River belles and paddle wheels

Dixie Queen, Dutch Harbor
Dixie Queen, Dutch Harbor

Living near Blake Sea offers a lot of opportunities for sailing and flying  – and for discovery. Back in September 2013, I wrote about my meanderings across some of the core regions of Honah Lee,  and I’ve made mention of other destinations in the region as well.

While flying recently, I came across something I hadn’t noticed previously, and that’s three sternwheel paddle steamers tied-up at the quayside. Intrigued on seeing them from the air, and spurred by a request for more information on them coming from another member of the Avatar Social Network, I set out for a closer investigation.

The three boats are part of the Bandit Steamboat Company, owned by Analyse Dean (who built them), of Bandit Boats fame. They can be found just across the water from her store, alongside the wharf belonging to the Dixieland Coal Depot. For those arriving at the Bandit Boats quay, you can either fly over to the coal depot, which lies to the west, or you can take the little steam ferry across the water – just walk onto the ferry, don’t try to sit on it!

Looking over the wharf: on the right is the Dixie Queen, on the left, the Dixie Tow and her coal tender, and behind her, the Dixie Belle
Looking over the wharf: on the right is the Dixie Queen, on the left, the Dixie Tow and her coal tender, and behind her, the Dixie Belle

There are three steamers at the wharf, the largest being the Dixie Queen, seen at the top of this piece and again at the end, which offers a large passenger salon, what appears to be a dining area, and up on the top deck, a couple of small cabins and what might be a saloon where it’s easy to imagine card games going on as the boat makes her way up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Across the quay from the Dixie Queen sits the Dixie Belle, a slightly smaller sternwheeler, offering just a salon and gaming room on her upper deck, although there is a small promenade deck above, just behind the wheelhouse. Like the Dixie Queen, the Belle’s lower deck is given over to her steam engines, bunkers and cargo space.

Dixie Tow
Dixie Tow: workhorse steamer

Moored in front of the Belle is the Dixie Tow,  a reminder that the life of a Mississippi steamer wasn’t necessarily devoted to Maverick-style adventures; it could be hard work, lugging cotton bales and cargo downriver, or in the Dixie Tow’s case,  pushing coal tenders around.

Dixie Bell actually started life as a part of a build Analyse did for the TYC December boat show in 2013, when it formed a part of her Deer Hunt. Dixie Queen and Dixie Tow are both part of a larger work in progress, and are intended to be sailable with a crew of a skipper, a pilot and stokers; in addition, the Queen will be able to carry passengers.

The Dixie Belle
The Dixie Belle

In particular, Analyse is hoping to recreate some of the atmosphere of the heyday of the great sternwheel paddle steamers as they plied the rivers of the American mid-west – including the legendary (and sometimes fictional) races between them.

“Considering that even the biggest sea in SL is barely as wide as the Mississippi at some points, I think SL is a great place to recreate this,” Analyse told me as we talked about the project. The work is already some nine months into development, and still has some way to go before things are ready to launch; but when she’s ready, Analyse will be offering both the Dixie Queen and the Dixie Tow for sale – and will be organising steamboat races as well; something she hopes will prove popular.

Part of the reason the project is taking so long to develop is that Analyse needs to devote time and attention to her primary boating business. She also wants to make the steamers to give as much a feel of sailing the old sternwheelers as is possible. This has involved building and scripting a steam engine simulator (a mock-up of some elements of this can be seen at the north end of the quays).

Inside the Dixie Queen
Inside the Dixie Queen

“Currently the steam engine itself is in test in a single boiler launch, and when that’s concluded it will be transplanted for the 4 boiler system,” Analyse told me. However, there is more to capturing the feel of travelling (and racing!) a riverboat than the engines, as she goes on to explain. “Among other things, I want an interactive system for the passengers where they can walk the deck, have dinner, go dancing, play musical instruments, you know, the stuff they did back then!”

Once the Queen is ready, not only will it go on sale, Analyse will be holding weekly races. “[It will be ] a race between two steamers, with a set start and finish, but no waypoints, so that’s up to the skipper to decide the route, much like in the Mississippi days!” she says. And like the races of old, there will be hazards to face, such as sandbars which boats must navigate around or between, and even the need to refuel, as Analyse explained with a smile, “The Dixie Tow was made purely for the purpose of refueling the Queen at some halfway point. [So it’s] pull up alongside and shovel like mad!”

The Dixie Queen
The Dixie Queen

In the meantime, The Dixie Queen, the Dixie Belle and the Dixie Tow sit moored and open to visitors, and Analyse tells me that SL photographers are welcome to use the boats for photo shoots if they wish – rezzing is enabled, although people are obviously asked to clear-up anything they use prior to leaving.

For my part, I have to say I enjoyed my exploration of the boats and my chat with Analyse, and I’m also looking forward to the first race – which I certainly hope to be able to cover in these pages, and perhaps even be a passenger aboard one of the participant steamers!

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