The 1972 navigation season got off to a slow start as a result of heavy ice conditions in the St. Lawrence canals as well as in lower Lake Huron, the St. Mary's River, Whitefish Bay, Georgian Bay and Thunder Bay. Strangely enough, Lake Erie for once did not pose any great problem this year since the ice formation was lighter than usual and easterly winds kept it from plugging the Port Colborne area. No salt water icebreakers were kept in the lakes over the winter months by the Canadian Coast Guard, but the NORMAN McLEOD ROGERS was brought up in early April to help break out the Lakehead and the Bayports. The ice did cause much trouble for the U.S. Coast Guard in that several of its vessels, including the tugs NAUGATUCK and ARUNDEL were damaged while working the St. Mary's and the Straits of Mackinac.
The Welland Canal was officially opened for traffic on March 29 but the first through transit was not recorded until TADOUSSAC passed down on April 3rd bound for Hamilton with coal. TADOUSSAC also made the first upbound transit on April 5th while on her return trip. The St. Lawrence Seaway opened on April 14, much later than was planned, when the Danish ship OLAU SYD passed up through the St. Lambert Lock. The first downbound passage was made by ALGOCEN. The Soo Locks saw their first commercial transit on April 5th when the craneship YANKCANUCK passed through the Poe Lock en route to the Algoma Steel dock. The first ship to make it out of Buffalo, a perennial spring trouble spot, was PONTIAC which sailed on April 9th. Duluth saw its first arrival of the year on the 12th when WILLIAM CLAY FORD arrived to load. Toronto Harbour opened on April 7th with the arrival of IMPERIAL LONDON from Sarnia, and the first salt water ship of the year, the Russian motorship IVAN MOSKVIN, docked at the Cousins Terminal on April 18th. The Straits of Mackinac were opened on March 28th by Huron Cement's perennial port-openers S. T. CRAPO and J. A. W. IGLEHART.
While most lake carriers spent the winter in the shelter of lake ports, three units of the Paterson fleet were running on salt water. HAMILDOC, LABRADOC and PRINDOC were operated in the newsprint trade from Baie Comeau, Trois Rivieres and Dalhousie, N.B., to Jamaica, Miami and Puerto Rico.
Port Weller Drydocks Ltd. has let it be known that the two vessels it is building for the Burnett Steamship Co. Ltd., will be named LAURENTIAN FOREST and AVON FOREST. Work on the second ship is to begin as soon as the first hull has been moved from the graving dock.
Nothing more has been heard from Marine Transit Inc. as to whether that firm will be commencing operations this year. It appears that some difficulty has been encountered in obtaining suitable tonnage since other fleets seem reluctant to dispose of their surplus vessels to the new concern! The company had boasted of having received several contracts for this year and presumably something will have to break soon if they are to get things going in 1972.
It has been announced that Cleveland Tankers has offered its whaleback tanker METEOR to the city of Superior, Wisconsin, for use as a museum. Several cities have been anxious to obtain the METEOR but Superior would seem the most appropriate choice since it was the site of the shipyard where the whalebacks were built. The city is currently studying the cost of acquiring the ship and maintaining her. We sincerely hope that this bid at preservation will be more successful than efforts a few years ago to save JOHN ERICSSON and keep her as a museum in a park near Hamilton.
While prospects remain good for a successful year for Canadian vessel operators, primarily due to heavy grain movements, things still look rather bleak on the other side of the border. Most American steel plants have large stockpiles and do not anticipate heavy shipments. One bright point on this gloomy picture is the announcement by the Kinsman Marine Transit Co. that the little steamer JOE S. MORROW will operate this year. This pleasant surprise comes about as a result of the demands of one particular grain company which has insisted that the MORROW, the smallest American upper lake bulk carrier, must be used if Kinsman wishes to haul grain to its elevator.
