Let’s Talk About…The Splendor & Captain Kelly

(Returning to the ship after a bus tour. Capt. Kelly was ALWAYS there to greet us along with several red-shirted helpers to ensure our safety. Remember, the river was 40-feet low so we had to walk downhill a ways on newly-laid gravel.)

The American Cruise Ship Splendor could carry 185 passengers; on my trip there were 164 of us, with a crew of 59, including the captain. The Splendor drew only 7 ½ feet of water (“think of it like a hotel on a flat-bottomed barge”) and only needed 9 feet of water to proceed….. and I understood that many times that was the river’s depth during my cruise. The average ship’s speed was 7 to 8 miles per hour (yes, on the rivers, length is measured in miles) and the average river flow is 3 miles per hour.

The captain explained in a Q&A session that the biggest usage on the ship was potable water but they did carry 28,000 gallons…….. and resupplied with a sometimes very long hose at every port stop. The ship had a MSD, a marine sanitation discharge system, so that any water put back into the river was clean. (“We do hold the solids and pump them out every month,” he quipped.) The Splendor held 30,000 gallons of fuel. The picturesque fluted black smokestacks and red-painted paddle wheel were just for looks; the ship had a twin-screw propulsion system. The crew often had to lay flat those decorative smokestacks when we went under bridges.

Captain  Matthew Kelly explained that a captain needs 360 sea-days (water-days?) every five years to renew his license with the Coast Guard. All the ships of that line winter over in New Orleans for cleaning, upgrading and maintenance. He explained some of the navigational things, and the many, many “river rules” but most were way over my head. He did say that downstream traffic has the right of way as do passenger ships over barges. 

Our very photogenic captain was only 29 years old, newly married (his wife was aboard for part of the trip). He was always roaming about the ship and always willing to stop for questions. He started with the company eight years ago as a deckhand and worked his way up to captain. 

I was struck and very impressed with his humility. In Memphis, at Graceland, we were all ready to get off the bus when he and his wife, in casual clothes, started walking up from the very back of the bus. The driver and guide, not knowing who he was, told him sternly to please sit down “cause we aren’t parked yet.” His reply? “I’m a member of the crew and I need to get off.” He had a rental car waiting.  A “member of the crew indeed!”