Did you ever get one of those brochures in the mail for a European river cruise? Around here it’s a once-a-month matter, and for the world I can’t figure out why us? It does sound like fun, yodeling along the Danube on a long, multi-story boat and downing all the strudel you can handle. Book one of the cool suites and it is a plush way to spend a week. But have you seen the prices? Climb aboard at the western border of Austria and paddle all the way to Budapest in Hungary and you’d have to cut a check for upwards of $14,000. Yikes! Meals are free, and I suppose if you have a taste for beef, you get your own cow. But two grand a day?
You can do a river cruise for less. Considerably less. And I have, but many moons ago. Mine was down a portion of the Delaware River, back in a small town where I grew up in the 1950s. It was me and my old pal, Billy Holland, and it was an instance where we recognized an opportunity and made the most of it. There was this fully inflated truck tube that somehow ended up in the back yard. The tube was large, about the height of a standing 12-year-old boy, and for a while served only as an item for lounging on a warm summer day. But, we noted, it would also float, and more, just might work as a raft if some kind of a platform could be devised.
One was, using a framework to which were nailed a few boards and rounded-up inserts from a table. We found clothes lines that could be used to attach the platform to said tube, and then it was off to a small tributary of the Delaware River that slowly ebbed through the town.
The West Branch, or the “Little Delaware” as it is called locally, is one of two sources that rise inauspiciously in the middle of New York state, gain more prominence as they roll southward and eventually combine to form the major river that passes by Philadelphia and on to Delaware Bay and the Atlantic.
Generally speaking, the Little Delaware begs the description of a bona fide “river,” given that its depth exceeds six or seven feet only in the most obscure places, and for the most part is on the order of four or five feet. Certainly that was the case when Mr. Holland and I decided to supplement the fiction of Mark Twain. Along with hand-made paddles and the “deck,” we rolled the tube down the backyard of a friend on to the edge of the river. Then we tied the deck to the tube and launched our raft into the water, climbed aboard and set off to the middle of the stream. Basically, there was no current to speak of, so progress was made by paddling and prodding our craft along.
We made the local paper – the Delaware-Republican – that week, with references to Tom Sawyer et al. At nearly any point of our short voyage we could have stepped off the raft and pulled it to shore, and in the end, we did. But for the most part we stayed on board, Billy having announced after we set forth that he could not swim. Oh. That one excursion was our last.
Still, reservations were no problem, the travelers in the next cabin were never a nuisance, and we sailed exactly on time. Oh sure, the food wasn’t much, but then neither of us got seasick, and the weather was great. We declined the invitation to go on a tour of the local village.