Bus Driver: An Interlude in
The Life of Captain Eddy Provost

January 4, 2007
"When Hurricane Bill roars over a sailboat and the boat capsizes, a pregnant woman and a few hostile survivors are set adrift, and they must somehow work together until they are rescued..."

Captains Bill and Eddy Captain Bill and Captain Eddy had quite a laugh when I asked to take their photograph.

"Why don'tcha just borrow the one in the Post Office?" suggested Bill.

Then Eddy upped the ante with "Nah, that photo was taken before Bill's plastic surgery."

I had to ask: "Elective surgery or for fugitive apprehension avoidance purposes?" and Eddy clarified, "Elective, but the liposuction sure didn't work..."

These guys joked with each other, and with friendly strangers, like a pair of goofy schoolboys. In reality they are also licensed ship captains, currently piloting the 36-ton vessel Emerald Express.

We met the Emerald Express in Boca Grande Bayou, where our trawler Sea Gator was anchored for nearly two weeks. Emerald Express Throughout that period, seemingly every hour or two around the clock, Emerald Express roared through the Bayou, her twin diesel engines generating wake and a lot of noise. She passed the row of anchored boats, pivoted, aligned her stern with the end of the County dock and tied up briefly to ingest or eject passengers. Outward bound, she made a gratifyingly tight turn, and reversed course southward to return to the job site in the Gulf.

Both captains are skilled ship handlers, and they are as courteous as it is possible to be with a team of 12V71N (12-cylinder, 750 horsepower) engines lunging at the bit. Owners of anchored pleasure craft expressed gratitude that these captains had not taken us all out like a row of dominos. Guffaws and "Don't be so sure" and "The night is young!" met this offering.

Beach Refurbishment Project

The captains are currently freelancing for Emerald Express's owner; the vessel itself is under contract to Weeks Marine Inc., which is in turn fulfilling its contract on a dredging project in the Gulf of Mexico.

Cats on the beach The project, let by the Corps of Engineers, consists of dredging drifted sand out of Boca Grande Pass and piping it directly to the sand-starved beaches at the south end of Gasparilla Island.

All sources agree that the project will have to be repeated in seven years or so, as the beach continues to erode toward people's yards. Homeowners in the area are bearing a substantial portion of the project cost.

The dredge out in the Gulf is easy to see from shore. A trip to the site revealed an enormous stockpile of steel pipe and fittings; several dozers and graders at work (above); and lots of personnel in hardhats and flip-flops. Standing near a bend in the pipe one could hear a continuous, soft grinding sound, as sandy water poured through the pipe. You can't tell from the photo, above, but the dunes are protected from the staging and work areas by fencing and (as seen in the photo below) concrete blocks.

Sand sprayThe photo (left) shows the outfall. It's a loud gushing torrent of sand and water; the water runs back to the Gulf, the sand is contained behind silt barriers.

Project specs include removing, relocating and shaping approximately 180,000 cubic yards of sand; the contract was awarded for $12 per cubic yard. The project duration is 90 days, and it's a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation (including holidays, as I discovered when I spoke with Eddy on Christmas Eve).

The Emerald Express transports crew and equipment between the dredge in the open Gulf and the sheltered dock at Boca Grande.

Captain Eddy Provost

Eddy and Bill alternate 12-hour shifts, changing shifts (and exchanging jibes) on the dock at 3:00 a.m. and again at 3:00 p.m. I met them there one afternoon. Captain Bill went home to a well-earned rest, and Captain Eddy spared me a few minutes.

He invited me in to the passenger area of the ship (right) and I asked him about the work he does.

"This particular job is like driving a bus," he explained. "It can be tedious." I had seen the ship come all the way in to the Bayou just to deliver one person, I told him, and he nodded. They go where they are needed.

Well, the Emerald Express is one big "bus". Capt. Eddy recited her specs: twin 750 horsepower engines, 56' long and 20' wide, a draft of 4.5' and carrying capacity of 49 passengers. She burns 40 gallons of diesel per hour at working speed. Her owner has fitted her with an array of useful instruments, including radar, Loran, GPS, Nobeltec and Maptac chart plotters (see the photo of the helm station, below). Capt. Eddy estimates that they have more than twice as many tools aboard as they'd ever need, but we agreed that it wouldn't do to pitch anything overboard - that one item would surely be the perfect tool for the very next job to arise.

