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Traffic jams with convergences of twenty, thirty, forty ships, can get hairy.The river barely looks wide enough for two ships to pass, but, Austin says, “They absolutely do, all the time.“As scary as it might sound,” Austin says, “that’s how it’s done.You watch, you practice.” He holds a Master Unlimited License, issued by the U. Coast Guard, permitting him to drive a vessel of any gross tonnage, as well as a First Class Pilot License for the section of river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.“In fast river conditions,” Austin says, “there can be several different currents pulling in unpredictable directions, like a huge pot of water boiling crawfish.” If he gets caught in fog, he has to pilot blind and rely solely on radar.Austin has managed his share of piloting difficulties.t’s winter on the Mississippi River, one of the busiest and most dangerous waterways in the world.
This morning, the Spar Hydra is empty of cargo, anchored, 41 miles by river from New Orleans.
In the ocean, the closest ship is, what, fifty miles away? Fewer than three hundred pilots in Louisiana are qualified to pilot on the river, and Austin is one of only six who are African American.