It seems that there has been a further cutback in operations planned by Wilson Transit for 1972. Originally it had been said that Wilson would run THOMAS WILSON, J. BURTON AYERS, J.H. HILLMAN JR., A.T. LAWSON and BEN MOREELL, but now the HILLMAN and AYERS have been deleted from the list. We hear that these two are badly in need of repairs, particularly to tank tops. The LAWSON will not fit out until her crew has brought to Buffalo the steamer FRANK R. DENTON which wintered at the American Lakehead with storage grain. The DENTON will then be laid up.
During March, the Escanaba Towing Company's craneship O.S. McFARLAND which was being used as an unloading facility for the bulk barge A.E. NETTLETON, was observed lying at Zug Island in Detroit. We now learn that she was moved to the Penn-Dixie Cement dock and has settled in the mud while vandals have looted her cabins. Presumably she will soon have to move or else MEDUSA CHALLENGER will not be able to reach the cement dock to unload. Meanwhile, Escanaba was rumoured to be interested in the surplus Boland & Cornelius self-unloader PETER REISS for the Toledo to Detroit coal shuttle, but we find this very hard to believe in view of Escanaba's very poor financial position.
UNITED STATES GYPSUM is one of the veteran BoCo self-unloaders that had been rumoured for sale. Readers will recall that we mentioned in our last issue that she would, in fact, operate in 1972. We have now learned that, due to her condition, her certificate has been restricted to allow her to operate only within the area bounded by Toledo and Port Huron. If this is the case, we do not foresee a particularly long future for the steamer.
The Bethlehem Steel Corp., apparently aware of the advertising possibilities for the maiden voyage of STEWART J. CORT, recently made a well-publicized announcement of the trip for the benefit of fans and photographers. The ship was to leave Erie on April 24th so that she would pass both Detroit and Port Huron in daylight the next day. She was also scheduled to have daylight for the passage up the Soo Locks on April 26th. Unfortunately for those who had made plans to witness the trip of the giant, the voyage was postponed because of heavy ice in lower Lake Huron and the Soo area. Presumably the company did not want its new vessel to get herself all banged up in the ice on the maiden voyage when everyone would be looking at her.
A jurisdictional dispute amongst lake pilots has threatened to disrupt the early shipping season. American pilots have demanded to be paid for taking ships bound from Port Colborne uplake to American ports but the demands have been refused by the Canadian pilots who now have the right to take these ships wherever they may be bound in the lakes.
We had noted above the difficulties of the Escanaba Towing Co. We have now learned that one more problem has cropped up. The Great Lakes Towing Co. has placed a "Do Not Tow" order against Escanaba's barges in view of the company's tardiness in settling accounts. This would mean that Escanaba would have to use other than G-Tugs if extra tugs were needed at any port and it could cause a few nasty problems.
The veteran upper lake bulk carriers JOHN P. REISS and OTTO M. REISS are expected to arrive in Hamilton shortly, en route to their appointment with the scrappers. Kinsman Marine Transit Co., which purchased the ships from the American Steamship Co., has applied for permission from the U.S. Maritime Administration to sell the ships to United Steel. It appears that the bowthruster from JOHN P. REISS (she was one of the oldest lake ships ever to be fitted with one) will be placed in the OREFAX which is currently being converted at Whitby to a sludge barge for use in the St. Lawrence dredging project.
The first grounding of the season occurred on April 19 when the French salty VILLE DE MEXICO, upbound for Cleveland, grounded in the Massena area. Damage appeared minimal and the channel was not blocked.
WHEAT KING, undergoing repairs at Port Weller after a fire in her after end during the winter months, headed out into Lake Ontario for her trials on October 21st. Unfortunately, she suffered a major engine breakdown and her troubles compounded by a steering gear failure, so she had to be brought back in to the shipyard for additional work. The vessel was disabled on the lake for a number of hours.
There has been no further word on the possible purchase of the salt water vessel GOSFORTH by the Quebec & Ontario Transportation Co. Ltd., but it has come to light that the ship was chartered by the firm last winter for the newsprint trade between Baie Comeau, Quebec, and New York City,
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.