Obituary: Eddie Conrad
Edward Gabriel “Eddie” Conrad, 80, who founded Compass Marine, RV River Charters and Riverbarge Excursion Lines, died January 24 in Algiers, La.
Conrad began his career in the marine industry at age 21 in 1960, when he went to work at Valley Line’s Marrero Fleet as a night watchman. In 1963, he formed Compass Marine with a boat built at his Uncle Parker’s shipyard in Morgan City, Conrad Industries. His first contractual job was towing coal barges on the east GIWW to Biloxi, Pensacola and Panama City. By the early 1980s, the company was running 47 boats with more than 400 employees, and included fleets and repair yards in the New Orleans harbor.
Conrad was a storyteller who loved to share the history, stories, and experiences of the inland waterways and how the rivers shaped America. He was also unafraid to innovate.
In 1982, he acquired the hull of the former mv. Delta Cities; he rebuilt the boat at his Compass Dockside repair yard, installing 2,400 hp. Niigata engines and Niigata Z-drives. Named the Miss Nari, after his first wife, it was the first inland towboat with Z-drives, and it worked all over the river system for many years.
Conrad also designed and operated the east canal boats that towed super jumbo coal barges from New Orleans to Port St. Joe, Fla., for Central Gulf Lines/Seminole Power Company. The canal boats had no flanking rudders, as Conrad felt they were unnecessary because of the unique tides and winds that were encountered on the east canal, especially when pushing doubled up empties. The boats’ performance exceeded expectations.
In 1988, he and Capt. Bill Grusich, a retired Crescent Port Pilot, created the Maritime Navigation Safety Association (MNSA) to bring shallow- and deep-draft interests together for the common good of the maritime community. Prior to this, the most frequent interaction between the two groups was to cuss each other out on the radio. MNSA endures to this day and is the body that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard look to when deciding whether to grant a permit for a dock or fleeting area in the river.
In 1990 he formed RV River Charters, which put recreational vehicles on deck barges and towed them throughout the inland river system showcasing the beauty and history of the rivers, towns, and people along the way. One morning the Today show did a piece on the “cruising campground” outside of Chattanooga. RV River Charters operated until 2002.
This led to his ultimate dream, realized in 1998: RiverBarge Excursion Lines. Built at Leevac Shipyard, the R/B River Explorer was made up of the LaSalle barge with 98 staterooms, the DeSoto barge with all of the public space, both pushed by the Miss Nari. Conrad’s attention to detail on the design and features was extraordinary. Although he despised the term, it was a cruise ship on the rivers that in its 11 years of operation gave more than 80,000 people a chance to experience the beauty, history and culture of our nation’s rivers and waterways.
Conrad was the recipient of numerous awards, including the New Orleans Propeller Club Maritime Person of The Year, Greater New Orleans Barge Fleeting Association Maritime Man of The Year, Seamen’s Church Institute River Legend, Maritime Safety Association Millennium Award and the National Rivers Hall of Fame National Achievement Award.
A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. March 29 at Compass Point Events, 200 Opelousas Ave., New Orleans, La. 70114.