Virtual Steamboat Race
05 May 2001
It's a foggy morning in cyberspace and the air is thick with anticipation. Three boats will compete; only one will win. The contenders are:
The Orline St. Franz, with Capt. Franz Neumeier of Munich, Germany (Steamboats.org)
The Nettie Jer, with Capt. Jerry Canavit of Austin, Texas (Steamboats.net)
The Commerce Muster, with Capt. Nori Muster of Mesa, Arizona (Steamboats.com)
Correction: it's not fog. It's industrial pollution. Our race course is just outside New Orleans where the banks are crowded with refineries and industrial fields. The captains - anxious to get on with the race - strap on their oxygen masks and protective clothing as they gaze out into the hazy morning air.
The starting bell sounds and the three boats are off to a fine start, cruising at top speed. The Commerce Muster, clocked at seven miles an hour, streaks into the lead. The Nettie Jer and Orline St. Franz follow in second and third place, respectively.
The Commerce Muster hits a sandbar and is temporarily grounded, while Orline St. Franz pulls out ahead, with the Nettie Jer running in second place.
Severe weather changes have brought on a giant storm, which is dumping rain at a rate of an inch per hour. We can barely see the river now, let alone the three competing steamboats.
Attention viewers. We have lost contact with the steamboat captains. Our communications equipment is failing. . . .
We have a report from the Coast Guard that rising waters are helping the Commerce Muster break free from the sandbar, but the Nettie Jer has pulled out ahead of the other two boats.
Although we have more visibility and have reestablished contact with our captains, the rising waters have made this a more treacherous race than intended. A normally safe virtual stretch of river has become a torrent of roiling flood water.
News bulletin: The Nettie Jer is damaged. We repeat, the Nettie Jer has sustained damage to her paddlewheel. A large object is snagged in the wheel. With the flood conditions, the esteemed vessel is floating downstream at a rapid pace attempting to reach the shore to make repairs.
The Commerce Muster is in third place due to the earlier interaction with the sandbar and is taking on water, while the Orline St. Franz pulls ahead, becoming the clear favorite for winning the race.
There's been a reversal. The Orline St. Franz now lags behind in third place after reporting boiler trouble. As you can see here, they are not doing too well.
The Nettie Jer has pulled off to the side safely, but the ship has sustained damage to the rudders and paddlewheel. "We may have to put her in dry dock after this #@*! race," Capt. Jerry Canavit exclaimed off the record. The snag turned out to be the mast of a sunken vessel from the early 1900s.
The Commerce Muster has gotten ahead, leaving the Nettie Jer and Orline St. Franz behind in this dark and stormy day.
The Commerce Muster crosses the finish line first, despite a gaping hole in the stern and three feet of water in the galley. All available deck hands are bailing with wooden buckets.
Just a moment. Our judges have determined that the Commerce Muster was towed across the finish line by the captain, two deck hands and four politicians who were onboard as honorary guests of the steamboat race. The judge has ruled that the Commerce Muster cannot win the race because the victorious boat must cross the finish line under its own power.
The Commerce Muster concedes and the Nettie Jer is declared the winner, with the Orline St. Franz officially coming in second.
In the great tradition of steamboat racing, the judge now confers the Golden Cyber Antlers to the winning boat. Let's hear from the contestants.
A few words from the winner of the First International Online Steamboat Race
"It certainly was an exciting race and, truthfully, we did not expect to win. In January we installed new Rees high-pressure, poppet-valve engines which, at the time of the race, were not completely broken-in. We were hesitant to completely open her up, but after we picked up that submerged mast that really did a number on our paddlewheel and left rudder, we decided to increase our boiler pressure a little beyond what we had intended to try to get back into the race. We were able to Jerry-rig (eh eh) the paddlewheel well enough to get 20 rpm (about 80% of max), but the left rudder remained uncontrollable, causing us to run sort of a zig-zag course in order to progress upstream. This caused us to cross the finish-line almost completely sideways. Yes, it wasn't pretty -- but, a win is a win.
"Both the COMMERCE MUSTER and the ORLINE ST. FRANZ are very fast boats and we were indeed fortunate to come out the winner this time. Next year we will have the benefit of those big steam-drinking Rees engines being completely broken-in and, barring encounters with pieces of sunken vessels, we should perform even better.
