ANCHORS AWEIGH: Jadwin captain committed to tradition during record low water

Published 4:03 pm Thursday, October 26, 2023

By Hunter Cloud | Special to The Vicksburg Post

Captain Chuck Ashley, a native of Eagle Lake, said he had something special planned this week for the United States Army Corps of Engineers vessel Jadwin.

The Vicksburg District’s dustpan dredge Jadwin turns 90 years old on Oct. 30.

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“We had plans to celebrate, but it looks like we will be working,” Ashley said. 

Jadwin was built in Point Pleasant, Virginia, and entered service in 1933. Mississippi and much of the central United States are in an ongoing drought which has helped river levels drop to a negative gauge reading in Vicksburg. Ashley said Wednesday the Mississippi River was the worst he had seen since last year. 

Jadwin worked 254 days on the water to relocate 6.2 million cubic yards last year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District reported last year the normal dredging season lasts 160 days. 

Ashley said his crew typically services the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to Memphis and has at times gone further upriver to assist other dredges. Jadwin and its 51-man crew have been working since April to keep the navigational channel of the Mississippi River open. 

Jadwin has served from St. Louis to Mile 0, the Baptiste Collette Gulf Outlet, Arkansas River, Lower Missouri River, Lower Ohio River and the lower 40 miles of the Red River. 

The Jadwin arrived on its current mission in Vicksburg on Oct. 22 and has dredged every other day. A navigable Mississippi River is crucial this time of year as grain is harvested and shipped downstream and gas and oil are shipped upstream. Ashley said seven ships have run aground in Vicksburg this year. 

He said the extreme drought is the cause of the low water levels, and the river has not had enough rain or flow to keep the navigational channel functional without dredging. Boats backing up to make narrow turns in the channel are part of the reason why dredging is needed. 

Surveyors take a sound of the river channel and draw up a map to dredge and maintain the navigational channel. 

Jadwin uses a dustpan-shaped suction head to suck up silt from the Mississippi River floor. A high-velocity water jet loosens the material, which is then drawn by a pump as a slurry through a floating pipeline and distributed outside of the navigation channel. 

Ashley said the crew is working to make the channel better in Vicksburg this week, but if a trouble spot would arise they would have to go to it. One day this week, he said he counted 47 southbound barges and 17 northbound barges when the crew wrapped up their day of work on the river. 

The ship received a major upgrade in 1985 converting from steam power to twin 750-volt DC electric motors rated at 1,200 horsepower each. Bender Shipyard in Mobile, Alabama, remodeled the ship in 1985 but Ashley said he has done his best to keep the original rivets and old pictures of the ship to honor the 90 years of tradition. He started working for the Corps of Engineers in 1994 and became captain of the Jadwin in 2017.

“We have done the same thing for 90 years and we are still holding together and it is still doing what it is doing well,” Ashley said. “It is challenging but I love my job. It is a big responsibility and an honor to try and keep the tradition going.”