Newly Acquired Items
Steamboat Photos


A showboat makes and appearance at Hannibal, MO in 1927

A "Herald" announcing the forthcoming visit of French's "NEW SENSATION" showboat.

"AT THE RIVER" (the Mississippi) and rubber stamped HANNIBAL (MISSOURI) on THUR.OCT.6." October Sixth fell on a Thursday in 1927.




Three custom post card designs by Cap'n Dave

Attached scans of some of other post card designs that I've been making for merchandising in Hannibal. The Hagoods' grandson in law, Barry Messer had been using some of my photos on post cards for years which inspired me to come up with my own custom renditions with photos I had taken long ago and lettering from old maps circa 1854 and 1895 plus the license plate "topper" which I had chrome plated and from which I got the words "Mark Twain's" from. Barry had all the attached printed by Vista Print and they're at the BP convenience store on Mark Twain Avenue that is managed by "Janna" whose last name I don't know. I covered the printing costs of the cards.


Clemens with Fall Colors on the Mississippi & a Steamboat custom made by Dave for a post card


Steamer IDAHO on Coeur d'Alene Lake in Idaho

Reprinted from Leslie's Weekly, August 3, 1916.
Passengers board the sidewheel steamboat IDAHO at Couer d'Alene, Idaho on Couer d'Alene Lake.
The caption under the photo contains more information.



Waybill and Stock certificate Oregon Steam Navigation Co.
Oregon Steam Navigation Co.
1880 waybill and 1874 stock certificate

Edited from the wikipedia article: Wikipedia

The Oregon Steam Navigation Company (O.S.N.) was an American company incorporated in 1860 in the state of Washington.

The company operated steamships between San Francisco and ports along the Columbia River at Astoria, Portland and The Dalles, serving the lumber and salmon fishing industries. A railroad was built to serve the steamship industry.

In 1862, the railroad was sold to the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company for $155,000.

Soon afterwards, the O.S.N. acquired most of the steamboats on the Columbia and Snake Rivers and in 1863 and 1864, the company added the Nez Perce Chief, the Webfoot, the Owyhee and the Yakima, all built at Celilo on the upper Columbia, and the Mississippi-style sidewheeler Oneonta on the middle river. O.S.N. also purchased the side-wheeler New World to work the lower Columbia.

By 1878, OSN had added to its fleet the sternwheelers Harvest Queen, John Gates, Spokane, Annie Faxon, Mountain Queen, R.R. Thompson, and Wide West.

The Oregon Railway and Navigation Company purchased the Oregon Steam Navigation Company in 1879.

On the lower Columbia, the company's boats included Senorita, Fashion (ex-James P. Flint), Julia (Barclay), Belle (of Oregon City), Mountain Buck, and Carrie Ladd. On the middle Columbia, the boats were Mary, Hassaloe, Wasco, and Idaho. On the upper Columbia, the company ran the Tenino and the Colonel Wright.


Little steamboat NADINE around 1902


Capt. Lee Thomas Sites was born in Lamine township, Cooper County in 1856, the grandson of well-known Boonville and Arrow Rock gunsmith, J. P. Sites, and was engaged in the steamboat business off and on from 1873 down to the turn of the century. He and Gus Moehle built a small, popular steamboat called the NADINE in 1897 that operated into the early 1900s on the Missouri and Lamine Rivers offering occasional "moonlight excursions."

Text is from
by Robert L. Dyer
Big Canoe Records
Page 3
From the
Volume 5, No. 2, June 1997
Boonslick Historical Society's Quarterly Magazine
Boonslick Historical Society
P.O. Box 324
Boonville, MO 6523


ARRIVAL OF THE GRAND NEW AMERICAN QUEEN Thursday, May 4, 1995 in New Orleans

Delta Queen Co. Press release with print of telephoto image of the arrival of the AMERICAN QUEEN on the Mississippi River at New Orleans, Louisiana on 4th of May, 1995 with the fireboat General George S. Kelley saluting the AQ with a fountain of water pumped through her nozzles.


