My name is Brian Clesi, and I'm the captain of the famous Creole Queen Paddlewheeler in New Orleans. Ask me anything about being a captain, interesting situations I've encountered aboard the Creole Queen, favorite memories, or anything else about a captain's life that you're interested in learning about.

A little more about me: I’ve been with New Orleans Paddlewheels, Inc. for 24 years, but started as the captain on the Creole in 2006 right after Katrina. For over a decade, I’ve piloted the ship on the powerful Mississippi. I started working on the cruise ships in 1994 and then was asked to come work here full time. I started on the docks and then worked my way up.


EDIT: Thanks for the all questions, but Captain Clesi had to run. Have a great weekend!

Comments: 150 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

SpiffyDrew50 karma

Have you ever seen a capsized "flipped" boat in the river?

NOLAnews42 karma

Thankfully, I have not been in the immediate area to witness this first hand. A few months ago a tow boat sank in General Anchorage (near Chalmette Battlefield) just before the start of our battlefield cruise. It was a very tragic event. Due to the strong current, the boat got hung up on a ships anchor chain. The captain survived, but two other crew members are still not accounted for. Actually, today, one of my crew sent me a pic of the boat. They have been doing a heavy-lift operation for the past week. I believe it was retrieved yesterday. I can't image the emotion the families must be going through. Hopefully, this will bring some sort of closure to them.

rich154026 karma

I've been to Mississippi quite a few times visiting family and they always tell me the river is always changing sometimes very fast changes. Does it really change that much and if so does that effect you on your paddle boat?

NOLAnews52 karma

The river doesn't change that much in geographic image due to the levee systems along the banks. Some erosion does take place, but is usually filled or replaced with rip-rap (chunks of rock and concrete) to correct or prevent this. The river does rise and fall with the melting snow and ice from up North. This drastically increases the speed of the current which has a direct effect on cruising. The typical current speed on the surface of the water in the New Orleans area at 'low river' is approximately 2 miles per hour. At 'flood stage', 8-17 feet, it can get above 8 miles per hour. This decreases our downriver cruising time and increases our upriver time.

somedaypilot22 karma

Do you and the Mississippi Queen ever drag race?

NOLAnews26 karma

I have not had the pleasure. Maybe the office can set that up!

clearwall20 karma

It's often said that river boat captains "know every bend in the river." with modern technology is this still true and is it still valuable? Explain your answer

NOLAnews33 karma

It's good to know your intended course. We hear on the radio all time, "This is my first trip through this area..." Modern navigation plotters and radars make the trip more manageable. We do have what is called 'pilotage.' A captain takes at least 20 documented trips both Northbound and Southbound and is required to chart with the Coast Guard by memory the route that was taken, buoys, landmarks, etc. Once completed, pilotage is granted for that particular section of the river. There are four different pilot associations for the Mississippi River. The Bar Pilots, Crescent Pilots, and NOBRA Pilots. They take the foreign flagged ships from the mouth of the river up to Baton Rouge, LA. The Federal Pilots cover the entire river for U.S. flagged vessels and ocean going tows.

cp518418 karma

Do you ever have the urge to point to random pairs and shout "You're married!", or do you only use your power for good?

NOLAnews21 karma

Only when I perform the ceremony!

nn200295317 karma

Have you been in any scary situations? Weather or unruly passengers? Edit: also this is a cool AMA topic! Thanks for doing it (:

NOLAnews41 karma

Just like with automobiles, you have to keep your head on a swivel. Vessels travel at slower rates of speed on the river but there are many other factors to keep in mind when on the water. River current, high wind, weather, vessel tonnage, operator error, machinery failure, crew training and response are just a few concerns. I've been out on a cruise with beautiful skies upon departure and complete fog on the return trip. We literally had a hard time seeing the mast pole on the bow. Thank goodness for radars! One of the scariest situations that I've experienced would be coming Southbound (downriver) in the bend at Algiers Point (close to St. Louis Cathedral). Because we were Southbound, we, by the 'Rules', have the right-of-way. I had made arrangements with a Northbound ship to meet on 2-whistles, starboard to starboard. Please keep in mind, these ships can be around 900 feet in length, around three football fields, to put it in perspective. All of a sudden, the ship's pilot started making calls that he had lost propulsion and could not alter his course, which would put is in a close-quarters situation. We immediately took action to alter our speed to be certain to clear his path. Thankfully, the ships crew was able to take care of problem and everyone remained safe. We have had our share of, shall we say, passengers that have over-indulged in the art of New Orleans' drinking. Our crew does a great job in keeping the peace and making sure everyone gets a safe and enjoyable experience.

bluesky74717 karma

Hi Brian! Thanks for doing this AMA! I have two questions. One, I get super motion sickness, but I love cruise ships and boats. Are there any ways I can circumvent being sick? Do you find bigger boats maybe might make the effects of motion sickness not as bad?

