Jim Bradshaw gets plenty of questions while ferrying visitors who tour the Augusta Canal by boat.
"They always ask, 'How deep is the canal?' Then they ask if it has alligators," he said. "I just tell them '11 feet' and 'Yes.'"
Capt. Bradshaw, a 1970 graduate of Cape Fear Maritime College in Wilmington, N.C., has piloted everything from tourboats to tugboats during his long career - and joined the Augusta Canal Authority last summer as its full-time Petersburg boat captain.
Although he commutes each day from his home on Lake Murray near Lexington, S.C., he still spends more time at home than some of his other jobs allowed.
"This is perfect for us," he said. "My wife got really tired of me being gone all the time."
Capt. Bradshaw, or "Captain Jim," as everyone calls him, is licensed for ocean-going vessels of up to 100 tons.
Although his past stints have included piloting tourboats in Savannah Harbor and pushing barges along the Intracoastal Waterway, the Augusta Canal has its own unique challenges.
For example, just steering a 65-foot-long, 26-ton vessel loaded with 49 passengers can be a precision operation.
"Sometimes people don't understand the skills involved with these boats," he said. "When we go under the pipes at the Pumping Station, the clearance is 6 inches - if we're lucky."
Similarly, passing through the bulkhead gates near Lake Olmstead leaves little room for error. The 13-foot-wide vessel has about a foot of clearance on each side.
This year, about 30,000 people took boat tours on the canal - with even more expected in 2006.
"My favorite visitors are the Red Hat Ladies," Capt. Bradshaw said. "But I enjoy them all."
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.