CRUISE OF THE AURORA
IN WHICH WE HAVE A SWELL TIME.
AS WE brought Aurora, Indiana, into view, a fine breeze
sprang up directly aft. Immediately the word was passed to make sail.
Paddling close under the shore to avoid the current the Aurora spreads
her wings, and filling away, bounds along with delight to her skipper.
But what is the matter with the Comfort? There she lies close in shore;
her skipper standing in her cockpit with arms akimbo, while he seems
lost in a brown study. I jibe and run up to him.
"What's the matter, Barnacle ?"
"Well, if you must know, I've come away from Cincinnati
without my mast."
As we have had no use for the sails since leaving the
Queen City, Barnacle's carelessness has remained undiscovered until
now. Of course, he can't sail without a mast, and we paddle into the
town of Aurora, where a new mast is made and within three hours we set
sail and are off again, but with the wind very light. Our day's run has
been a short one; when we build our camp on a beautiful smooth gravel
beach beneath high, overhanging, tree-crowned banks on the convex side
of a very abrupt bend in the river.
The Wrath of the Waters.
Barnacle wishes to make some alterations in his
canoe, so we pitch the large tent and decide to remain in camp the
following day. The Comfort is unloaded of all her duffle, which is
piled in a heap about ten feet from the tent, which fronts the water.
Between the tent and dunnage we built our fire, and spread about it are
our mess chests and their accompanying cooking utensils. The Aurora
lies near the water, her hatches securely covered with the hatch-cloth,
while the Comfort has been carried to a convenient spot for working
back of the tent. Comfortably wrapped in our blankets, we lie on the
soft bed of leaves watching the cheerful blaze of the fire before us.
"Chu-chu, chu-chu," I heard her say, as a huge steamer came down with
the flood, belching forth volumes of steam from her great wide-mouthed
pipes, and quicker than I can write it she was abreast of the camp,
drawing the water down so low that it seemed as though she had sucked
it all into her huge hull. Then came the reaction, and with one mighty
rush the huge billows came sweeping along shore, picking the Aurora up
in its strong embrace and flinging her against the tent, while it put
out the fire and washed away and mixed together the pile of dunnage,
mess chests and cooking utensils. Springing from my bed with the onward
rush of water, I succeeded in saving my blankets from a wetting. With
the fire out and wood wet, we are left in darkness, which seems all the
more intense, with the thought that most of Barnacle's dunnage has been
swept away, together with much of our stock of canned goods. A
protracted search rewards us with the recovery of nearly all the
articles, and with daylight we succeed in finding the balance. Again
turning into our blankets, I resolve never to make camp again within
the reach of a steamer's swell if I can help myself.
The weather is daily growing cooler, admonishing us that
we must make good use of all the time we have, that we may not be
overtaken by the fields of ice that are liable at any day to come down
upon us from the upper waters. Such a condition of affairs would be
very discouraging, as it would necessitate a camp until the run of ice
had passed, for our frail canoes would soon succumb to its grinding
influences if we should undertake to force a passage through it.
As we round a sharp bend a mile or two above Patriot,
Indiana, the wind, which has been almost in our faces, comes out dead
aft. Quickly making sail we shoot up to the wharfboat and intrust some
letters to the pleasant man in charge, and then on at a lively speed.
The air is decidedly cold, and as we sail along I add a heavy overshirt
to the two that I already have on, while I wrap my feet in a thick rug
and pull my soft hat snugly down about my ears, and cover my hands with
a pair of stout gloves. At times the wind comes down the gullies in the
high hills in such force as to tax my utmost skill in keeping the
Aurora's keel down without reefing the mainsail or furling the mizzen.
About the middle of the afternoon we came upon a flatboat
photographer's establishment moored to the Kentucky shore, and I fancy
the itinerant was doing a good business from the number of heads poked
into view as we quickly passed his floating gallery.
A short distance beyond we met a small steamer
coming upstream. Heading directly for her, we pass within thirty feet.
From one of her port windows could be seen the broad, full-moon face of
her darky steward, his mouth wide open and his rows of ivories shining
while he laughed in surprise and called out, "Yah-yah, jist see dem
little boats go; deys gwine ter git dare, sartin sho."
