands.

We made our final landfall at the docks in Vicksburg.  The hills and bluffs which were laid bare during the siege yeas before showed few scars from that terrible war and the city was resuming a normal life.  With lines tied off and cargo being unloaded, I saw the new captain and crew waiting for us.  I approached with a handshake, turned around with water in my eyes looking at the Belle knowing I would miss her. 

Seeing my passenger walking toward the train station, I called out to her saying,  "So, tell me more about Minnesota."  She smiled and I picked up her bags escorting her to the train station.  Maybe there's room for an old ship captain on the other end of the mighty Mississippi and with another kind of Belle.  One with as much fire in her as a mighty ship.

Whether it is sailing, flying, driving or riding, we can live out some fantasies and imagine ourselves in parts of our history.  The Dixie Belle is a representation of nautical history and the platforms live on to this day as tour boats.  Lizzy and I had fun with the Dixie Belle and I'm sure we'll find more fun in the future.  When we first launched this amazing ship and sailed around Fruit Islands, we both felt like it was the most fun we had in a long time. 

Thank Analyse Dean for being the shipbuilder you are!

About Bandit

Visit the Mesh Shop and you can try out all of the boats.  You can also see the Dixie Belle and her bigger sister the Dixie Queen.  I wasn't able to find out where you could buy the Belle or the Queen but I'm sure some linden persuasion could find one in your inventory.  There are several choices and types between power boats, sailing yachts to very cool and complex racing yachts. You can visit MarketPlace as well but what fun would that.

Find us on Facebook

You can get updates and new reviews through our Facebook group "Things that Moves in SL" which you should absolutely join or on my Google+ page.   Lizzy and I review bikes, boats, cars and aircraft.  If you would like us to review something that moves, send us a message.