Mayor Marc Morial has proclaimed Thursday, May 4, 1995, as "AMERICAN QUEEN Day" in New Orleans. He and Liutenant Governor Melinda Schwegmann will preside over official welcoming festivities for the grand new AMERICAN QUEEN when she arrives in New Orleans, her Home Port City, on May 4.

Morial will officially "tie up" the steamboat to the dock, and Schwegmann will present the state flag of Louisiana to the steamboat's captain. The paddlewheel steamboat is the largest U.S.-owned, U.S.-flagged and U.S.-crewed overnight, cruise vessel built in America since the 1950s.

WHERE: The steamboat will arrive at The Delta Queen Steamboat Co., 30 Robin Street Wharf.

WHEN: The media may document the AMERICAN QUEEN'S arrival from aboard the specially chartered Cajun Queen, which will depart 30 Robin Street Wharf at 2:30 p.m. (PLEASE BOARD BY 2 P.M.)

The Cajun Queen, with employees of The Delta Queen Steamboat Co. aboard, will proceed downriver to rendezvous with the AMERICAN QUEEN near Chalmette Battlefield at 3:30 p.m. The New Orleans fireboat General Roy S. Kelley, a Coast Guard cutter and Bisso tugs—will lead the AMERICAN QUEEN in a parade upriver to 30 Robin Street Wharf. The Cajun Queen will dock first, at 4:30 p.m., so that those aboard may disembark; and the AMERICAN QUEEN will dock at 5 p.m. with calliope playing, Dixieland entertainment on the wharf, and a crowd of well-wishers cheering her into the city. Media unable to join in the river parade or dockside greeting may shoot the AMERICAN QUEEN's arrival as she passes Algiers Point/Jackson Square at about 4 p.m.

WHY: The AMERICAN QUEEN is the 30th steamboat in the 105-year history of The Delta Queen Steamboat Co. The vessel represents a 70% increase in passenger capacity for the company, which has operated overnight paddlewheel steamboats along America's rivers since 1890.

The Grand American Queen ☆
The Legendary Delta Queen ☆
The Magnificent Mississippi Queen ☆

NEW ORLEANS, LA 70130-1890
(800) 543-7637

Fireboat General Roy S. Kelley
Length over all: 100 feet
Beam: 24"39'
Pumping capacity: 13,500 gallons a minute
Engine: Twin Screw GM 12V-92TA 1400 HP
Built at Bender Shipbuilding & Repair Co., Mobile, Alabama 1993 - 1994
Now in service with the New Orleans Fire Department


BELLE OF THE BENDS (Packet, 1898-1918)

Sidewheel Packet
Way's Packet Directory Number 0531

Built in 1898 at Jeffersonville, Indiana by Howard Ship Yard for Vicksburg and Greenville Packet Company J.J. Powers president and D.C.B. Robinson supervised construction. Original price $33,500; home port or owner's residence circa 1898 was Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Captain A.F. Nimtz (1900); Charlie Kain (clerk, 1901); Harry Bumgartner (clerk, 1901); Henry McFarland (clerk, 1901); Billy Newbill (pilot, 1901); Joe Delahunt (pilot, 1901); Mike O'Keefe (engineer, 1901); George Meir (engineer, 1901); James McGowan (steward, 1901); Captain Sam G. Smith (manager and purser, 1907); Captain Maurice Killeen (master, 1913); Captain Milt Henry (1914); Tom Parker (pilot, 1914); Captain George F. Carroll (master, 1914); Captain Frank Gill (master, May 1914); Captain Steve E. Greenwell (1915); Ed. Hellings (engineer, 1914-15); Captain Morrissy (1910); J.O. Tayon (pilot)

Mississippi River; Cumberland River
One of the more handsome of medium-sized sidewheelers; had all the Anchor Line grace, double stages and all. Ran Greenville-Vicksburg for many years--from 1899-1904 or later made twice weekly mail runs between those two cities for the packet company of that name. Was flagship of the parade celebrating the opening of the canal at Vicksburg when the Yazoo River mouth was diverted on January 17, 1903 - quite an occasion inasmuch as Vicksburg had virtually been cut off the river since Centennial Cut Off which happened April 26, 1876. Sank at Peeler's Landing, 40 miles above Vicksburg, September 1909, and was raised. Sank at Fitler's Landing, 20 miles below Lake Providence during a snowstorm in February 1910 and was raised.