Emerald Express was also used as the survey boat to map the ocean floor during planning phases of the current project. "We went at 5 to 6 knots, on a straight line. We couldn't be off by more than eight or ten feet. Now think of it; this boat is 20' wide. So you couldn't drift off track by more than half her own width." It sounded trying, especially considering the current at the mouth of Charlotte Harbour.

Helm station And thinking of fatigue led me to remark that there did not appear to be required resting periods between shifts for ships' captains as there are for airline pilots. Capt. Eddy grinned, "Nope. We're not going to come crashing into the ground."

But there remains the potential for problems, I argued. I was thinking of Exxon's Valdez, although it seemed impolite to bring that up. As long as the captain is sober...

Capt. Eddy reassured me. "The company has frequent, random drug tests," he said. He said he frequently gets "randomly" tested, but has never tested positive for "random drugs"...

"In fact, I've never even tried random drugs. Nobody's even offered. Where are the random drugs anyway?"

Um, OK, I said, let's forget the random drugs, and the fatiguing potential of this sort of work. What is Capt. Eddy's favorite part of the job? He pauses for a long moment.

dolphins "Dolphins. I love to watch them, and seven to nine knots in Emerald Express creates the perfect dolphin wake." He and I discussed the obvious intelligence of dolphins and the powerful experience of making eye contact with them, of communicating non-verbally with a sentient though alien intelligence.

Capt. Eddy went on to explain the theory that dolphins once came out on land but then returned to the sea; witness their lungs, their articulated "finger bones". He made a convincing argument, and so I bit back many smart aleck reasons the dolphin species may have opted against remaining ashore (mall music leapt at once to mind).

What other jobs has he held?

"Well, I captained a hovercraft out of St. Petersburg for awhile..." Cool!

"I was a television news producer, but I didn't like it that we always showed people at their worst", so he veered into producing medical news...

"Then I was a railroad conductor on the Conrail Amtrak up north..."

Any interest in returning to New England? No, he said, the day his snow shovel broke in his hands was the day he and his wife decided it was time to leave. They have no interest in returning to the land of "nine months of winter and three months of bad sledding."

Now? "I do a lot of boat deliveries." Boat deliveries reminded me of a remark he made early in our conversation, when I offered to protect his anonymity in this article.

"It's too late for that," he had replied. "I'm already on the web. In fact, they made a movie about my experience..."

The Desperate Journey

I googled it.

Shipwreck "Desperate Journey: The Allison Wilcox Story
When Hurricane Bill roars over a sailboat and the boat capsizes, a pregnant woman and a few hostile survivors are set adrift, and they must somehow work together until they are rescued."

Holy cow! But, but wait - I found Eddy easygoing and quick to make a joke, so the blurb for this 1993 movie is difficult to believe. "Hostile?" And it makes it sound as though the five-months pregnant woman was virtually alone on the boat.

John Schneider Eddy laughed, "It had all the drama. A cold, wet, pregnant woman. Hostilities. Good for a Monday night Movie of the Week." Now that I am firmly in Eddy's boat, so to speak, I must also note that John Schneider, who plays "Eddie" in the movie, is blond, and clearly Eddy is dark.

So, what is the reality behind the Movie of the drama of the Week?

"We were delivering a sailboat, and not a great boat at that; it was a floating Clorox bottle. Then Hurricane Bill hit. The boat sank within 30 minutes of taking on water; we abandoned ship in 100 knot winds and 75' seas."

Liferaft The three were adrift in a life raft for ten days without food or water. When finally rescued they were all on the verge of kidney failure from dehydration and Capt. Eddy reported that his core temperature was down to 84 degrees. It was definitely a close call. Was Capt. Eddy afraid for his life?

"Nah, I knew we'd make it..."

How did he know?

"My credit cards were all maxed out. I knew there was NO WAY Mastercard would let me die. They HAD to bring me back!"

