Every once in a while there comes our way an item of marine news that is quite enough to shock ye Ed. into thinking that he is hallucinating and that it is high time that the men with the rubber truck came for him. Such a piece of news, completely unexpected, came a few days ago when we learned that Imperial Oil Limited has retired its steam tanker IMPERIAL LONDON and is looking for a buyer for her. IMPERIAL LONDON was built in 1948 as Hull 138 of Collingwood Shipyards Ltd., a canal-sized tanker of fairly traditional design except for her very bluff bow and rather peculiar heavy, rounded stern. She had a sistership christened IMPERIAL COLLINGWOOD (Hull 137) and was followed by a very similar but larger tanker named IMPERIAL SARNIA (Hull 139). In 1961 IMPERIAL LONDON was lengthened 41'6" by Canadian Vickers Ltd., Montreal, and in 1968 she was again lengthened, this time by 30 feet at the Sorel yard of Marine Industries Ltd. This last lengthening was accomplished by the fitting of a raked, bulbous bow and a rather droopy-looking transom stern. IMPERIAL COLLINGWOOD was put through exactly the same operations.
But now the time has come for IMPERIAL LONDON to be laid aside. The company's lake services have been cut back somewhat with the discontinuance of certain marine terminals (such as at Collingwood and Owen Sound) and fewer boats are needed to maintain supplies. The LONDON is said to be the most expensive of the three lake tankers to operate and apparently needs considerable maintenance work. Still, the news of her retirement is a big surprise. Readers will recall that two years ago it was decided by Imperial that SARNIA would be retired but that the decision was reversed at the last moment and she still operates. But perhaps not for long. With the east coast tankers of considerably more recent vintage able to trade into the lakes when needed, rumours have been heard to the effect that SARNIA is not expected to operate more than two years more, and COLLINGWOOD not more than four. Meantime, we will miss seeing IMPERIAL LONDON bustling up and down the Welland Canal and especially will we miss her piercing chime whistle, always her trademark as it was different from those carried by the other Ioco ships and was known as a real "babywaker". We hope that some other fleet may see fit to buy the LONDON as we cannot but feel that she has many more useful years of service left in her.
The big steam dredge MIDLAND which languished for so many years in the Canadian Dredge and Dock Company's boneyard beyond the causeway in Kingston harbour, appeared at Toronto on November 26th. She stayed for only a short time, however, as she was en route to Hamilton where she is now lying. It is to be assumed that she will be broken up there, as have been so many of the company's old dredges, derrick barges, and steam tugs.
Work is progressing at Toronto on the conversion to oil fuel of the Quebec and Ontario Transportation Company Ltd. steamer OUTARDE, (a) ROBERT HOBSON. The OUTARDE was the only Canadian coal-fired steamer to operate on the lakes during 1975 and not only did she have difficulty in obtaining bunkers but we understand that her engineer had a terrible time getting firemen to work on her. OUTARDE's sister, SAMUEL MATHER, is getting the same treatment at Port Colborne this winter prior to entering service next spring for the Soo River Company.
During 1975 there appeared at Canadian post offices a series of four stamps depicting early Canadian steam vessels, all of which had operated on salt water. It has now been announced that in November 1976 a series of four more stamps will be released and that all four will feature Great Lakes vessels. We have heard no word as to which ships will appear on the stamps.
Readers will recall that we have been keeping track of the former St. Lawrence River ferry LAVIOLETTE as she makes her way back into the lakes for use as an excursion boat at Sarnia. We last reported that in late summer she had made it back as far as the Halifax area on her journey from Norfolk. Now we learn that she has come as far as Sorel and is wintering there. Ever since it was announced that Capt. Avery of Mooretown bought the ship, we have been very doubtful that she would ever get as far as the lakes, but as time goes on she seems to be getting closer and closer. Maybe she will eventually make it.
Speaking of Sorel, we understand that the majority of the vessels used in the North Traverse (Ile d'Orleans) dredging project are now resting at that port, looking much the worse for wear. Numerous former lake ships are included in the fleet, such as BULKARIER, HUTCHCLIFFE HALL, CREEK TRANSPORT, OREFAX and NORMAN B. MacPHERSON, and we find it rather hard to understand how such major expenditures could be made on the conversion of these hulls to the forms that they took during the project, bearing in mind that their use was to be of such short duration. We suppose that this is only one of the unanswerable questions mired in the morass of the "Harbourgate" affair.
