FROM THE STOOL

MISS GEORGIE

With the exception of the dot.coms, there really isnít very much new under the old economyís sun. Occasionally, however, you run into a concept so unique that it merits an extra measure of stool time. Such is the mission of the Miss Georgie Ė a very large, multi-barge tow - that cruises the Tennessee and Tombigbee Waterway.

We are a boating family and have been for nearly twenty years. Motorized recreational vehicles are to the highways and byways as motor yachts are to the oceans and waterways. Until recently, when asked to sit on the board of Coachmen Industries, one of the countryís leading producers of RVís, I had frankly given little thought to the infrastructure which provides accommodations and service to the millions of land cruisers among us. Marinas and shipyards - yes. Campgrounds Ė no.

As often happens when purchasing a new car you notice everyone else driving your make and model. Such is the case for RVís as I grapple with the differences among travel trailers, fifth wheels and Class A motorhomes Ė trying to spot Coachmen brands and the competition.

For the last few years in the Fall, we have taken our boat from Lake Michigan to Fort Lauderdale cruising down the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, and Tombigbee Rivers, entering the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, Alabama. In fact, this column is being written on the bridge of the vessel, Moderation, as we are crossing the Gulf from Carrabelle to Clearwater, Florida.

It is hard to explain to our Chicago and Boston friends the magnitude of the barge industry and the lives of the people who make it run. Just last week, exiting southbound from one of the many locks on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the lockmaster advised us that we would be encountering a northbound tow, Miss Georgie, transporting a large number of motor homes. We expected to see RVís stacked up for delivery, but instead encountered our first group of amphibious campers enjoying a ten-day cruise.

The lead barges carried multiple generators supplying power for the 50 large motor homes comprising the bulk of the tow. In addition, Miss Georgie carries a large restaurant, which was full of people enjoying lunch on the river. On top of the restaurant was an open, fenced deck with a bandstand Ė great place for a party!

A towboat captain in Demopolis, Alabama, where we stopped for the evening, explained that Miss Georgie has been sold out since her owners conceived of giving land cruisers an opportunity to float in their own motor homes with their counterparts from around the country.

Iím unable to conceive of a land-based counterpart to Miss Georgie, which would give boaters the same opportunity to visit our deserts and canyons from the deck Ė but who in my generation ever conceived of the Internet.