By four o'clock the wind had died out and we ran ashore,
made some coffee and eat a hearty lunch and then paddled on, passing
Madison, Ind., as the Cincinnati packet was swinging out of her berth
into the stream. Four miles below we landed, and building a rousing
campfire, rolled in our blankets and lay with feet to the fire, first
having noted the day's run of forty-seven miles. The crisp, frost-laden
air of the next morning caused us to be very active in our preparations
for the hearty breakfast which we eat as a fortification against the
heavy twenty-mile to windward paddle that followed, ending on Eighteen
Mile Island, so called from its distance above Louisville, Ky. Our
heavy, restful sleep was not broken until long after the sun was
glinting upon us through the trees.
WE RUN THE FALLS OF THE OHIO.
THE afternoon of November 22 saw us paddling against a
strong head wind as we approached Louisville, where are located the
Falls of the Ohio River, that great barrier to uninterrupted navigation
on this long water course. Before leaving Cincinnati, my friend, Judge
Longworth, of the Supreme Court of Ohio, took me by the hand and said:
"There is one thing I want you to promise -- don't attempt
to run the Falls at Louisville. I have stood on the bridge and wished
that I might be able to go down them in a canoe, but it is too
I promised not to undertake it, unless I thought there was
a fair prospect of getting out alive, and now the time had arrived to
solve the problem. Paddling up to the float of a pretentious-looking
boat house, we were welcomed to the quarters of the Louisville Rowing
Club. Leaving Barnacle with the canoes, I made a short call in the
city, my mind all the time filled with thoughts of how I was to get
reliable information about the Falls. By the advice of a friend of Mr.
Lucien Wilson, of Cincinnati, I called at the Life Saving Station.
Heroes of the Falls.
So great are the dangers to life and property of
the Falls at this point, that the Government has established and
maintains one of the life saving stations here, and has placed in
command the brave, warmhearted William M. Devau. The story of these
men, Capt. Devau and his two comrades, John Tully and John Gilhooly, is
"They were," says a recent issue of the
Louisville Commercial, "all plain simple men, living on the river
front, whom long years of experience had made expert oarsmen. They knew
every current and rock on the Falls, and whenever they saw a boat going
over, they would put out and save the occupants. They rescued all kinds
of people -- tradesmen, boys and women; and they took them from above
the dam, over the Falls below the bridge, and on the dam. All this was
done without the least hope of reward. Their deeds became noised
abroad, and the State presented them with magnificent medals. Their
fame reached Washington, and after they had saved fifty-eight lives, a
station was located at Louisville Nov. 3, 1881. William Devau was made
Captain, and among the crew were his gallant associates, Tully and
Gilhooly. Since the station has been started the crew has saved one
hundred and seventy-five people, of all ages and both sexes."
Calling on this man, in his neat station, I told him of my
wish to run the Falls, and asked him if he thought there was a chance
of getting through right side up. Said he:
"The waters of the river are now at a very low
stage, consequently the dangers of the Falls are much greater than at
any other stage. Come up into the lookout and I can show you the least
There, in the distance, I could see the angry, boiling
water, as it churned itself into foam about and over the huge rocks in
"Now the principal danger is in getting into the
reaction and being drawn back under the Falls. If that should happen,
nothing but certain death awaits you."
I decided to go. After looking our craft over and being
assured that we both have had some experience in running fast water, he
said: "I believe it would be consistent with my duty to take the
lifeboat and crew and pilot you through."
In fifteen minutes the lifeboat, with its crew of four
brawny men, was launched from the house and led the way, closely
followed by the Aurora, with the Comfort bringing up the rear. In
single file, we went over to the Indiana shore, and there turning
slowly off to the left, we rapidly got into the powerful current and
were shot past the end of the huge stone dam, whereon had assembled a
crowd of spectators, who lustily cheered us and shouted words of
encouragement as we went flying down the boiling, seething cataract,
now buried beneath and anon tossed on the summit of the foam-crested
waves. There is no time to look about, scarcely time for thought, even,
as we bound along, the lifeboat ahead, the Aurora closely following,
while the Comfort is some distance astern. In this order we reach the
foot of the angry, roaring flood, where our kind friends are to part
from us and return to the station by the canal through which the
steamers and other vessels pass around the Falls.
Smooth Sailing Again.
As the boat's crew peak their oars, the Aurora
rounds up to them, and I grasp each one by the hand in grateful
acknowledgment of their kindness.
© 2000 Craig O'Donnell
May not be reproduced without my permission.