Yet another U.S. flag lake tanker has reached the end of her rope. This time it is DETROIT, the sole vessel of the fleet of Michigan Tankers Inc. This vessel, measuring 249.5 x 34.2 x 15.2, 1156 Gross, 895 Net, was what one might call a low-profile tanker and in fact she served at one time on the Erie Canal. She was built in 1915 by the Chatham Dock Yard at Chatham, England, as a Royal Fleet Auxiliary steam tanker named (a) SERVITOR. She was renamed (b) PULOE BRANI in 1923 and in 1926 came to the lakes for the McColl Bros. Ltd. Renamed (c) B. B. McCOLL in 1927, she was virtually destroyed by fire at Buffalo in 1928. She was rebuilt as a barge canal motorship in 1930 for Ohio Tankers Corp. and in 1931 became (d) A. J. PATMORE. She was damaged by an explosion in 1932 while unloading gasoline at Toronto and was rebuilt. She later passed to R.T.C. No. Eleven Corp., Lyndhurst, N.J., and went to the east coast, becoming (e) ROTARY in 1939. Requisitioned by the U.S. War Shipping Administration in 1942, she was given back her old name, becoming (f) A. J. PATMORE. She was bought in 1946 by the Reinauer interests on the U.S. east coast and was renamed (g) PEGGY REINAUER. Michigan Tankers brought her back to the lakes in 1953 and she was given her final name (h) DETROIT in 1955. She has since operated mainly on Lake Michigan and has proven very elusive for photographers, although on rare occasions she did stray up through the Soo. DETROIT was sold on August 12, 1975 to Hannah Inland Waterways Inc. and she was taken down the Illinois waterway to Lemont, Illinois, where she was cannibalized for parts for Hannah's other vessels. The hull is still there but we understand that Hannah has no intention of ever again using DETROIT either as a powered unit or as a tank barge.
The Shell salt water tanker NORTHERN SHELL has been retired and in mid-December sailed under her own power from London, England, to Bilbao, Spain, where she was turned over to shipbreakers. A not-infrequent visitor to the lakes, NORTHERN SHELL was built in 1954 at Glasgow by C. Connell and Company Ltd. and was originally named (a) TIBETAN. Although owned by Shell Canada Ltd., the 530-footer was registered at Hamilton, Bermuda. We understand that she was retired because she was simply too expensive to operate in these days of difficult business conditions, but that several prospective operators did look her over before her sale for scrapping.
We are pleased to hear that our good friend and fellow-member Capt. John Leonard has been appointed to the position of Master of the steamer PINEDALE for the 1976 season. He has served on many lake vessels and for many years was skipper of CHARLES DICK.
Speaking of CHARLES DICK, it looks more and more unlikely that the steam sandsucker will ever again be placed back in service. She is at present lying in the scrapyard at Ramey's Bend where she was put in 1975 after the Port Colborne city fathers declared her to be a public eyesore and asked that she be moved from the West Street wharf. We rather imagine that it will not be long before it is announced that she will be sold for scrap.
It appears that WILLIAM A. REISS will not remain in ordinary in 1976 as had originally been planned by her owners, Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton and Company. It will be recalled that during the summer of 1975 there had been plans made for refitting the steamer but that these plans were shelved because of the adverse economic conditions. However, after the loss of EDMUND FITZGERALD she was towed from Toledo to Cleveland where she is undergoing certain repair work prior to re-entering service. The REISS has not operated since the close of the 1974 season at which time Columbia purchased the ship from the Kinsman Marine Transit Company.
Speaking of the FITZGERALD, we have heard nothing further regarding her tragic loss. We do, however, have a correction on one point that appeared in these pages last month. We had mentioned that she cleared Silver Bay, Minnesota, on her final trip. In fact, she had loaded at the Burlington Northern dock at Superior, Wisconsin, and from there headed down Lake Superior to her doom. We doubt that much more will be heard until such time as the enquiry reconvenes in the spring, although Columbia has petitioned the Chippewa County probate court in Sault Ste. Marie to enter an order finding that the deaths of the crewmen of the FITZGERALD were due to drowning in Lake Superior and to so issue death certificates. Such action is required so that settlement of the estates of the various men may be expedited.
Meanwhile, we would remind readers that the version of the circumstances of the sinking which we recounted in last month's issue was purely speculation on our part, based on certain information which had been made public. It was by no means an official account of the accident. As a postscript to the story of the FITZGERALD, we should report that two battered lifeboats from the lost steamer were recently donated by Oglebay Norton and Company to Le Sault de Sainte Marie Historical Sites Inc. for display aboard the museum ship VALLEY CAMP at the Michigan Soo. The grisly remains of the FITZ are intended to honour the men who perished in her sinking as well as other lake crewmen who have lost their lives over the years.
