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Channel Cat pilot 'couldn't imagine doing anything else'
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Photo: Todd Mizener
Channel Cat Captain Scott Sexton pilots the water taxi in Sylvan Slough behind the i wireless Center in this file photo taken in 2009.

ON THE MISSISSIPPI -- The mystique of the mighty and muddy Mississippi River can be entrancing, and its beauty, moving. Traveling upon it can be a lot of fun, too.

For a few hours one sunny day last summer, I climbed aboard the Quad-Cities' very own river transport vessel known as the Channel Cat to talk with scenery-loving riders.

It was there that I ran into Capt. Scott Sexton, who helps cater to each of those aforementioned emotions daily. He pilots one of two 48-passenger Metro Channel Cat ferry boats that can be found trolling the Mississippi waters during the warm months between stops at the Village of East Davenport, Bettendorf's Isle of Capri, Moline's John Deere Commons and Celebration Belle, and the East Moline Quarter.

For 19 years, Capt. Sexton has lived a life on the water, working as a deck hand, a first mate and, since 1991, a captain, on what he describes as "excursion boats." His resume includes time spent on the Branson Belle riverboat in Branson, Mo., and closer to home on the former President Casino riverboat and LeClaire's Twilight Riverboat.

He calls the Channel Cats a "Quad-Cities institution."

"The best thing about it is that I just couldn't imagine doing anything else, making people happy," Capt. Sexton said. "I've been on excursion boats all of my life. I've never been on tow boats or work boats at all — just the people business."

For some, Capt. Sexton is providing transportation from one bank of the Mississippi to the other. Many riders bring bikes aboard — free of charge — to continue a land journey on the opposite side of the vast waterway. Others simply view it as a $6 tour of the iconic river. Channel Cat passes are good for the entire day, and the boats run at scheduled times.

Dave Lefever of Bettendorf rides the Channel Cat at least once a year.

"Not often enough," he said.

During his annual ride on a sunny afternoon in July, Mr. Lefever was treating his granddaughter to the many Quad-Cities sights that can be seen from unique angles atop the river between. They cruised from Bettendorf and stayed aboard until the Channel Cat II — the sister cruiser to Channel Cat I — finished its loop.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Channel Cats cruise at scheduled times daily, hitting four stops on most days, but adding the East Moline Quarter stop on Wednesdays. In September, the boats run on weekends only.

"Each stop is unique," Mr. Lefever said. "Everything you're interested in the Quad-Cities, it's here. It's fantastic to be able to experience this."

Channel Cat service began in 1995. It was a pontoon boat then, operated by River Action. Metro took over operations in 1998 and replaced the pontoon boat with a pair of aluminum, flat-bottom vessels that measure 47-and-a-half feet long by 14-feet wide. They run on twin, 250-horsepower John Deere diesel engines.

Metro estimates that the Channel Cats give between 200 and 300 rides per day, depending on the weather.

Fay Lachney knows the Mississippi River well, but mostly from the estuary end. Ms. Lachney is a project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans. In town last summer for a conference, she took a trip on the Channel Cat II with friends.

"Coming from New Orleans, this is such a different view of the river," Ms. Lachney said. "My work in New Orleans is in ecosystem restoration — barrier island restoration, which is the area covered in oil. The river will be a tool for us for restoration. … The water can be used to help restore the marshes and the wetlands in the New Orleans area."

Whether helping to repair the environment, or carrying passengers for pleasure, the Mighty Miss can be viewed intimately on board the Channel Cats.

Riding the Channel Cat

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7:40 p.m. Monday-Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 7:50 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 9 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Boarding locations: John Deere Commons Landing and the Ben Butterworth Parkway at Celebration Belle Pier in Moline;  Village of East Davenport Landing; Isle of Capri Landing in Bettendorf and the East Moline Quarter Landing (Wednesdays and Thursdays only). Updated schedules are posted on the buoys at the landings.

Tickets: $6 for adults, $3 for children ages 2-10, free for children younger than 2. Tickets are good for the entire day and can be obtained on board or at Centre Station Gifts in Moline. Bikes are welcome.

For more details: Visit www.qcchannelcat.com or call (309) 788-3360.

Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Oct. 21, the 294th day of 2014. There are 71 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The weather is discouraging for our great Democratic rally tomorrow, but never mind that. Let our Rock Island people show they can make a big procession themselves, rain or shine.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Apparatus arrived for drilling an artesian well on the premises of George Warner's Atlantic Brewery.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The German army continued its attacks on the allies line near the Belgian coast.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The farm home of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Zachert northwest of Buffalo Prairie, burned to the ground.
1964 -- 50 years ago: WVIK-FM, noncommercial educational radio station at Augustana College, will return to the air tomorrow. The station operates at a power of 10 watts at 90.9 megacycles on the frequency modulation band. The station is operated with a staff of 92 students.
1989 -- 25 years ago: An avenue of lights, 13 Christmas trees strung with more than 44,000 sparkling lights, will expand the Festival of Trees beyond the walls of RiverCenter in downtown Davenport in mid-November.

(More History)