Another version states that she was caught in a heavy snowstorm while proceeding up the Mississippi River shortly after leaving Hayes Landing, Mississippi on February 10, 1910 and ran aground at full speed on a sand bar; estimated damage $10,000. Then operated by Captain Morrissy; ran excursions at New Orleans in the winter 1910-11. Used in the Nashville grain trade after 1904. Was converted into an excursion boat and renamed LIBERTY in 1918. In 1940 her roof bell was at the Altheimer Plantation near Pine Bluff, Arkansas.


Steamer CITY OF ST. JOSEPH at Memphis landing at Sunset

Detail Detroit Publishing photo of the CITY OF ST. JOSEPH at Memphis, Tennessee landing at sunset. Was able to brighten the starboard side of the boat which had been in shadow. From Library of Congress.


Prince Phillip aboard the sternwheeler S.S. KLONDIKE in August 1954

Here is a saga in Yukon history with Prince Phillip (Queen Elizabeth's husband) who bears the title of Duke of Edinburgh visiting Whitehorse, Yukon Territory CANADA where he was the honored guest aboard the sternwheeler S.S. KLONDIKE, immortalized in the attached cover from the 21st August 1954 edition of the Illustrated London News (see caption in addition to the following article on Yukon history on the Hougen Group website):

The Day the Duke Came to Town
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

It was hot that Sunday in August back in 1954. By mid-day, the temperature had risen to 80° F. The quiet town was livelier than usual. The water truck, that would normally be parked in the city garage, was rushing up and down Fourth Avenue, pumping gallons of water on the dusty gravel streets. School teachers were handing out Red Ensign Flags. Alex Seely was pruning pansies in a 45-gallon oil drum. Shop-keepers were busy hanging red, white and blue bunting. The door to Sam McGee's cabin on Elliott Street was wide open. Taylor and Drury's mechanics were putting the final polish on a snazzy Oldsmobile. This was no normal Sunday.

Royalty was coming to Whitehorse. The imminent arrival of the dashing Duke of Edinburgh would mark the first time a member of the Royal Family would visit the Yukon. Only a year earlier, Prince Phillip had wowed the world with his smashing good looks and courteous personality when his wife was crowned Queen Elizabeth II, ruler of the vast British Empire including the far-off Yukon.

The Duke arrived in Whitehorse at noon, August 8th on a four-hour, direct flight from Vancouver, where he had been the Royal representative at the British Empire Games, where he had witnessed fellow Brit Roger Bannister break the fabled four-minute mile. That was a special moment for Prince Phillip, who was now known around the globe as an avid sportsman, a man in love with the great outdoors, a fabulous horseman and strong swimmer. However, a deep gash on his royal nose proved that he could use some lessons in the art of Olympic diving. He had cut himself while plunging into the UBC swimming pool during the Vancouver games. Like everything with the Royals, that nose gash was big news.

Now this world figure was coming to tiny Whitehorse, where the streets were unpaved, wooden sidewalks creaked in winter and heaved in summer, and there were no traffic lights. There was no city sewer system, although a plebiscite in June had just approved the hotly debated topic of whether Whitehorse should rid itself of back-yard cesspools and open wells in favour of a modern system of running water carried in - of all things - underground pipes. What would they think of next!

The plebiscite was fiercely contested, since many taxpayers thought they could not afford such luxury. One of the ads in the paper that convinced the rate-payers to fork over the dough was a banner full-page, edged-in-black message claiming that the Queen, on a visit to Australia earlier in the year, had to wear rubber gloves to avoid contamination of her regal personage by foul water. The Yukon ad asked if Prince Phillip would have to wear rubber gloves to avoid contamination and the possibility of contracting polio from tainted water in the Yukon's capital. "If we don't get it - we've had it" blazed the headline. The plebiscite carried.

