Monday, April 13, 2015

New Orleans Steamboat Natchez Turns 40!

Steamboat Natchez, the beloved jazz steamboat of New Orleans, is over the hill.

Natchez first launched on April 13, 1975, quickly becoming a favorite site and sound of New Orleans.

She's the ninth steamer to bear the name Natchez. It was her predecessor, Natchez VI, that raced the Robert E. Lee in one of the most famous races of all time.

Now, Nathcez combines contemporary construction with the authenticity and style of her classic predecessors. She's a relatively new boat built out of steel to meet Coast Guard regulations. But the boat has a strong link to the past.

Debbie Fiano has been playing the calliope on top the Steamboat Natchez for over 20 years. Originally from Western Australia, she cranks up the steam and is ready to go. The choir director and church organist from Belle Chase performs three 15-minute concerts a day on an instrument that has only one volume - very loud - and it's never quite in tune.

"On rainy days I'll play rainy day songs and on sunny days I'll play sunny songs," she says.

The whistles are fed by 16 pounds of steam and they sit atop the Mississippi River's only steamboat. The French Quarter based tour boat is one of only two steam-powered paddle wheelers still operating in the entire country.

Natchez is keeping a tradition alive on the Mississippi River; a river that was once ruled by steamboats still has a daily reminder of its past.

Presidents Gerald Ford and both Bushes have been aboard. Placido Domingo, Dick Van Dyke, Brooke Shields, Bob Hope, Muhammad Ali and Dolly Parton are among the celebrity passengers.

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