The 1976 navigation season is now well underway. Very few problems of any serious nature were caused by ice accumulation and as a result not only were many lake ports able to open for navigation quite early in the spring, but for the second consecutive year the United States Steel Corporation's Great Lakes Fleet was able to continue operations right through the winter.
We would be remiss if in these pages we did not mention some of the more notable "openings" for 1976. The Welland Canal saw its first complete passage on April 1st when CANADIAN LEADER locked down with coal for Hamilton. The first vessel movement on the canal came on March 28th when CANADIAN LEADER and SEAWAY QUEEN headed out into Lake Erie from their berths above Lock 8. Toronto Harbour had its first arrival of the season in the early morning hours of April 4 when SHELTER BAY arrived with beans from Toledo. The first salty to enter Toronto was ALKA which sailed in on April 5. This ship was also the first salty of the 1975 season. Duluth - Superior saw its first arrival on April 7 as INCAN SUPERIOR came in from Thunder Bay. The American Lakehead saw its first lake bulk carrier of the season on April 8 when EDWARD L. RYERSON sailed in through the Superior Entry to load taconite at the Burlington Northern dock at Allouez. The Duluth Ship Canal saw its first salty of 1976 the following day when the Yugoslavian OPATIJA arrived to load grain at Duluth. On April 8 OPATIJA was the first ocean-going ship to pass up through the Soo Canal. The Lake Superior port of Marquette opened on March 31 with the loading of a cargo of ore into FRONTENAC (the Canadian one) for delivery to the Soo plant of Algoma Steel. Cleveland opened on March 27th with the arrival of SATURN, while LEON FRASER was the first arrival of the season at Lorain on March 29. PHILIP R. CLARKE opened Conneaut on March 24th and ALGORAIL opened Sandusky on March 30.
Two other vessels not scheduled to start the 1976 season are Branch Lines' tanker WILLOWBRANCH, currently laid up at Sorel, and the Canada Cement Lafarge electric-motorship CEMENTKARRIER. The retirement of the latter is not entirely unexpected but we hope that her present idleness may be only temporary.
With the word that WILLOWBRANCH will not be placed in service this season by Branch Lines Ltd., we are reminded that ELMBRANCH is the last of the wartime-built tankers still remaining in the Branch Lines fleet. She spent the winter at Sarnia and made a few trips on the upper lakes this spring, but has now retreated to the St. Lawrence where, we understand, she will operate until July when she is due for survey. It appears that Branch Lines will not go to the expense of drydocking the ship and that she will be retired at that time. ELMBRANCH was built in 1944 at Collingwood for the government-owned Park Steamship Company as (a) NORWOOD PARK and until the cessation of hostilities she operated under charter to Imperial Oil Ltd. In 1945 she was bought by Branch Lines and was given her present name. The twin-screw motorship was originally built as a canaller but in 1960 was lengthened at Sorel to 321 feet. At one time there were three other similar vessels in the Branch Lines fleet, but POPLARBRANCH, FIRBRANCH and SPRUCEBRANCH all predeceased ELMBRANCH.
An upper laker that may have had the biscuit is Hanna's bulk carrier NATIONAL TRADER, (a) H. H. PORTER (25), (b) YOUNGSTOWN (57), (c) WALTER E. WATSON (74), a steamer that dates back to 1920. Owned for many years by the Pickands Mather organization, she was sold late in 1973 to the National Steel Corporation, the intention being to convert her to a craneship for operation by the Hanna Mining Company, Agents. She has never operated for Hanna and has lain idle at South Chicago since 1974. We understand that on April 14 she was sold to Western Metals of Thunder Bay, ostensibly for scrapping. But we keep hearing rumours that a Canadian vessel operator is interested in obtaining the ship for their fleet. It should be known fairly soon whether NATIONAL TRADER is destined for the cutting torch or for further service.
