By Frank McCormack
The 85- by 30-foot towboat moored at the Aquarium of the Americas along the Mississippi River in New Orleans June 30 bore plenty of Blessey Marine green from bow to stern, but one thing it lacked was a visible name. A black sheet mysteriously covered the vessel’s nameplate.
The seven-man crew was on hand for the christening ceremony, as were many other members of the immediate and extended Blessey Marine Services family. Ted Verret, president of Verret Shipyard—where the vessel was built—was present, along with Walter Blessey, chairman/chief executive officer of Blessey Marine, and Clark Todd, president/chief operating officer.
As it turns out, the person for whom the vessel was named was also in the crowd, sitting on the front row in fact, watching as Walter Blessey welcomed the crowd to the summertime christening ceremony. At his signal, two members of the ship’s crew removed the sheet to reveal the boat’s name: the mv. Laney Blessey Watkins, named for Blessey’s daughter.
The naming of the new vessel was a “strict” secret that wasn’t always easily kept.
“I will tell you all in the audience, and I’ll say it to Laney, you made conversations with me over the last five months very awkward, because every time you’d say ‘We’re so looking forward to the christening coming up’ and ‘We’re looking forward to seeing your family,’ I’d think, ‘But my family’s not coming,’” Todd said. “Then I’d think to myself, ‘Wait a minute. It’s a surprise. Just go with it.’”
Second Mv. Laney
The mv. Laney Blessey Watkins is the second vessel in Blessey Marine history to bear the name “Laney Blessey.” The first mv. Laney Blessey, also from Verret Shipyard, was finished in 1973, but because of an economic downturn, that vessel sat idle in the shipyard for five years.
“Back in ’73, we finished our fourth boat, which was the Laney Blessey, and the world went to hell,” Walter Blessey said. “There was no work for the boat.…We paid Verret Shipyard for the boat—a million and a quarter, I remember that. Then we kind of left the boat there without a crew. And so it sat from ’73 to ’78, five years.
“For five years, the Verret family took care of this boat and never sent me a bill for a penny. Never,” he said. “That’s pretty amazing, because everyone was going through some tough times between ’73 and ’78. Those were depression years in our industry. That truly was over-the-top and cemented our families’ relationships.”
As it turns out, the original mv. Laney Blessey didn’t sit completely idle during the years. Verret shared a story about one infamous excursion the mv. Laney Blessey made south to Pierre Part, La.
Verret’s father received a call from someone who needed a barge in the Pierre Part area moved north. The one boat available was the idle Laney Blessey.
“So he called his younger brother, my uncle, and myself off the yard and said, ‘Y’all take that boat and head down south to Pierre Part. There’s a barge down there a guy needs to move,’” Verret recalled. “I looked at my uncle and said, ‘Uh, the bayou’s only 60 feet wide and the boat is 30. We’ve got a problem.”
South the duo went through the rural bayou towns down to Pierre Part.
“Everybody’s pointing at us like it’s Noah’s ark. They were all talking in French, so I didn’t understand it,” Verret said.
Verret said they drew the ire of some along the bayou “because we were waking the place up.”
They passed through the Pierre Part bridge, got the barge, turned around and headed back upstream.
“If you know the little town, there’s a Catholic church and a statue of the Virgin Mary sits on an island right past the bridge. So you kind of line up on the island as you go through the bridge,” Verret said. “Well, we had a 35-foot wide barge. We had a 65-foot bridge span. And we had the Virgin Mary.
“My uncle’s not quite paying attention. We come into the bridge span and, Boom!, we get stuck,” he recalled. “So we back up and try it again. This time, a loud explosion goes off. My uncle says, ‘They’re shooting at us.’ We hit the floor and we’re running around [yelling] ‘We’re being shot at!’ Then he looks around and says, ‘But there ain’t no holes.’ And I say, ‘Maybe they’re a bad shot.’”
All of a sudden, a school on one side of the bayou empties and children stand on the shoreline pointing, with men and women on the other side yelling at Verret and his uncle.
“You have an entire parish on either side of the bayou … and in the middle was the Laney Blessey,” Verret said. “My uncle goes, ‘God, if you get me out of this, I will never listen to my older brother again.’”
Verret never explicitly said what happened to the statue, but judging from the laughs throughout his story, the crowd was able to fill in the gaps.
Later in the ceremony, Laney Blessey Watkins addressed the crowd with a few gracious words of thanks.
“I’m speechless. I’m just so surprised. This is such a shock. I just didn’t expect this at all. I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “Thank you so much, Dad and Jane Ann [Blessey]. Thank you so much, all of the Blessey family. The crew, thank you. And Verret, of course.… It’s just such an honor.”
After the Rev. Harry Bugler, pastor of St. Philip Neri Church in Metairie, La., presented relief Capt. Blake Blanchard with the ship’s Bible and spoke a blessing over the vessel, Laney Blessey Watkins stepped aboard and crashed a champagne bottle over the rail.
The mv. Laney Blessey Watkins features twin Cummins KTA38M engines from Cummins Mid-South that combine for 2,000 hp. at 1,800 rpm. The vessel has 74- by 58-inch four-blade stainless propellers from HS Marine Propulsion. Karl Senner Inc. outfitted the boat with Reintjes WAF 564 gears with a 6:1 reduction ratio. Electronics were furnished by Wheelhouse Electronics, with the alarm system furnished by Baton Rouge Marine Electrical Services. Herbert Hiller provided the vessel’s fire suppression system. Custom Hydraulic Components supplied the steering system.
So far, Blanchard said the mv. Laney Blessey Watkins has worked primarily along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, La., and St. Louis, Mo.
“We could go all the way to Chicago, but we haven’t made that run yet,” he said.Laney Blessey Watkins Christening