The Lloyds Index for December 1975 shows Canada Steamship Lines' package freighter FORT CHAMBLY as clearing London for Gothenburg, Sweden, on December 12th, an additional notation bearing the comment that the ship was to be renamed CHAMBLY ERA. Hence it appears that the name change had not yet been effected and further that the addition of deck cranes was probably to be done at Gothenburg and not (as had earlier been reported) at Hamburg. Meanwhile certain press reports have indicated that FORT ST. LOUIS and ESKIMO will be joining FORT CHAMBLY in overseas service. We tend to doubt the veracity of these reports in that it was only recently that C.S.L. chartered FORT ST. LOUIS out to Newfoundland Steamships Ltd. for whom she was to operate year-round to Newfoundland.
Lloyds Index also carried a notice that WESTCLIFFE (sic.) cleared Kingston, Jamaica, on November 17 for Mobile, Alabama. Her owner was shown as Cayman Shipping Corp. Ltd., Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We were under the impression that the final 'E' had been removed from her name, but perhaps this is not the case as far as official records are concerned.
In an earlier issue we recorded the departure from the lakes of EMERALD, the former Paterson canaller LACHINEDOC (II) which, after her sale to buyers in the Emirate of Sharjah, loaded soya beans in Toronto for delivery to Belfast. We now learn that after unloading in the Ulster port, she proceeded to London, clearing that port on November 12, 1975 en route to an unidentified mid-Eastern destination. She was reported to have passed Suez on December 2nd. Meanwhile, a report appearing in the Globe and Mail (Toronto) on January 22nd indicates that six Persian Gulf states have reached agreement on the setting up of a $1.8 billion shipping enterprise to be known as the United Arab Shipping Company. The joint venture will include 26 vessels to be contributed by the Kuwait Shipping Company as well as 20 other ships from concerns in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar. We presume that this development will mean that EMERALD will shortly be a unit of the United Arab Shipping Company.
We have received a late report to the effect that the coaster GUARD MAVOLINE was sold to Mexican buyers in the fall of 1974 and has since been registered at Campeche, apparently under the name SUPERIOR. The 154-foot motorvessel (C.192759) which was built in 1941 at Glasgow, was latterly owned by the Rail and Water Terminal of Montreal Ltd., and was operated on the St. Lawrence and the east coast of Canada.
(Readers will recall numerous mentions in these pages of a firm styled Cogema which has been attempting to set up a ferry service across the St. Lawrence River to Matane. The company first sought to acquire the old Lake Michigan carferry GRAND RAPIDS and when they gave up on her they tried to buy FRENCH RIVER but backed out when the cost of converting her to a carferry became obvious. It is now reported that Cogema "will buy" the Canadian Pacific carferry INCAN ST. LAURENT (a close sister to INCAN SUPERIOR) which C.P. is presently operating in the area. The deal is to take effect in January 1977 and the Cogema service is to begin in March of that year, the vessel being renamed (b) ALEXANDRE LEBEL for her new duties. Although there are indications that Canadian National is now involved in ownership of Cogema, we still tend to wonder whether this service will ever "get off the ground".
Several C.S.L. self-unloaders are receiving repairs this winter. MANITOULIN, presently laid up at Humberstone, is having a large crease removed from her starboard waterline during the winter months. J. W. McGIFFIN, however, has much more serious problems. She is at the shipyard at Port Arthur to have repaired certain damage occasioned to her stern when she bumped the lockwall at the Soo. Shipyard workers will also try to remedy a very violent vibration which has recently made operation of the snub-nosed stemwinder extremely difficult.
Another vessel with repair problems is A. S. GLOSSBRENNER which holed herself while trying to dock for the winter at Port McNicoll on January 5th. The vessel struck bottom as she came alongside ALGOSOO just ahead of the elevator and began to take water on the starboard side. V. W. SCULLY, which was alongside the elevator at the time, was rapidly moved back to allow the unloading of GLOSSBRENNER. The grain cargo was apparently removed undamaged but it is reported that problems are being encountered in keeping the ship afloat. Were it not for the heavy ice that chokes the lower end of Georgian Bay at this time of year, we imagine that the ship would already have been towed to a shipyard. Under the circumstances, however, she will have to wait until the spring thaw. Damage appears to be rather extensive.
As of the time of writing, winter navigation continues on the lakes but increasing problems are being encountered with heavy ice. U.S. Steel is keeping ten vessels in operation, hopefully for the duration of the winter. A number of Canadian ships ran through January but the last of them, YANKCANUCK, ALGOWAY and FRONTENAC have now sought winter berths, the ice problems especially in the St. Clair River being too bad to allow further service in that area. Meanwhile, other U.S. carriers, namely the tug-barge PRESQUE ISLE and the Hannah tugs and oil barges, have encountered much difficulty. Serious troubles can be foreseen if the Hannah vessels are unable to continue delivering oil to Detroit Edison power generating plants.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.