At noon on that idyllic August Sunday, Commissioner Wilfred Brown, Mayor Gordon Armstrong, and a bands from the RCAF base met the Duke's royal plane. They ushered him into a polished yellow Oldsmobile and drove down the winding, old Two Mile Hill to the newly constructed Whitehorse Elementary High-school on Fourth Avenue, for a meeting with the children of the Yukon, including Lena Tizya, to whom he was introduced as she had represented the Yukon Girl Guides at the Queen's Coronation in 1953.

The Fleet Street Press from London, a photographer from the world's most popular news magazine "LIFE" (on the cover of which appeared a photo of the Duke in front of WHS), and a contingent of Canadian cameramen and writers recorded the Duke's every move, so much so that an editorial in the Whitehorse Star a week later praised the visit, the Duke, the kids and Yukoners in general, but slammed the "outside" press, calling them rude, crude and impudent in pushing aside anyone who got in the way of their "photo-op."

Later that memorable Sunday, Prince Phillip embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime trip down the Yukon River a few miles, on board the newly renovated paddle-wheeler SS KLONDIKE, that had just been put back into service by the White Pass and Yukon Route, who in co-operation with Canadian Pacific Airlines began an ill-fated and wildly expensive gamble to bring tourist dollars to the awakening, but still largely unknown Yukon tourist industry.

On board the Klondike, Phillip observed a large painting depicting Cancan girls dancing up a storm, and asked Mayor Armstrong: "Do you have any around here like this?" Diplomatically, the gracious mayor offered instead an ivory desk pen set that he had bought earlier in the day from the Yukon Gift and Ivory Shop.

That evening the RCAF mess was the location of a gala - or what in Yukon terms in the fifties could pass as a gala evening of food and conversation. The Duke talked at length with 88-year-old Martha Louise Black and her 81-year-old husband George, both of whom had spent some time in England when they were Members of the Canadian Parliament. George had been speaker of the House of Commons in the thirties, and when he fell ill prior to the 1940 general election, Martha ran for his Yukon seat and became only the second woman to sit in the House of Commons.

The Duke was fascinated by Martha's tale of her life as one of the few women who climbed the Chilkoot Pass on her way to the Klondike in 1898. With some irony, Prince Phillip also listened intently as aboriginal elder Patsy Henderson told him the story of his days as a young boy, back in 1898, in a camp with his uncle Skookum Jim, on the banks of the Klondike River when Jim, Tagish Charlie and George Carmack found the gold that made the Yukon famous, and drew Martha and her husband George to the Yukon.

Urban legend has it that a server during the evening meal advised Prince Phillip not to give up his fork so quickly after the main course, because "there's still pie coming, Duke."

Bright and early, Monday morning, August 9th, 1954, the royal visitor boarded his Canadian government plane and headed north to Coppermine, in the Northwest Territories, for a quick tour of the Arctic. Of the visit, Life Magazine noted "the Duke not only enjoyed himself hugely but brought back a winter's worth of dazzling tales of the wild north world to tell the queen, as well as a pair of Eskimo soapstone carvings for Princess Anne and Prince Charles."

Photo of the interior of the GEO. M. VERITY's pilot house by Emery Styron to accompany a Waterways Journal article by him about the retired towboat. Styron used one of my photos of the VERITY in the article as well so "Even Steven." I increased the contrast and saturated this photo and cleaned up what look like evidence of termite debris on the window sill in the lower left quadrant.


George M. Verity Keeps Rolling
The Waterways Journal, Jan. 25, 2016



Steamboat Times. A History of Navigation on the Mississippi River System
Created and maintained by Lewis Verduyn
Copyright 2007
Key words: Steamboat, Sidewheeler, Sternwheeler, Packet Boat, Riverboat, Mississippi River, Missouri River, Flatboat, Mackinaw, Keelboat, Raft, Fur Trade, Santa Fe Trail, Mark Twain, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Hannibal, St. Louis, Cairo & New Orleans.
Distribution: Global

I was shocked and deeply saddened to discover that Lewis Verduyn passed on at age 60 on the 21st of August 2019.

