What do you do for a second act when you spent a lifetime doing what some people only dream about: Leisurely plying the nation’s rivers aboard grand passenger steamboats.
When you’re Don Sanders — the senior captain of the Grand Victoria II docked in Rising Sun — the answer is simple. You stay connected to the water.
The Covington native — now approaching his mid ‘60s — began a lifetime on the America’s rivers as a deck hand, pilot, a watchman and a striker in the engine room, first mate and captain on a variety of steamers.
“I graduated from high school in 1959,” he recalls. “About two weeks later I started my first summer season on the steamer Avalon.”
Actually, at the tender age of 10, he served on his first ship — a 55-foot houseboat. He soon began working at Walt’s Boat Harbor in Covington. Recalls Sanders: “My father wouldn’t let me hang out at the pool hall!” (Little wonder. The elder Mr. Sanders was Covington’s Chief of Detectives at the time.)
After college, more boat work and a four-year stint in the Air Force, he joined the Delta Queen. “I wanted to become the Captain of the Queen. Six months later, I ‘sat’ for my first license, and became the Mate of the Delta Queen, second in command after Captain Wagner.
“Thirteen months later, I tested for and received my Masters’ license, and became the Alternate Master of the Queen, sharing command.”
 A new idea kept Sanders from active participation on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers for 11 years, beginning in 1980. “My bride, Peggy, and I pioneered the recycling of aluminum beverage cans in the Greater Cincinnati area.”
But one day the telephone rang. “I was offered the Senior Captain’s job on the Grand Victoria II. It was back to the pilot house of what Capt. Sanders characterizes as “the finest diesel-electric sternwheeler ever built.” The vessel was actually launched as Queen of New Orleans in 1993. Two years later, the Hilton Flamingo in New Orleans re-titled her the Flamingo. Hyatt Gaming bought her in 1996 for their Rising Sun casino operation.
He has fond memories of the ship and crew to take with him. For instance, he remembers that “we raced and whipped the Mississippi Queen who was running alongside on a full head of steam … on the Ohio River, opposite Rabbit Hash, about 10 years ago.”
Now, as he journeys toward retirement, Capt. Sanders plans to revisit the region’s rivers and river towns often — this time as a tourist.
“We live in a river region, the greatest landmark and physical feature of this part of the country,” he observes. “If it wasn’t for the river, the cities wouldn’t have been built in the Ohio Valley.”