Detroit ship fans and firemen alike are up in arms over the recent retirement of the city's steam firetug JOHN KENDALL. The City of Detroit is in desperate financial straits and to cut expenses the Fire Department on April 5th laid off 241 firemen, demoted 200 others and eliminated three engine companies and two ladder companies. The KENDALL was considered expendable and was placed in mothballs, despite efforts by local businessmen to keep her running and legal action by her crew who wished not to be laid off. There was no suggestion that the layup was to be unalterably permanent (original plans called for her to be idled for only fifteen days) but bearing in mind the fact that JOHN KENDALL dates back to 1929 and that Detroit expects soon to purchase a new, more mobile, and less expensive to operate fireboat, we would not be surprised if the KENDALL never turns a wheel again. JOHN KENDALL is a 128-footer powered by a compound engine and is notable not only for her two tall funnels mounted in tandem, but also for the whistle she blows, a beautiful triple chime inherited from E. G. MATHIOTT via JESSE JAMES.
Port Colborne harbour has a new pilot boat this year. In place of the old launch, which was anything but suitable for work in rough seas beyond the pierheads, is the new VALHALLA 9, a 47-foot former yacht originally built at Selkirk on Lake Winnipeg and rebuilt last winter at Hamilton. Nine lake captains have joined forces to purchase and operate the vessel. VALHALLA 9 is a very substantial craft and should be able to withstand whatever Lake Erie throws at her.
A bit of a surprise this year is the return to the lakes of CAPE BRETON MINER which made her first trip in many moons up the canal on April 10th. Now owned by Leitch Transport Ltd., an Upper Lakes Shipping subsidiary, the boat carries the Leitch name on her boom nameboards and her funnels are a plain red and black with no white diamond. She was brought back to the lakes to substitute for CANADIAN CENTURY which will be idle until at least the end of May if not longer due to major surgery on her unloading gear. Late last fall the CENTURY's cargo elevator managed to disgorge most of its buckets over the side and presently her elevating machinery is spread all over Port Colborne's west pier, while the ship herself is now at the Law Stone dock in Humberstone, for the installation of new equipment of the loop-belt type. Readers will recall that earlier this year CAPE BRETON MINER lost her first mate and a deckhand when the two were buried beneath a shifting cargo of gypsum while the ship was unloading at the Alpha Cement Company plant on the Hudson River at Cementon, New York.
While on the subject of Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd., we should report that work is proceeding well at Port Weller Dry Docks on the yard's Hull 60, a self-unloading stemwinder which will look much like CANADIAN PROGRESS. It is expected that she will be completed in time for an October delivery. It appears that she will be christened CANADIAN OLYMPIC in honour of the hosting of the 1976 summer Olympics by the City of Montreal. We gather that the company may have had other names in the wings just in case the on-again-off-again Olympics did not come off as planned.
The U.S. Coast Guard tug RARITAN was a casualty of early spring navigation. On April 7th she was testing a new hull coating designed to reduce friction in ice and somehow she managed to hole herself while just below Ten Mile Point in Lake Nicolet on the St. Mary's River. She began to take on water very rapidly but the sister tugs KAW and ARUNDEL, assisted by the icebreaker MACKINAW, were able to get the tug safely back to her dock at the Soo base. As yet we have seen no explanation of how the accident occurred but a formal enquiry was held after the return of RARITAN to base.
It is expected that the exploration of the wreck of EDMUND FITZGERALD will begin during May. The work will be done by an unmanned underwater recovery unit to be flown to the lakes from a naval base at San Diego, California. The expedition will also involve the Duluth-based buoy tender WOODRUSH.
It is entirely possible that we may see a regular passenger service across Lake Ontario between Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake this summer, but don't hold your breath waiting. An outfit calling itself Sherwood Marine Inc. of Toronto, claims to be intending to operate such a service with a $700,000 92-foot aluminum-hulled excursion boat currently under construction at Cornwall by Marlin Yachts, Summertown, Ontario. The three-decked ship is to be given the unimaginative name CAYUGA II, but any resemblance between this boat and the proud steamer which formerly bore the name CAYUGA is of the type that could only be seen by an observer who had tarried too long in the local tavern. An announcement by Sherwood Marine indicates that it is intending to operate three round trips per day across the lake commencing June 15th, the fare being $19.00 return. In addition, it is planned to run a four-hour moonlight each night at a cost of $16.00.
