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Austin is certified to pilot ships between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana.
It’s his responsibility to know every bend of the river, and how its mood shifts, depending on the weather.
Today, the job is a four-mile transit from anchor to berth on the Spar Hydra, a bulk carrier that will be loaded with 53,000 tons of soybeans destined for Bangladesh. It’s three minutes on a highway, less than one-sixth the length of a marathon.
But winds are gusting and the river is low, so even with highly specialized training and years of experience piloting ships like the six-hundred-foot-long, sixty-thousand-ton Spar Hydra, this job will take Austin several hours, and test his expertise.
Instead, the captains hand over control of navigation to Louisiana riverboat pilots, who climb aboard like members of a relay team for maximum eight-hour shifts, until the ship finally reaches the Gulf of Mexico.
Austin works an alternating-week schedule, and when he’s working he is on call 24 hours a day for seven consecutive days.
This leaper project seemed to follow the same structure and scientific principles as Quantum Leap, but was dedicated to the opposite goal of putting wrong what once went right.“As scary as it might sound,” Austin says, “that’s how it’s done.You watch, you practice.” He holds a Master Unlimited License, issued by the U. Coast Guard, permitting him to drive a vessel of any gross tonnage, as well as a First Class Pilot License for the section of river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.He was a college football player at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana. He has a deep love for the river, something he’s proud to share with Mark Twain, perhaps the most famous of all Mississippi River pilots.Austin’s a man of confidence in an industry where a single command could either lead to or divert disaster, so he strives for boring on the river.