Also, I would like to visit New Orleans, but have heard it gets quite crowded! What are the best times to visit and take a ride on your ship?

NOLAnews37 karma

Larger boats, in my opinion, are better for motion sickness. The longer the boat is, the more of the wavelength it covers. The length of the boat would be more likely to reach crest to crest without falling into a trough. The Creole Queen is a very smooth traveling boat, especially on the Mississippi River. The only time we experience some motion is when a crew boat or harbor tug passes by closely at a high rate of speed. We try to minimize 'wake' as much as possible while cruising by maneuvering to boat to cross the wave at an ideal angle. There are some over the counter motion sickness relief such as Dramamine, just make sure its taken some time before you cruise. I've use Sea-Band on deep sea fishing trips and it seemed to work well. I've also been told that 'bitters' work well when experiencing motion sickness. In regards to the best time to visit, there really isn't a bad time. The city itself stays pretty busy. If the crowds are a concern, Mardi Gras is one of the busiest. The CQ normally has three cruises a day (two trips to the Chalmette Battlefield for our narrated historical cruise and one dinner jazz cruise). Some days are busier than others, but it is rarely uncomfortable. We are licensed to carry 865 passengers including crew, so there is almost always room!

bluesky7476 karma

Thank you for taking the time to answer my very lame questions! I will definitely stop over for a ride if I'm ever in the area! I've tried Dramamine without much luck, but I'll look into that sea band thing! :)

NOLAnews6 karma

Hope to see you soon!

invalid_character13 karma

Hi from Lafayette. Go LSU. Anyways, do you pronounce pecan like pah-con or pee-can?

NOLAnews23 karma

I personally say pah-con. Geaux Tigers!

McJumbos11 karma

what is your favorite fun fact to tell people that always shocks everyone?

NOLAnews31 karma

The Westbank is not another state! Just kidding. When we are at our dock at the foot of Poydras St. you will always find a couple arguing about compass direction (the wife is always right). The CQ faces due North when we are secured to the dock, but we initially travel Southbound to the battlefield. The river has so many winds and twists that if you are not familiar with it, it can sometimes be confusing when determining which direction you are heading. Another one everyone seems to enjoy is that the Louisiana Brown Pelican is our state bird even though the white pelican is depicted on the state flag.

hedgehogsinhats10 karma

Ever toot the horn for fun?

NOLAnews24 karma

All the time! We try to warn everyone that it's loud. It makes for a great group photo on the dock! And 3,2,1,Hooooonk!

SecondRyan10 karma

Would you really go down with the ship, or would you say, "Fuck this" and then take off in a lifeboat and talk about how the Creole Queen Paddlewheeler went crazy during your relationship and left you no choice but to leave her despite your promises to stay?

NOLAnews43 karma

On my watch, I'm the last one off! I will do everything in my power to make sure that all are safe and accounted for. It's my responsibility!

almondparfitt8 karma

what does your typical day look like?

NOLAnews28 karma

My typical day starts out about 9:00am. I arrive at the Creole Queen, greet the crew, make rounds and daily inspections to make sure the boat is clean, safe, and ready to greet passengers. After that, I make my way to the wheelhouse to test the navigation equipment and make log entries. We normally run two cruises to the Chalmette Battlefield and one dinner cruise at night. During boarding, we focus attention on passengers and pilot house 'watch' (listening to other traffic in the area and the Vessel Traffic Control on the VHF radios) in case any emergency situation should arise. Upon departure from the dock, we focus on safe passage to our destination and back to our dock. Because the CQ is a tourism based vessel, there is a lot of attention placed on security and safety. It is the captains responsibility to make sure the staff and crew are trained and prepared to handle many different issues that may arise throughout any given day. We have a lot of responsibility and where many different hats!

SnarkofVulcan7 karma

Were you there when the Bright Field slammed into the Riverwalk?

NOLAnews4 karma

I was off that day, headed to a Garth Brooks concert in Mississippi. I did work the following day though.

labrat6117 karma

How many Mark Twain jokes do you get from people in a given week?

NOLAnews13 karma

Not many. We do get a lot of LOVE BOAT and GILLIGAN'S Island references. If I only had a dollar for every time I've been called Capt. Stubing or Skipper on our three hour tour...

ghost16677 karma

How do you feel about the Steamboat Natchez's higher profile?

