Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Flowing down the river with the rain

Homemade boat takes friends from Cincinnati to New Orleans

By Erica Solvig,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Three Cincinnati men have returned home after a month-long sailing trip on a homemade pontoon boat down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

        It only took 20 days for the USS Guppie to anchor in New Orleans July 19 — seven days earlier than expected. The trio — plus one man who left the journey early — set sail June 30 from the Public Landing, downtown.

[photo] Departing from the Public Landing for New Orleans were (from left) Bob Herring, Brad Stevenson, Mick Michaelson, and Bob Grey.
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        “On my list of things I'd like to do in my life, this wasn't one of them,” said Bob Herring, 52, of Kennedy Heights after his return Friday “But I'm absolutely glad I did it. It was very much a worthwhile adventure.”

        Mr. Herring, principal of Nativity School in Pleasant Ridge, said he enjoyed the change of pace during the 1,400-mile journey. Days were spent navigating the river and updating their Web site.

        The sailors never used the deck of cards or the Monopoly game they packed.

        “The days went quicker than we thought,” Mr. Herring said. “Time did not hang heavy at all.”

        The idea for the trip stemmed from a conversation last summer between Mr. Herring and Brad Stevenson, a 43-year-old contractor and carpenter, questioning if rain in Cincinnati made it to the Gulf of Mexico.

        They — along with Mick Michaelson, 43, owner of Sugar 'n Spice Restaurant in Paddock Hills and Bob Grey, 37, a contractor from Clifton — decided to find out.

[photo] The USS Guppie on the river at sunset.
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        Mr. Stevenson built the green, 25-horsepower pontoon boat — complete with solar and gas power — out of salvage materials in his Madeira backyard. The boat, which can hold up to 1,500 pounds, typically traveled 70 to 100 miles a day.

        Most nights, the sailors slept on the boat, dropping anchor outside of towns along the way. But three nights were spent in hotels.

        They also would stop for an occasional daytrip and to fill up the five 12-gallon gas tanks — even if it meant anchoring the boat and walking into town.

        “What happened every single time was someone who saw us walking with these big tanks would stop and say, "Put it in the back of the truck' or car and they'd drive us to the gas station,” Mr. Herring said. “Then they'd drive us back to the boat.”

        After a stop in Memphis — about halfway through the trip — Mr. Grey, a newlywed, decided to return home for personal and work commitments.

        But the other three sailors — including Mr. Michaelson, who was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor in 1997 — finished the journey without any major problems.

        “Really, the key to the success was the planning,” Mr. Herring said. “Those river charts are absolutely crucial.”

        Each sailor traveled home separately. Mr. Stevenson brought the USS Guppie, which he plans to use for future trips, to a relative's home in Indiana.

        Mr. Herring said he would share what he learned with his students this fall, especially during geography lessons.

        When asked if he learned if rain falling in Greater Cincinnati makes it down to the Gulf of Mexico, Mr. Herring laughed.

        “Yes it will, but it will take more than 20 days.”


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