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For Mr. Karl Hoerschgen, my 11th and 12th grade English
Daybreak and we were up and
excited. We got out our cleanest clothes and packed everything away as
neat as we could. Out into the channel and in a few miles New Orleans.
There were indeed times that I thought we would never make it this far.
The weather, the current, the hidden things in the water, and the raft
itself, at times seemed to be against us. In spite of the pitch, yaw,
and roll of our craft not one of us ever got seasick. But we hung in there
and we had succeeded.
I had learned much from this experience, as I have mentioned before. Certainly
we all had learned a lot, both us kids and the staff had great on the
job training. As much as I had learned from the river, I believe I learned
more from the staff, Dennis, Merle, Ron, and Jack. Most of all I learned
how to make do with what was at hand and that griping and complaining
about your circumstances never made them better.
One important thing I learned was to take responsibility for my actions.
In the harbors and marinas where we tied up at times, there were signs
saying, "Slow no wake". That meant you could not make waves behind your
boat. If anyone got hurt or anything got broken because of your wake it
was your fault and you had to make things right. Our raft did not go fast
enough for us to worry about our wake but we were aware of it at all times.
It's the same way with your life. You must be aware of your wake, or actions,
or the things that you do that affect others, you are responsible for
them and if you harm or offend someone you must accept your responsibility
and make things right.
Many times on this trip we tried to blame one another for things that
went wrong when it was our own fault. Some of us grew up and sadly, some
did not. We had all taken turns as lookouts, (both fore and aft) pilots,
navigators, cooks, mechanics, housekeepers, inventors, explorers, survivors,
and in a sense, modern day pioneers. I would put these boys up against
any sailor, perhaps not in the strength department, but as far as knowledge
and first hand experience. We passed the test, we were able-bodied seamen.
We conquered the Mighty Mississippi.
Several boats started to gather around us as we neared the city. They
were full of well wishers and news media. One boat had a crew from Sports
Illustrated Magazine and they took photos of us and we hit the cover of
the next issue. They sailed along side us and interviewed us for quite
a while but we really wanted to get to our destination. The river was
bigger than life. Here we were on this tiny homemade raft competing with
barges, pleasure craft, ferryboats, and now huge sea going vessels. The
raft was noticeably bowed and we knew some of the oil drums were water
logged. It was time to get off of the river and we knew it.
There it was- New Orleans. The Crescent City. Three cheers for us. Three
cheers for the staff. Three cheers for New Orleans. And three cheers for
the river. It was about four miles from our first sight of the city that
we stopped. It was at the foot of Canal Street at the ferry docks. There
were lots of people there but not all of them were there to greet us.
They were waiting for the ferry and we were in the way. We could not stay
there or the ferry or the waves from other river traffic would crush us.
We would have to go down river about eight miles to the intracoastal waterway
then enter the inner harbor navigation canal that led to Lake Pontchartrain.
Now it was dark and we had to go through another lock. This lock was not
on the river but between the river and Lake Pontchartrain. Jack had gone
ahead to make arrangements. The Lockmaster asked us if we had ever been
through a lock before and we all laughed. This canal went right through
the industrial area of New Orleans and we had to be very careful. These
people were working and we were in the way. Five miles later we were on
We passed the airport and an amusement park on our final four or five
miles to the Southern Yacht Club. It was beautiful to see the lights of
that park and the city in the background. We also saw flying fish, it
was fun to watch them try to fly or jump across our bow. Jack met us at
the yacht club and we tied up and made camp in the West End Park across
For Henry and Mildred Stivland
Yes, here we were in New Orleans. Or should I say that there we were in
culture shock? I'm not going to spend a lot of time telling you about
New Orleans. It is a beautiful city and we covered most of it. I would
like to share with you some of the high lights, events, and lessons I
learned thus far. Also remember the other crew was on the way down from
Minneapolis to take our places and take the raft home.
First, the raft was in terrible shape. At least five of the barrels were
full of water and needed to be replaced. The brackets that held them in
place did not function as they were supposed to and you had to undo almost
each one just to get at the one that needed to be changed. These barrels
or drums varied in length by at least three inches so it was difficult
to make a perfect fit. They were also out of alignment and don't forget
the whole thing was bent and they were binding in the center. Jack found
people with the know how to get the thing fixed and while we toured the
raft was being repaired. We were also sailing on salt water now and I
think that didn't do the motors any good. More about them later.
We were camped within sight of the world's longest bridge. We were taken
to Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi in a car caravan and we rode over the
bridge. We were allowed to play and swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of
us thought that New Orleans was right on the Gulf but it is about 100
miles away and that is why we rode in cars. We met with the mayor and
received the keys to the city. We learned how to get around on the busses
and streetcars. We were given about .75 cents every day for food and that
was plenty. I usually got a poor boy sandwich for .35 cents and that would
make two meals. A poor boy is like the sub or hero sandwiches we eat here.
One day we were checking out the ferryboats at the foot of Canal Street
where we landed at first. It was great fun to watch the pickpockets working
in the crowds. They weren't very good at it and most of us could spot
them right away as they bumped into people. The police knew who most of
them were and they would take them off to jail and they would be back
the same day, over and over. We did get into some mischief and I got my
first and last chew of tobacco. To this day if I see someone chewing that
junk I start to gag.
We made friends with a fellow who lived on a boat at the yacht club and
his boat had sunk in the lake just before we arrived. Some of us went
out to help him recover his belongings by scuba diving. One item he brought
up was his electric coffeepot. I'll never forget him looking at the bottom
of the pot and reading, "Do not submerge in water". He just laughed and
plugged it in and it still worked. I wish I knew the brand name of it,
it would make a great sales pitch.
One day while I was passing the time by fishing in the toilet in the marina
and I saw a hammerhead shark swim under the raft. I wonder what I would
have done if I had caught him.
While in town I noticed that some of the public drinking fountains were
absolutely filthy. I remember wondering why no one cleaned them, perhaps
they were broken I thought. Then I noticed a black gentleman getting a
drink from one of these fountains and being as I was thirsty I waited
for him to finish and then I stepped up and started to get a drink. How
was I to know that this was a big no no. A white man grabbed me by the
neck and ask me if I knew how to read and when I said yes he pointed out
the sign over the fountain it read "Colored". I told the man that I didn't
know what that meant and he wised me up real fast. Black people had their
own places in the South and I had better get smart or else I would be
in a lot of trouble.
This was a sad day for me. Several of my friends back home were Black
and many were American Indians. They were never treated any different
than any other of my friends. Three of the kids on our crew were Indian
and the only thing different about them to me was their beautiful last
names. The more I saw of this attitude toward black people the more I
hated it. I was only a kid and there was nothing that I could do. I felt
very ashamed of being white and I wanted to apologize to every black person
that I met. I still feel the same way today many years later. Things have
changed in the south but they could always be better. The only thing that
I can do is live my life and treat others the way I would like to be treated.
The new crew arrived and we had one big group meeting. The crew taking
the raft home would be fewer in order to lighten the load. Of the original
crew there were 13 of us left and there were only seven replacements.
It was decided that four crewmembers from the original crew would be chosen
to help get the Unsinkable home. The staff called for volunteers and believe
it or not only four of us raised our hands. Yes I was one of those crazy
guys. Now I would be going up the river for real.
Dean Felsing Crew Member of the Unsinkable.
Copyright Feb. 3rd, 2000: Dean Edward Felsing
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