NOLAnews28 karma

We consider the Natchez to be a friendly competitor! I personally have worked with their crew on a number of occasions through various Coast Guard exercises. They are a great group to work with! This is a tourism based business, they have been around a little longer than New Orleans Paddlewheels and the Creole Queen. I wish them prosperity in the future!

DimeInPieces7 karma

Recently I’ve noticed smaller sail boats on the river. I’m not sure if they’re technically sailing yachts so forgive my terminology. But it’s something I don’t recall seeing in the past. Are there regulations and do these smaller vessels ever get in your way or pose other problems?

NOLAnews19 karma

Smaller boats in the harbor are usually travelling to or from Lake Pontchartrain for recreational activities. They are allowed to travel through the river system, but they are responsible for abiding by the rules. All vessels in the New Orleans area are required to check in with the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) for safety and security reasons. Quite frequently, the vessels cannot be reached by VHF radio and do make it difficult for the commercial traffic in the area. The river has traffic lights at certain locations just like cars do on roads. These lights are generally energized when the river reaches a height of 8 feet and rising and de-energized at 9 feet and falling. Around these locations, such as Algiers Point, vessels must get permission to proceed from VTS when heading Northbound, as the Southbound traffic has the right-of-way.
From time to time, we have Kayakers and paddle-boarders passing through, making there way from the beginning of the river, up North. We try to keep all vessels in the area informed of the sightings when one is spotted. The river has very strong currents and eddys which make it very dangerous for these activities.

Wildcat_boy6 karma

Throughout the week I've noticed many vultures and fish / alligator carcasses on the river bank. Am I just noticing this because the water is low?

NOLAnews10 karma

Most likely. When the river is up, most of it gets washed out with the current. I've seen live alligator and vultures flying around fish carcasses, but nothing more than fish.

1peekay16 karma

The Mississippi River is an old body. What’s the strangest experience you’ve undergone sailing her waters?

NOLAnews24 karma

I guess one of the strangest things that we've seen is a ship that literally did an unintentional 180 degree turn at Algiers Point this past high-river season. Throughout this AMA, I've referred to the strong currents time and time again. I hate to be repetitive, but it is one of the many reasons they call it the Mighty Mississippi!

nate8006 karma

How does your paddlewheeler handle compared to other single or twin screw vessels?

NOLAnews14 karma

We do get to cheat a little with a bow thruster. I consider it more of a point and shoot, point her in the direction you want to go and come ahead on the wheel. We have three large rudders in front of the paddlewheel so she handles really well in reverse. She can turn on a dime like a twin screw if you handle her correctly. You wont find the 'crawl' of a single screw. Great boat to be a part of!

Roxeigh6 karma

Who was your most memorable guest aboard the ship and why? (Please feel free to omit names).

NOLAnews18 karma

John Fogarty was one of the most memorable guests. He chartered the entire boat for him and his fiancé/wife. I don't quite remember if it was a wedding celebration or proposal at the time. It was the first time, that I could recall that someone charted the back then, 1000 passenger boat for only 2 people. We completely cleared all the CQ furnishings to be replace with lounge sofas, draperies, and mood lighting.

jst3w20 karma

No one has pointed pot yet that you were rolling on the river with the man himself?

NOLAnews16 karma

Ike and Tina weren't available

GEAUXUL3 karma

How’s business? It seems like N.O. tourism has exploded over the past 5 years.

And what makes your cruise different from the other riverboat cruises?

NOLAnews12 karma

Business is great and keeps getting better! We love meeting new faces and hosting events! Our day time cruises offer a historical insight to the beginnings of the city of New Orleans. The cruises to the battlefield are professionally narrated. We dock at the Chalmette Battlefield to allow guests to tour the site, meet the park rangers, and experience the Battle of New Orleans. We have delicious food and beverage options available as well! Our dinner cruise is a can't miss with the live jazz band. The Creole Queen has three individual rooms that can be chartered individually, in conjunction with each other, or the entire vessel to fit a party planners needs. Can't miss the sunsets from the top deck this time of year! Also, in my opinion, we have the best and friendliest crew that anyone could ask for!

Chtorrr2 karma

What is the very best dessert?

NOLAnews14 karma

My personal favorite is Paula Deen's Ooey Gooey Butter Cake! I guess New Orleans is most known for our bread Pudding. We serve bread pudding on our menu. It's a passenger and crew favorite! We always have a watchman in the pilot house when we cruise, one in particular always asks if it's okay to head down and grab a bowl to satisfy his sweet tooth.

cheezytoast1 karma

Are you any relation to Andrea Clesi?

NOLAnews4 karma

Possibly! Can't say that I've met her. There are a lot of Clesi's in this area.