entered the Gulf of Mexico.” Stephen, however, formulated the
for underground water navigation, including the delightful tradition of
serving wine to his passengers and singing songs in unison until their
The tradition arose to throw the empty wine bottles over the left side
of the boat. That became known as the port side. (You can imagine
laughter today if the Captain of a ship yelled “Hard a left!” instead
of “Hard a port!”). Stephen taught a succession of guides, slave
free, the rules of the road and fine points of navigation until 1990
when the Echo River boat ride was discontinued forever due to guides
getting sand in their shoes.
Stephen’s important and historic cave navigation rules bare repeating
1. Keep to the port side of the channel.
2. Motorized boats must give way to boats under sail.
3. Only the captain will give commands*
4. No touching of stalactites which are the hang down
5. Singing of “Ninety-Nine Beers on the Wall” is
6. Tip the Pilot but not the boat.**
7. The Pilot is not to be addressed as “Pirate”,
except by Japanese passengers.
8. Blindfish may be taken only during April and must
be larger than four inches.
9. Cavers must use inner tubes painted white for
10. Anchored boats must use an anchor larger than a
True tales of the
My great uncle Nelson was the originator of the accounting fund set
aside to buy a new boat. He
called it the “sinking fund.” Since
teacher promulgated Stephen’s historic underground boating rules, his
honorific position in the boat was called Commodore. He spent
hours on the Commode, as that marine seat of honor came to be known.
The U. S. Coast Guard in 1925 set up a series of licenses for marine
officers, together with a certificate suitable for framing to be placed
on a bulkhead aboard the boat. Mine reads Master of Vessels on
Underland Waters of the World. You can tell my certificate is
because it contains an official seal, an eyeless cave seal.
My most thrilling adventure was as a Pilot in Howe Caverns in upstate
New York. We did not use oars then, but poles to get our boat
way. At two knots per hour we switched to propelling the boat by
hand-over-hand pulls on protruding wall rocks. When I placed 15
passengers in the two seats in the stern we began to plane at high
speed. The wake wiped out the dock behind us, and became the
Polish wake to exceed the destruction of an Irish wake. I hope
Kentucky Pilots can learn from this Lore of the Under Sea.
*I ran into serious trouble on this one: I used to have the passengers
row the boat. One day I commanded, “Oars in the water!” Two
dressed as tarts hit me aside the head with their handbags just as the
other passengers hoisted them over the rail.
** Obviously violated by the Lost River Cave crew.
*** This is the origin of white life rings found on surface vessels