Sweet Olive casts off for water-side site of the city

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 16, 2003

Vicksburg resident Gautam Arora, 13, left, and his cousin, Karan Dhawan, 6, wait their turn as Evan Pope, 6, of Dalton, Ga., steers the Sweet Olive through the mouth of the Mississippi River Saturday. Waiting nearby are his cousin, Liam Pope, 8, and his aunt and uncle, Sylvia and Peter Pope of Austin, Texas. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[06/16/03] When 6-year-old Evan Pope from Dalton, Ga., came to Vicksburg with his grandparents and other relatives, he didn’t know he would be navigating a 54-foot boat in the Mississippi River.

But Evan was handed the wheel Saturday afternoon and said he felt like a riverboat captain.

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Evan was one of 13 passengers on the 2:30 p.m. Sweet Olive tour during the boat’s second day of public excursions from City Front.

The air-conditioned pontoon boat, complete with a bathroom, snacks and a bar in the back, was enough to make all of the children and adults aware of the largest river in North America.

“I’m thinking that it’s very, very big,” Evan said.

David Schaeffer, captain of the new boat and captain for a previous boat operated by Mississippi River Adventures, said he has conducted 40,000 to 50,000 river tours during the past nine years.

“The Mississippi River is kind of like our Grand Canyon,” Schaeffer said.

Schaeffer navigates the Sweet Olive seven days a week. History tours are given Monday through Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. On Sunday, there is no morning tour. The cost is $17 for adults and $12 for children under 12.

The Sweet Olive also offers a romantic sunset tour, a more relaxed atmosphere with champagne and beer served. It begins about 40 minutes before sunset Fridays and Saturdays, and costs $18 for adults and $15 for children. The boat can also be reserved for parties and large tour groups.

The family-owned boat revives an attraction absent from the city last summer. Mississippi River Adventures closed due to a low business volume during a rift with City Hall.

Museum and tour home owners have said they are glad to have river rides back since it allows tourists and residents a chance to see the city from a different perspective.

The boat with a capacity of 49 passengers first cruises along the Yazoo Diversion Canal before riders enter the wide-open Mississippi River. Throughout the tour carousel-like music plays in the background, and Schaeffer gives tidbits of local history.

One of the owners, Ann Jones, said nothing can take the place of seeing the city from the water. “You have to get out on the river to understand it all,” she said.

Bill and Patricia Glass, a retired couple from Georgia living in Gulfport, took the tour during their first visit to Vicksburg. The afternoon breeze blew in their hair as the boat yielded to tugboats carrying barges up the river.

“I knew we wanted to come up here,” Bill Glass said as the Mississippi River bridge was just in sight. “We like historic places like Vicksburg.”

While the Glasses watched from their seat, others walked throughout the boat to see the sandbars, barges and riverboat casinos on the river.

Sylvia Pope, a hydro-geologist from Austin, Texas, said she was as comfortable on water as on land.

“For a city to have so much history with a river it would make sense to get on (the river) and see it,” she said.

First mate Jim Jones, who helps operate the boat, pointed to the barges passing nearby. He said as long as the Sweet Olive didn’t get too close to them it would be fine.

“It’s pretty easy to maneuver out here,” he said. “You just have to be careful.”

About 1 1/2 hours after the tour began, The Sweet Olive pulled back to the bank at City Front, dropping off passengers and getting ready for the next group.