Lewis was a wonderful correspondent and his e-mails were always full of tales of his life, times and many adventures as a river rafter and conservationist. I will miss him and wish that we had met in person.

Message from Lewis 23rd December 2018:

Hello Dave,
It's one of those clear sky and calm mornings here, and I sure hope we get a breeze later, otherwise it will be mighty hot. Tomorrow, Christmas day, the temperature is supposed to be 31Celsius (equivalent to about 88 degrees Fahrenheit) but unofficially, down the river valley, it is usually several degrees hotter. I must get outside before it heats up. When the days are like this, I like to pump my water from the river into my tank in the mornings (using my old circa 1930s electric windmill water-pump), and I also like to check my plantings including my vegetable garden.
I hope all is well with you, and that you have a very pleasant and peaceful Christmas and New Year.
Your friend on the riverbank,

Published in Southland Times from Aug. 21 to Aug. 24, 2019

Sadly Lewis passed away at his home in Luggate; aged 60 years. Much loved youngest son of Catherine and the late Jacob, loved brother of the late Roger, a much loved nephew, uncle, and cousin of all his family in New Zealand and Holland. In accordance with family's wishes a private cremation has been held.

Memorial service for Lewis Verduyn was held at 2.00 pm Saturday 5th of October 2019

The Red Bridge River Park Trust invited friends of Lewis to a memorial service for him at Reko's Point on the Clutha River on Saturday 5 October at 2 pm.
The memorial paid tribute to the life of a friend, teacher and visionary. Lewis' ashes were scattered at the river and there was an opportunity for those who knew him to say some words. Attendees were invited to bring with them a cup for Manuka Tea.

SEP - OCT 2003


Drawing on a vast catchment in the mountains west of Lakes Wanaka and Hawea, the Clutha River—New Zealand's largest by volume flows through the parched country of Central Otago before pouring into the Pacific Ocean. It delivers precious irrigation water to the region's burgeoning horticultural enterprises and turns the turbines of two of the nation's largest power stations. But problems with sedimentation in the hydro lakes and a boom in property development along the Clutha's banks are beginning to threaten the river's integrity.

Lewis Verduyn had a dream: a hankering to step back in time. He had in mind a voyage by log raft in the wake of the pioneer timber rafters of the Clutha River. His inspiration lay in the 1860s, when a small group of timbermen with a penchant for mixing business and adventure established a profitable but highly dangerous delivery route from the forests of today's Mount Aspiring National Park to the treeless and timber-hungry settlements of Central Otago. The link between the two areas was the Clutha, the largest river by volume in the country.

Because the Clutha is only sporadically buckled by rapids and hairpin bends, the men saw it as a reliable, high-speed conveyor belt. They would buy logs from sawmills on the Matukituki and Makarora Rivers, lash them together into rafts, then pole their unwieldy craft into Lake Wanaka. There they would combine the rafts into large floating islands of timber, rig them up with square sails and, helped by the prevailing north-westerly winds, row their way across the lake to the source of the Clutha River.

It was here, at the point where the lake funnels into a single powerful waterway, that the conveyor belt began. The men would split their timber islands back into smaller log rafts, outfit these with rowlocks and eight-meter sweeps and push off into the current.

From its outset, the Clutha flows so fast that the men could make their 80 km journey in a single day. They had to be wary of major rapids such as at Devils Nook, a notorious dog-leg bend, and the Boiling Pot, where the current warps on entering Maori Gorge. The river could smash a raft like a matchstick toy at these places, and the men often preferred to walk the banks and ease the rafts on hemp ropes down the most difficult stretches.

Landing near Cromwell, they would dismantle their craft and pile up the timber for sale. After an overnight stay at the local hotel, they would head back to Wanaka on foot, carrying their ropes with them. That same afternoon they would construct another set of rafts from the logs that awaited them at the outlet, to be ready to push off the following dawn. Three Clutha trips a week could be made, and although several men lost their lives to the river, the financial returns were considered worth the risks.

