Chris Markham: Mississippi Odyssey, excerpt 7

And at Vicksburg is the bridge that crosses the Mississippi and links the city with the Louisiana Bank.

Shelden was on duty when we approached the most dangerous bridge for river pilots. He stood up from the pilot's chair, as he always did when he made a bridge or flanked a bend, and worked the levers hard, bringing the head of the tow to the right. To me it seemed that we were headed right for a pier and would ram the bridge.

"Looks bad, don't it?" Shelden said. I agreed. "But we're really in good shape," he assured me. "There's a strong set" -- cross current -- "here that comes off the right bank, and you have to aim right for that pier and let that set bring you over to port."

Following instructions of his apprenticeship days, Shelden continued to hold the tow at an angle to the pier. The current suddenly gripped our tow, as the pilot promised, and moved us safely between the massive columns of steel and cement with just enough space so as not to scrape the paint. And all this time I could see a salvage boat working to raise a broken barge whose nose pressed against a pier close to the right bank. I sighed in relief. So did Shelden.

Copyright 2004 Chris Markham, All rights reserved.

excerpt 8