This obsession with the Ohio River all began, says BB Riverboats owner Alan Bernstein, in 1970.

“I was driving home from a date and heard on the radio that the Delta Queen was coming in the next day for its annual homecoming. I skipped school Friday, went down and fell in love. Just couldn’t believe it.

“There were hundreds of people, all kinds of hoopla, all that steam, it was like a page out of a modern-day Mark Twain. I started asking around about getting a job on it. After a lot of dead ends, I found the right guy. He told me to be back at 4 to set out for Louisville for the Derby and then onto New Orleans.

“Problem was, I couldn’t find mom or dad — this was long before cell phones — so I had to just leave a note. Told them to call Woodward (High School) and tell them I wouldn’t be at graduation and left. The trip was magical. I was a deckhand, busboy, polished brass and ran drinks from the bar.”

He hasn’t been off the river since. Today, Bernstein pilots all three of the BB fleet — the Belle of Cincinnati, River Queen and Mark Twain — so frequently that he hasn’t had a day off since early summer. And he loves every minute of it.

Bernstein, 57, lives in Covington’s Riverside district with Mary, his wife of 37 years, and works daily with daughter, Terri, and son, Ben, both pilots, making BB a total family business. Even Terri’s 1-year-old daughter, Emma, is there daily, though they don’t put her to work. She’s there for the “cuddle” factor.

Bernstein got into the boating business because his parents, Ben and Shirley, well-known restaurant people and river devotees, already owned the Mike Fink and received daily calls from people asking if they could sail on it.

“Dad thought, if there’s this much interest, maybe we should buy a boat and take people cruising — there was no such thing as a public cruise at that time. That was 1979 and I’ve been at it ever since.”

The Fink, the riverfront’s first “fine dining” restaurant in 1966, is now sitting empty on the Covington waterfront, a victim of the sour economy. After being sent upriver for an overhaul, it came back and had its insides gutted just as the market was circling the drain. Work stopped and hasn’t resumed.

But it will, Bernstein promises. They’re just waiting for the economy to turn around and time to work out a new lease with Covington for its slip space. There’s no timetable in place right now.

Something else he’d like to do when the economy turns around: “Two things, really. I’ve always had aspirations of opening a Delta Queen-like operation and taking people on overnights. It would be a Mark Twain experience. I’m an amateur historian and I love talking about the river and the people who had the guts to jump on a raft and float off to a new home.

“The other thing is to expand BB into the West Virginia area, probably around Charleston, either with a new boat or a refurbished one. I know it’s do-able; it’s just not the right time. But I really love that area around Charleston.”

There’s a reason for that. Growing up, Bernstein’s family owned a houseboat and all vacations were aboard it. “We explored every inch of the river, but especially Charleston. I don’t know why. We all just loved the area.”

Also in the future and despite his hope for expansion: “I plan on stepping back once the economy perks up. I own BB, but Terri and Ben are the CEOs. They handle the nuts and bolts and leave Mary and I as support personnel. We both want to take a backseat to those two.”

If it sounds like Bernstein talks a lot about the economy, well, he does. “I’ve struggled with some difficult questions ever since 9/11. The biggest one is trying to convince myself we’re doing the right thing. There are so many traps out there waiting to spring.

“I often wonder what my dad would do about today’s conditions. He always seemed to have an answer for everything, like we’ll do this and then this and it’ll be fine. I know he’d have solutions now, too. I just don’t know what they are.”