"It was strenuous work," wrote one of those good keen men, named George Hassing, "but we were young . . . and delighted in it."

Lewis Verduyn was young, too, and an experienced rafting operator to boot. His plan was simple: build a log raft, retrace the timber route and then extend the voyage all the way to the sea. He wanted to taste the hardships and relive the perils of the pioneers. The river would not disappoint him.

His first five-ton Oregon-pine raft, named DESTINY was swept away by a flash flood only two days into the trip and was never seen again. Lewis was undeterred. He built a second raft—seven logs and four braces tied together with 200 metres of natural-fibre rope—which he poled and sailed from Makarora to Wanaka. Then, after some dry-dock repairs and strengthening, he navigated DESTINY II out of the lake and into the Clutha.

Over the following days he and his crew poled, pulled, pushed and steered the lumbering eight-by-three-meter craft around innumerable obstacles on their journey to the sea. Sometimes they simply hung on for dear life as the river gave the four-and-a-half-ton plaything a bucking-bronco ride.

The raft was repeatedly stranded on shoals and snagged by sunken trees, called "strainers" in white-water parlance. It capsized more than once, to be righted by skillful maneuvering into the rocks and current, or with the help of local farmers, using horses or tractor. It was lifted by crane over the Roxburgh dam (the Clyde dam had not yet been built), and turned into a submarine after hitting a giant "stopper" wave in the Cromwell Gap, when the river closed over Lewis, spread-eagled on the deck, for what seemed like a breathless eternity.

Finally, 440 km and 15 river days after leaving Makarora, Lewis nursed his battered raft into the Pacific Ocean for a beach landing. He had fulfilled his dream, and in the process come to know the river intimately. An unusual bond had formed between man and waterway, as if the Clutha's muscular flow now coursed through Lewis's own bloodstream. Although the voyage took place 20 years ago, in the summer of 1981 - 2, Lewis has lived to the rhythms of the river ever since.

When I first met Lewis in his riverside cottage—fittingly, the former residence of a ferryman—we talked river for hours, two enthusiasts applauding the nuances of an endless performance. Like the pioneers he emulated, Lewis has combined adventure and business in a river-based lifestyle: an eco-rafting venture focusing not just on white-water thrills but appreciation of the riverine environment as well. It was late April when we met, and he had just completed his 21st rafting season. This called for a celebration, he thought: one last trip of personal thanksgiving to the river for a season of plenty. He invited me to join him.

The Clutha's quiet but formidable power comes from its large catchment area. Figuratively speaking, the river is like the trunk of a giant tree, with a deep and complex root system. Three large lakes—Wanaka, Hawea and Wakatipu—anchor the system in the foothills of the Southern Alps, but the tributaries which feed them penetrate beyond the Southern Lakes district into Fiordland and as far north as Haast. The Greenstone, Caples, Rees, Dart and Route Burn; the Wilkin, Young, Makarora, Matukituki and Hunter—all these rivers form the headwaters of the Clutha, whose total catchment extends over some 20,582 square kilometres. At 322 km from source to ocean, the Clutha is not a particularly long river, but it more than makes up for shortness with volume, speed and power.

These attributes are apparent as soon as we launch Lewis's inflatable raft at Albert Town, near the first bridge that spans the river. It picks up speed instantly, moving at 15 - 18 km/h, Lewis estimates, without a single oar-stroke. The water is as clear as kirsch: I can see the rocks of the riverbed three or four meters below us rushing past like a landscape through the window of a train.

Water clarity is one of the Clutha's outstanding features, Lewis tells me. It is the result of the decanting effect of Lake Wanaka. "The lake acts as a sediment pond for the glacial silt, and then the top layer of spring-pure water is drained off by the river," he says. "You can safely drink it . . ." He hesitates. "Well, at least as far as the Wanaka sewage outlet."

On this April day the autumn colors are in full blaze, and the Clutha is a plait of greenstone set in gold, the riverside poplars burning bright like rows of candle flames. The raft's paddles, I note, are stowed away, and Lewis, seated on an elevated center frame, is using a pair of oars instead. The frame, made of bull-bar-like aluminum tubing, is rounded so as not to catch on rocks or branches. Beneath it, the raft's hull is pliable, able to pour like water over the surface of obstacles.

