Sternwheelers lined up

Nearly 20 sternwheelers, towboats and houseboats were already lining Marietta’s Ohio River levee Tuesday afternoon-early arrivals for the 2013 Ohio River Sternwheel Festival that kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday.

One of the earliest sternwheelers was the Georgie Peach, piloted by Bill Pope, 62, of Baltic, son of the late longtime pilot and Sternwheel Festival regular George Pope, who passed away in 2011.

“We put in at Rayland, near Steubenville, on Thursday,” Pope said. “It’s a trip of about 100 river miles to get here, but the current was running good and we arrived just after dark Saturday.”

He said some family members were along for the ride on the weekend, but had to return home as they have to work during the week. Pope said they’ll be back later this week, but in the meantime he’s filling the days doing some maintenance on the Georgie Peach and showing Marietta to a buddy who came along.

“My dad loved to come early to the festival. We used to be the first ones here,” he said. “He liked to spend this week before the crowds arrived visiting with people on the other boats-bumming a cup of coffee or playing his guitar.”

George Pope died just a few weeks after attending his last sternwheel festival in 2011, and now Bill is carrying on the tradition.

“When he got sick, one thing he asked me was if I would still bring the boat down every year,” Pope said.

Other early arrivals included Luann, 56, and Dan, 63, Carskadon from Zanesville, who lashed their houseboat to two others at the northern end of the levee.

“We usually come about two weeks ahead, and were originally here early last week, but the river was high and there was too much debris, so we took the boats back to the docks on the Muskingum and returned here Sunday,” Dan said. “We’ve been coming here just about every year since 1990.”

A few more people will join them by the weekend, Luann said.

“We have friends coming from Columbus and Zanesville. All of our kids come down from Columbus,” she said. “We’ll have 40 to 50 people on board for the fireworks Saturday.”

Roger Woodford, 77, of Lowell owns one of the other houseboats linked to the Carskadon vessel.

“We were here a week early, too, but moved because of the debris and came back Sunday,” he said. “I’ve been coming here almost ever year since 2001. One year we missed due to high water.”

Lou Wendell, 75, of St. Albans, W.Va. brought his family to Marietta aboard the Rufus B II sternwheeler Sunday night.

“We’ve been coming for 22 years now, but the boat’s been here a lot longer as the previous owners also came to the Sternwheel Festival,” he said. “We left St. Albans last Friday and traveled to Pt. Pleasant before coming here on Sunday. It’s a trip of about 150 river miles.”

Wendell said the Rufus B II is among eight vessels from the Charleston, W.Va., area that are attending this year’s festival.

“It’s just a fun time,” he said. “We relax, shop, go out to local restaurants, and get together with other sternwheelers during the week.”

The Iva Ruby is a new sternwheeler at the festival this year. Owners Nancy Bird, 57, and Melvin Lawrence, 61, of Portland, bought the boat just last year.

“This is our first time here with the boat, but we’ve come to past festivals with friends,” Bird said. “This week we’re getting up every morning, doing some cleaning and maintenance, then we go out and explore the town.”

Mike Spahr, director general for the 2013 Sternwheel Festival, said more than 20 boats are expected to arrive for the event this week.

“Starting (Tuesday) you’ll see a lot of local people coming down to the river, walking along the levee and looking at the boats,” he said.

Spahr said preparations are moving along smoothly so far, and noted a fraternity from Marietta College will be helping set up the entertainment barge today.