"Again, we congratulate all participants for a challenging and exciting contest. The beautiful Cyber Antlers will be mounted atop the roof bell of the NETTIE JER for the remainder of 2001. And we plan to keep them there through 2002 and beyond."
Capt. Jerry Canavit
Master, Steamer NETTIE JER
San Antonio, Texas
A few words from the runner-up, Franz Neumeier, Captain of the Orline St. Franz (Steamboats.org), of Munich, Germany
"First I have to say that it was a great race. Congratulations to the winning Nettie Jer and its Captain Jerry Canavit. But to tell you the truth, the Orline St. Franz was the fastest boat. But unfortunately the fireman was so excited about winning the race that he neglected his work and the boilers were overheated on the last few miles. The crew of the Orline St. Franz and I are looking forward the next years' race to show which boat is really is the fastest."
A few words from Nori Muster, Captain of the Commerce Muster (Steamboats.com)
"After we hit that sandbar, things got rough. But that's what lifeboats are for! We were still having an excellent time out there in the storm. We even thought we could use our 'muscle' to win the race. Well hey, it's worked for others! Luckily, this is just a steamboat race. In the spirit of good fun, we acknowledge that the crew of the Nettie Jer had a great race. We celebrate their victory and what we hope will be the beginning of an online tradition. Hopefully the weather will be better next year, so may the fastest boat win!"
The participants in this race have unanimously resolved to hold another event one year from now. Please log on in 2002 for the Second International Online Steamboat Race.
The boat names adopted by our captains in this race are actually borrowed from historic vessels described in Lloyd's Steamboat Directory and Fred Way's Packet Directory. To introduce a little bit of serious history here, following are a few words about our boats' namesakes.
The Nettie Jer (Jerry Canavit's "Steamboats.Net") comes from a long line of steamboat "Netties" listed in the Way Directory. In alphabetical order there are: Nettie Hartupee, a sternwheeler from Allegheny, Pennsylvania, built in 1863 and one year later stolen by pirates; Nettie Johnson, a sternwheeler from Memphis, Tennessee, built in 1905 and retired and dismantled in 1923; Nettie Miller, a sternwheeler from Smithland, Kentucky, built in 1854, snagged and lost on the Cumberland River in 1858; and Nettie Quill, a sternwheeler from Freedom, Pennsylvania and Wheeling, West Virginia, built in 1886, moved to New Orleans and renamed the Monroe in 1915 and lost to a hurricane the same year.
Orline St. Franz (Franz Neumeier's "Steamboats.Org") is named after the Orline St. John, the boat actually depicted in the woodblock cutting used in the steamboat race. The Orline St. John met its tragic end when it exploded and burned in Bridgeport, Alabama, with a loss of forty-one lives, March 4, 1850. The sternwheeler was built in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1847.
Commerce Muster (Nori Muster's "Steamboats.Com") draws its name from three namesakes listed in the Way Directory. The first "Commerce" was a sternwheeler built in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, in 1845, which ended service by 1850. Then another Commerce, a sternwheeler built in Paducah, Kentucky, in 1856, went to the Confederate registry in 1861. A third sternwheeler named Commerce was built in Freedom, Pennsylvania, in 1856, but was then lost in a fire at Pittsburgh in 1859.
Acknowledgement of Illustrations
Steamboats.com wishes to thank Capt. Jay Richiuso, of Land Yacht Press, Nashville, Tennessee, publisher of Lloyd's Steamboat Directory [click here to purchase this directory] for making these illustrations available and welcoming us to use them for this event. We also acknowledge the illustrations from Capt. Fred Way's book: Way's Packet Directory [purchase this directory]. The map was from in Marquis Childs' Mighty Mississippi: Biography of a River [Amazon out of print search service].
We would like to thank our steamboat race judge, Paul Motter. He is the editor of Cruisemates.com, an independent online magazine for cruise enthusiasts.
Special thanks to graphic artist Kyle C. Kyle for creating the steamboat race trophy. To see the trophy up close, scroll down.
Our thanks and appreciation to travel photographer Cagan Hakki Sekercioglu for this inspirational caribou photo. No real animals were harmed in making the steamboat race trophy. To see more of Cagan's nature photograhy, link to: http://www.naturalphotos.com.
We also thank our sponsors at Amazon.com.
click here to visit the steamboat bookstore
International Online Steamboat Race Trophy
The winning boat, Nettie Jer, will hold the trophy until next year, or until such time as another boat wins the race.