Oar rafts are rare in New Zealand, Lewis says, but they are standard on big overseas rivers such as the Zambezi and Colorado. "You could never get away with a paddle raft on a river like the Clutha unless you had a coordinated and responsive crew, and you can't expect novices and tourists to become experts within minutes of putting in," he tells me. "I encourage them to paddle so that they can feel the strength of the current, but I retain full control over the raft. On the Clutha, you can't afford mistakes."

Most of his passengers assume that because the Clutha has no big rapids there is no danger, Lewis says. "They don't realize that it is the flow of the river and not its white water that is the greatest threat. So they enjoy the cruise and the scenery, unaware that if I were to misjudge a turn we could all be swimming within seconds, perhaps dead within minutes."

Tanned and toned, wearing his usual shorts and rafting sandals despite the morning's frost, Lewis works the oars with measured crank-handle spins, pirouetting the raft casually, aligning it with the flow, making the most of the current's intricacies. He cranes his neck to scout the route ahead, but his actions are relaxed and understated, testimony to more than two decades on the river.

Only when he allows me a turn at the oars on the Pioneer Rapid—the biggest stretch of white water on this part of the river—do I gain a proper insight into his skills. We plunge into a set of standing waves that come at us like an express train. I fend them off, straining to keep the raft on course. The river yanks and wrings the oars, then jabs them into my ribs, almost knocking me off the seat. It's as if we're in a scene from Deliverance, but Lewis is sitting back, a relaxed passenger. He knows he is not taking any chances. The rapid may be boisterous and look threatening, but it's also wide and devoid of obstacles. We could probably get through it without any oar work at all.

Lewis takes over just before Devils Nook—certainly not a place for a rookie oarsman. Here the river narrows, speeds up, then hits a cliff head-on, folding back on itself and creating a whirlpool 50 meters across—a giant no-escape eddy. Imagine a satellite image of a tornado and translate it to the aquatic realm: a twister of such power it makes the water look as thick as ready-to-pour concrete. It is enough to curdle the blood, too, but Lewis maintains his dance-with-the-river equanimity.

He plays the whirlpool so that the raft spirals in its grip, now rushing at the menacing cliff, now coursing back upstream. There are baby twisters calving off this mother of all whirlpools, and Lewis is craning his neck again, looking for an opportunity. Suddenly, he digs in the oars, locking into a breakaway vortex just as a surfer would catch a wave, and we are pulled out of the trap, spiraling into the mainstream. Below us, the Clutha again flows as smooth as silk.

Lewis Verduyn has learnt first-hand about both the river's power and its benevolence. Once, out for a summer swim, he was caught in an eddy and sucked beneath the surface. Twice he came up, grabbed a lungful of air and swam for his life, but both times the eddy pulled him back down. Third time around, Lewis blacked out. When he regained consciousness, his knees were scraping the shingle below the bank. Miraculously, the river had let him go.

"I learnt a big lesson that day," Lewis told me. "The moment before I blacked out I turned towards the middle of the river and let the current take me. That probably saved my life. The lesson was: don't fight the river—it is always stronger. But with skill, understanding and a good dose of respect you can use the river's power."

These days Lewis Verduyn has another dream—no less challenging than his log-rafting trip but far grander in scope. It is a dream of giving back to the river, of reciprocating its many blessings. Inspired by a scheme developed for the Mississippi, Lewis has proposed the Clutha River Parkway, a protected area encompassing the river and its banks from source to sea.

The parkway would incorporate existing reserves and seek the support of landowners and community and interest groups to regulate further development adjacent to the river. It could ultimately lead to the creation of a riverside trail, to be travelled on foot, mountain bike or horseback.

It is an appealing and unifying vision—and timely, in view of the wrangling over water rights. I can think of no better honor for my home river.


With the exception of images credited to public institutions,
everything on this page is from a private collection.
Please contact for permission for commercial use.*