We laughed, and Eddy riffed on the credit card companies for awhile: "We WILL find you! Resistance is futile!"

Back to the drama. I asked the next obvious questions: Was this a life altering experience, and if so, in what way?

Capt. Eddy paused for a long breath, debating with himself whether or not to offer this information. Finally he said, "It was like in the movie 'Joe Versus the Volcano'."

And I knew instantly what he meant:

Joe Versus the Volcano 'Joe Versus the Volcano' is a 1990s fantasy-comedy. The overall tone of the movie is beautifully described in a review by Roger Ebert: "At night, in those corners of our minds we deny by day, magical things can happen in the moon shadows. And if they can't (a) they should, and (b) we should always, in any event, act as if they can."

trunk In one of my favorite scenes, Tom Hanks' "Joe" has survived the sinking of a yacht. He cobbles together a raft of designer luggage and he and his unconscious companion drift aimlessly, endlessly. Finally one night, delirious and amazed, Joe watches the spinning net of billions and billions of stars whorling above him. It's a magical moment that changes the potential pathos of his impending death to a moment of joy and wonder at life.

"We didn't have any Louis Vuitton luggage," Eddy said, "but other than that it was pretty much the same. I woke once in the middle of the night, and there were hundreds and hundreds of blow-spouts all around us. We were in the middle of an enormous pod of dolphin."

Whale At another time, he said, he reached out and placed his palm on the brow of a whale, touching the creature with the flat of his hand and looking in its eyes.

He came home a changed man. Mastercard wouldn't have recognized him anyway.

The Cowboy

Clearly this experience has not dissuaded him from a life on the sea. No, he said, like other ships captains he knows, "We'll work for anybody for no money" for the love of the life.

Hey! I told him, you are a cowboy! A cowboy chooses his hard life for the love of it, and by necessity is an inventor and an independent cuss. Eddy is a cowboy on the sea instead of on the range.

(I should mention that Eddy was not impressed with that comparison; I guess he doesn't know any cowboys)

FiltaFry truck Since our conversation had rambled so far, I asked Capt. Eddy, what is his next adventure?

He said, "I've already bought another business, filtering cooking oil at restaurants. We clean their machines, and when the oil can't be cleaned I use it for fuel to run my truck." (See the truck parked near the dock at Boca Grande Bayou, right.)

It turns out Capt. Eddy has long been intrigued by the possibilities of bio-diesel in all its forms. He states that it produces "90% fewer pollutants, and better mileage." A brief history of Dr. Rudolph Diesel's work followed: the Doctor was a socially-minded scientist; he saw that mechanization was eating up agrarian society, so he invented the diesel engine to run on vegetable oils and give the farmers a fighting chance. Since fossil fuels were so affordable in the past, the vegetable oil angle languished until now.

Fry Any drawbacks to the system?

"The truck smells like French fries, so I'm hungry all the time." I'll bet.

Also, "You have to heat the oil before trying to start it, so I still use a small tank of regular diesel to heat the main tank in advance." Last month, he claimed, he ran 3,200 miles on 26 gallons of diesel; the rest of the fuel was recycled oil.

For more information about the cooking oil filtration biz and franchise opportunities, check

Additional Ventures

His other enterprise is the Red Dog Trading Company, where he and his wife, Mary Jackson, sell affordable dog-training equipment they've created, and do-it-yourself instruction guides.

The eBay blurb states:

Red Dog Agility Trading Co. offers a series of Build-It-Yourself Dog Agility Equipment Guides written in plain English to aid you in building popular AKC regulation size agility equipment. We also offer a complete line of Nutrition Dog Food & Treats.

Mary manages the Red Dog Trading Company while attending USF in preparation for her next incarnation as a Restoration Ecologist. Neither one of the couple seem content to rest on their laurels.

Does either Capt. Eddy or Mary have any words of wisdom for fellow entrepreneurs?

"Just remember that Opportunity should be spelled o-p-E-T-E-R-N-I-T-Y, because that's how long it takes an idea to get off the ground!"

Thanks for sharing your stories, Captain Eddy.

Smooth sailing!

Back to top

Ship's Manifest