By Captain Don Sanders
Special at NKyTribune
(The captain of the riverboat is a storyteller, and Captain Don Sanders shares stories of his long association with the river – from discovery to a way of love and life.)
“I bet you ate well on Thanksgiving aboard those game boats,” was a statement often repeated by curious onlookers regarding the groceries served in the GRAND VICTORIA II’s EDR (employee dining room). and four other river casinos, during the November holidays. .
âI guess we did,â I would reply, âif you call a turkey bun with canned gravy, sweet potatoes, peas, and sage dressing out of a box ‘good to to eat “. “
I am not complaining. The food was hot; a lot – without cleaning afterwards. All I had to do was swipe my game badge, fill the board, eat, scrape, and place the dirty dishes on the bus board – and all for just two dollars taken from the next check. payroll.
These curious outsiders didn’t realize that the fine food and holiday decorations that the casinos famously touted were meant to please the rubes that flowed through the front doors with visions of jackpots dancing in their heads. Employees, team members, crew, or whatever they called, were just “the hired helper.” Which also includes me, the SENIOR CAPTAIN of the 330ft paddle steamer where all the casino magic happened.
But this has not always been the case.
When the gigantic riverboat first paddled through the small riverside town on the Indiana side of the Ohio River, across from Rabbit Hash, Ky., The Louisiana-built paddle steamer thoroughly fascinated anyone unfamiliar with it. operating such a behemoth within the narrow confines of the Hoosier part of the river. Therefore, nothing that belonged to the Corporation was too good for captains and chief engineers. It was as if the “costumes” feared that we would go to waste if we weren’t continuously satisfied. So, with all the extra attention that was raining down, we relished our celebrity status for as long as it lasted.
If I remember correctly, in addition to the excellent salaries, social benefits and an annual bonus, we took advantage of VIP parking in front of the Pavilion, free meals at the buffet, a subscription to the swimming pool, to the bath hot tub, sauna and gym, plus generous free privileges, and a few other perks that I forgot. Unfortunately, as five years quickly passed, we began to lose the extras when the continued and safe operation of the gigantic riverboat became routine and expected without further compensation.
First went to the VIP parking lot, and soon after, the annual bonuses were dropped. Little by little, the additional privileges faded one by one. But, since I never used the pool, hot tub, sauna or gym, I didn’t miss them when our badges no longer opened.
After the GRAND VIC’s last cruise before going âdockedâ at the end of summer 2001, we, the captains, took on more responsibilities beyond the operation and safety of the vessel. We have become more managers than captains. Like I said before, I’m not complaining. The casino continued to raise our wages for several years until the property changed hands. A few years later, the new owners eliminated the licensed naval officers and the paddle steamer inspection certificate. Subsequently, the River Casino became another floating “warehouse” along the Ohio River. Fortunately, upon our separation we captains and leaders were given a generous severance package – enough in my case to purchase the CLYDE rear wheel Rafter and start a new phase in my life that I have written a lot about. .
Prior to the GREAT VICTORIA II, the GREAT VICTORIA I was on the Fox River in Elgin, Ill., About 35 miles west of Chicago. The GVI was the first of the unlimited tonnage play boats that I ordered. “Unlimited” refers to the personal seafarer’s certificate he or she needs to board as an authorized officer of the United States Coast Guard. An unlimited license is for a boat or vessel over 1,600 gross tonnage. As the DELTA QUEEN fits this specification, I have always held a ticket for unlimited tonnage. Across the United States, there are only about 12 to 14 hundred license holders for “All Gross” or “Unlimited” inland navigation vessels. Consequently, the salary scale jumps proportionally with the âheavierâ permit.
While I mention the perks, in addition to doubling the pay of my old casino boat under 1,600 GT, the GRAND VICTORIA I offered the captains a free apartment with phone and housekeeping. The package included free meals in the luxurious buffet. And if that wasn’t enough, we each received a login bonus of $ 16,000 – an amount equivalent to more than $ 28,000 in today’s nearly worthless script.
The buffet was spectacular, with all the steamed lobster claws you could binge on for dinner between trips on the “mighty, but tiny” Fox River. As great as Elgin’s adventure was, it took only a brief deliberation to accept the Sr. Captain’s place on the Ohio River, just 35 miles from my parents’ home in the North. Kentucky – Unlimited Steamed Lobster Claws, or not.
In the span of nearly a quarter of a century, I was either the captain, the first officer, or both of five fishing boats on the Mississippi, Fox and Ohio rivers and the captain of the EMERALD LADY on Mississippi Sound in Biloxi, Mississippi. Today, EMERALD LADY is the flagship of BB Riverboats in Newport, Ky., The BELLE of CINCINNATI. My other players were the DIAMOND LADY in Bettendorf, Iowa, and the PLAYERS RIVERBOAT CASINO in Metropolis, Illinois, near where the Ohio meets the “father of the waters” the mighty Mississippi.
These three river vessels weighed less than 1,600 gross tonnage and therefore allowed for smaller licenses. As a result, the pay and benefits were lower than Unlimited Ships, but I was delighted to be part of their crews, where I met some of the most interesting people working on the ships. Captain Kenneth “Ken” Murphy, Sr., the “great captain” on the DIAMOND LADY boat and the PLAYERS boat, can be called the “dean of casino boat captains” not only for being the first captain of a casino ship, but also as a mentor and friend to many young men and women who are re-entering the gaming boat business. Murph’s list of mentors would fill a notebook.
Captain David L. Franklin has often told the story of when he had an appointment in the wheelhouse of the PLAYERS RIVERBOAT to audition for a pilot position. As he crossed the Merv Griffin landing craft to the ship, the aroma escaping from the Grand Buffet almost made his mouth water. Captain Dave recalled that it was hard to keep thoughts of all that good food out of his mind as he answered Captain Murphy’s questions about his piloting experience. Captain Dave was sure, he later confided, that the senior captain would certainly invite him to the buffet lunch after the interview.
When Captain Ken reached out and shook Captain Dave’s hand, congratulating him on winning the pilot job, as planned, Captain Ken asked Dave if he was hungry. Remembering the delicious delicacies that awaited the buffet table, Captain Franklin assured his new boss that he was “ready to put on the food sack.”
With Dave’s assurance that he was voraciously ready for lunch, Murphy unexpectedly rummaged in a cabinet drawer and pulled out a box of Vienna sausage and a packet of crackers and placed them on the table between. them. After pulling the tab on the lid of the small can, Captain Murphy generously invited the newly hired pilot:
âDon’t be shy now, Captain Dave. Dig and eat all those sausages you want.
“Don’t be shy now,” Captain Dave repeated, laughing every time he told the story. “Don’t be shy now …”
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 learning to operate a “machine” and becoming 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 from the river. Hang on for the ride – the river has never looked so good.