The Art of Steering
Every pilot must of necessity be a steersman; but not every steersman is of necessity a pilot. He may be studying to become a pilot, and not yet out of the steersman stage. “Cubs” begin their studies by steering for their chiefs. Many boys become quite expert in handling a boat, under the eyes of their chiefs, before they are sufficiently acquainted with the river to be trusted alone at the wheel for any length of time.
At first thought, one might imagine a number of favorable conditions as prerequisite to the ideal in steering: a straight piece of river, plenty of water, and an average steamboat. These would indeed guarantee leaving a straight wake; but under such conditions a roustabout might accomplish this. The artistic quality is developed in the handling of a boat under the usual conditions—in making the multitudinous crossings, where the jack staff is continually swinging from side to side as the boat is dodging reefs and hunting the best water. In doing this, one man puts his wheel so hard down, and holds it so long, that he finds it necessary to put the wheel to the very opposite to check the swing of the boat and head it back to its proper course, in which evolution he has twice placed his rudder almost squarely across the stern of his boat. If this athletic procedure is persevered in at every change of course, it will materially retard the speed of the steamer and leave a wake full of acute angles, besides giving the steersman an unnecessary amount of work.
The skilled steersman, combining his art with his exact knowledge of the bottom of the river, will give his boat only enough wheel to lay her into her “marks”, closely shaving the points of the reefs and bars, and will “meet her” so gradually and so soon as to check the swing of the jack staff at the exact moment when