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Captain David Whitten pulled up anchor and got his crew of four back under way Monday, June 15 beginning the second leg on their journey to the Gulf of Mexico on a hand made packet boat — the adventure of a lifetime.
Whitten, who in his real life is a carpenter and contractor in Russell, Penn., said he was inspired by a book he read about Harlan Hubbard, a local man who built a shanty boat with his wife and lived on the river for years. If an older couple could do it, Whitten said, he believes five strapping young men and not quite so young men could certainly do it.
Whitten began his dreamboat with an idea and then began picking out lumber from an Amish sawmill near his home in Pennsylvania. He said he didn’t have blueprints or plans, but patterned his boat after packet boats that originally traversed the Erie canal. These boats were pulled by a horse and rope connecting the Hudson River in New York City with the Great Lakes, according to www.Eyewitnesstohistory.com.
Packet boats were also seen up and down many inland rivers during the 1800s and 1900s, including this section of the Ohio River on regular routes carrying freight, mail and passengers, according to an online dictionary.
Whitten said that when his boat sailed from Warren to Pittsburgh, Penn., it was the first packet boat on that waterway in more than 100 years.
Whitten’s boat has six bunks and humble kitchen and bathroom facilities. The boat does have a motor, but there are also long oars the crew uses to free themselves from sandbars and shoals that are hidden from view.
Whitten said he spent 18 months building the boat on nights and weekends and last summer he and five crew members spent 30 days on the boat and ended up in Carrollton, stuck and needing help getting the boat to shore and running out of time on their quest to reach the gulf of Mexico. Whitten said when they left Pennslyvannia last year they had no schedule and planned to get as far as they could, store the boat and then take it up again this year.
They still have no schedule, but the long term plan is to get to Lake Barkley, followed by the Tennessee River, on to the Tombigbee River and finally to Mobile Bay and the gulf. Whitten said they should be able to reach Lake Barkley in Kentucky by the end of the two weeks they set aside for their adventure this year.
Whitten has as crew members his son, Kyle, who goes by the nickname of Mudgut, (after repeatedly getting in the river last year to get the boat off sandbars.) Others include: Master Chief Vance Fox, a brother in-law; his son Jedediah Fox known as Bilge Boy; and a family friend Robert Barrett, also answering to Tour Guide. Dylan Fleming was part of the original expedition last year but couldn’t make it this year.
When the group came ashore last fall they were in need of help and local residents Mark and Donna Luhn came to the rescue. Mark Luhn said they helped the men get the boat ashore but also let them store it for the winter on the Luhn and Oak Construction Co. lot on Jay Louden Dr. He and Richard Luhn and some of their employees brought the boat back to Point Park on Monday seeing the five-man party on their way once again.
The crew took the better part of Monday getting everything ready to go, and then slipped away before suppertime that afternoon.
Whitten and his crew said they were grateful to the hospitality shown by the Luhn’s.
Whitten said they would travel for a few days and then dock to re-supply with gas and food.
“I’ve learned a lot about building a boat, navigating the waterways and the history of the towns we’ve stopped in,” Whitten said. I didn’t want to get old and say, “I should have done that.”
“Everybody should go on a floating trip down the river,” Whitten said in parting.