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Belly Up

August 16, 2012
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History, scenery, drinks aboard the Jon Anderson White Riverboat

Jean Kaul enjoys a birthday with friends Janell Bollard, Kathryn Kaul-Goodman, Angela Worley and Olivia Crandall aboard the Jon Anderson White Riverboat during one of its Friday night cocktail cruises. They enjoyed some beers on the bow of the boat, among the scenery of the Des Moines River.

By Amber Williams

The Jon Anderson White Riverboat is the only bar where the seats come equipped with life vests under the cushions. No worries, though. It’s merely a safety precaution.

“We haven’t lost a passenger yet,” quipped Captain Rex LeCocq. Of course, at five miles per hour down a lazy Des Moines River, the life vests are more of a charming decoration than they are a crucial necessity. The only real possible hazards are the boats zipping by, owned by local riverfront residents, who are old hat at sharing the waterway with floating fishermen and Des Moines’ own riverboat cocktail and dining vessel.

LeCocq welcomes guest aboard the J.A. White for cocktail hour or dinner every weekend. LeCocq’s confident voice over the dash panel PA, his handsome Captain’s garb and an impressive knowledge of the Des Moines River watershed history and culture enhance the experience enough that you almost forgot you paid $7 for a glass of wine ($8 for a cocktail and $5 for a beer).

Did you know there used to be an ice box along Pennsylvania Avenue, where cargo boats would dock for shipments? Or that the J.A. White boat once got lodged on the Center Street dam in 1995? Captain LeCocq will tell you all about it. Like most ship captains, he’s got stories.

“I grew up on this river,” he said. “I was born and raised here. I used to swim and boat in this river.” But LeCocq isn’t the only one with stories. Like any good place to belly up, the guests come with eclectic experiences of their own.

“There’s something about the river. People like to tell tales,” said Gary Nell, cruise director. “On the riverboat, we get to interact with our guests, and we enjoy meeting our guests and hearing their stories.”

During the cocktail cruises — which take place on Fridays at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. — guests have about an hour-and-a-half (four miles total) to mingle, graze homemade hors d’oeuvres and sip beer, wine or cocktails while listening to “Paul the Picker” (of Mr. Baber’s Neighbors) on the banjo. LaCocq offers a history lesson as the boat travels to the Second Avenue Bridge and back — plenty of time for a diverse group to get to know each other and take in Des Moines in a truly unique way.

“This is a view of Des Moines I am not accustomed to — a view I’ve never seen before,” said Linda Dunham, of Des Moines. She drew a deep breath from a passing breeze at the bow of the boat, and added, “It’s absolutely lovely.”

Through little, square windows at their tables, or from the bow outside, guests can see fellow boaters quietly casting, patient bald eagles perched in trees, geese on the levy and otters and beavers rippling through the still waters, all in search of the same thing — the perfect catch.

But, aside from your fellow river dwellers, a special treat meets your eyes as the boat heads home, because you haven’t seen the sunset over the Des Moines skyline unless you’ve seen it from the Jon Anderson White Riverboat. CV


Jon Anderson White Riverboat

909 Robert D. Ray Drive

(515) 883-BOAT (2628)

Check out the website for a schedule, upcoming events, menus, prices and more.

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