Now far be it from us to throw cold water on a new passenger service of any kind, but we just cannot see how a successful service could be run by a boat of this size. CAYUGA II is allegedly to be licensed to carry 400 passengers but we have seen photos of the ship under construction and if they are to get 400 people on her they will need people-pushers of the type employed in Japanese subways! In addition, we wonder what will happen the first time she gets caught in an easterly blow on Lake Ontario. We would have thought that a much larger ship would be a prerequisite for a route across such an exposed section of the open lake. We wish her operators well, but we still long for the days when the graceful CAYUGA glided back and forth on the route she served so well for so many years.
Cleveland's Erie Ore Dock, also known as the Nypano Dock, has been closed down and is unlikely to see further operation. The facility was one of the oldest ore docks on Lake Erie and since 1912 has been operated by the Erie Dock Company, a subsidiary of Pickands Mather and Company. But the new owner, Conrail, has not seen fit to keep the Nypano in service even though it is serviced by three Hulett unloading machines. The dock is located in a section of the Old River that is rather difficult for modern lakers to reach and in addition its operations were hampered by the fact that there is no space for ore storage. Hence ships' cargoes had to be unloaded directly into railroad cars, thus resulting in unloading delays if cars were not available at just the right time.
A rather interesting accident occurred back on January 21 when, during the hours of darkness, the Penn Central managed somehow to dump six hopper cars into the Cuyahoga River from Bridge No. 1 at Cleveland. By early March, the crews were still working to repair the bridge and a Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company crane was still fishing debris out of the river. It is indeed fortunate that the accident did not happen at the height of the navigation season.
The St. Lawrence Seaway Authority is studying the possibility of using a rather unique method to speed up the passage of the canal by large carriers and thus avoid the immediate necessity of making extensive canal improvements. The idea is to use "Shunters", small pushtugs similar to those used to shove around barges at loading facilities on the Mississippi and Ohio River systems, to hook onto the bow and stern of each vessel and manoeuvre it through the canal. The Authority expects to have two of these shunters built and in operation during the 1977 navigation season.
ST. CLAIR, the new BoCo self-unloader under construction at Sturgeon Bay, was christened on April 22 and is expected to be in service shortly. Meanwhile, it has been announced that the Bay Shipbuilding Company has won a contract to build for the United States Steel Corporation's Great Lakes Fleet a 1000-foot self-unloading bulk carrier for 1978 delivery. In the event that the Corps of Engineers goes ahead with the lengthening of the Poe Lock at the Soo, U.S. Steel will be able to exercise an option under the contract with Bay to increase the length of the ship to 1100 feet.
The latest hull turned out by Collingwood Shipyards hit the waters of Nottawasaga Bay on April 29. The new boat has been christened SOODOC (II) and is a sister of ONTADOC (II) which was completed last year by Collingwood Shipyards for N. M. Paterson and Sons Ltd., Thunder Bay.
As mentioned last month, we manage every once in a while to get word about one of the former lakers now enjoying the warmer climate of the Caribbean. Latest to come into the news is the former JEAN TALON which traded into the lakes under that name but was better known to locals as Quebec and Ontario's motorship FRANQUELIN (I). After leaving the lakes and the St. Lawrence River area she saw service in the Caribbean as SOVEREIGN OPAL but in recent months she had been idle at Mobile, Alabama. However on February 6th she cleared Mobile under the new name FALCON III, arriving at Antigua on February 20.
The most recent acquisition of the fleet of the Algoma Central Railway is now in the lakes. ALGOSEA presented herself at Montreal on April 25 and on the 28th was upbound in the Welland Canal bound for Port Colborne where her self-unloader conversion will be handled by Herb Fraser and Associates.
Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. has also made the move of acquiring an oceangoing vessel for its fleet, a boat that will operate on the lakes during the inland navigation season and which will presumably augment CHAMBLY ERA et al. in salt water service during the winter months. The vessel is the Liberian motorship GAUCHO TAURA which is known to have made at least one trip up the Seaway in 1975. She was built in 1962 at Nagasaki, Japan, by Mitsubishi Zozen K.K. for A/S Skaugaas, Norway, as (a) SKAUSTRAND. She measured 563.1 x 75.3 x 41.5, Gross 15,894. She was later transferred to A/S Salamis, I.M. Skaugen and Company, Managers, Norway, and in 1965 was lengthened to 649.8, Gross 18,275, Net 10,091. She was sold in 1973 to Gotaas-Larsen Argentina, S.A., Buenos Aires, and under the name (b) GAUCHO TAURA was operated under Liberian registry by Gotaas-Larsen Inc. She was sold to C.S.L. earlier this year and appeared at Montreal during the last week in April, at which time she was repainted in C.S.L. colours and renamed (c) ST. LAWRENCE (III). She cleared Montreal on May 2nd for Pointe Noire where she was scheduled to load iron ore for Hamilton.
The Quebec and Ontario Transportation Company Ltd. is also expanding its salt water services. Not only does the firm use THOROLD on ocean runs, but now it has chartered the newly-built German 6850-ton motorship FRANK SCHRODER for use in running newsprint down the east coast of Canada and the U.S.A. from Baie Comeau. The fleet also charters the Norwegian-owned BAIE COMEAU for the same route.
Even though we have seen the last of WORLD DISCOVERER in the Great Lakes, there will be a cruise ship on our waters this summer. Midwest Cruises, the same firm that has promoted lake cruise operations for the last two years, has obtained the services of a vessel named LOWELL THOMAS EXPLORER (remember that they tried to tack the "Lowell Thomas" onto the DISCOVERER's name as well), a 304-foot steamer (yes, she is steam-powered) built by Finnboda at Stockholm in 1953. Originally named BIRGER JARL and owned by Svea Lines of Stockholm, she was later acquired by Jakob Lines, Finland, and under the name (b) BORE NORD she has been operating short cruises from Finland. The 3236-ton vessel is to carry 250 passengers into the lakes and, from what we understand, the quarters are considerably less luxurious than those found aboard either WORLD DISCOVERER or STELLA MARIS II. In fact, one source has likened the accommodation to that found in a Pullman car! The idea appears to be to pack in the people at greatly reduced rates. We wish the ship success during the 1976 season but considering the fact that each year a different boat comes to make the lake cruises, we can't help wondering whether the cruise promoters are flogging a dead horse....
Foreign passenger ships will be no rarity on the St. Lawrence this year. Starting June 19, ALEXANDR PUSHKIN will be making six- and seven-day trips from Montreal to Quebec, St. Pierre and Miquelon, Perce Rock, and up the Saguenay River to Bagotville. She will also make longer trips down the east coast. The Russians will also bring in the new ODESSA for similar service. She is due to arrive at Montreal for the first time on July 17, the day of the opening of the Olympics. Another vessel brought out from the U.S.S.R. will be the small passenger ship MIKHAIL KALININ which will be used to provide accommodation for Russian dignitaries during the Olympic games.
We have recently heard a good number of rumours to the effect that there may soon be activity in the Kinsman fleet by way of the acquisition of several vessels to replace some of the more decrepit units now operating. The rumours have it that Kinsman has been casting covetous eyes on some of the idle U.S. Steel steamers, but whether the company is in any position to lay out the sums necessary to obtain the ships is yet another question.
The Great Lakes area can look forward to seeing a number of handsome old sailing vessels during the coming summer as a result of Operation Sail '76 which will have over 200 such ships in the New York area for a giant review on July 4th. Arrangements are being made for some of the ships to visit Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit and Chicago during August of the Bicentennial year and it is hoped that we may see some of them in a few Canadian ports as well. Amongst those coming to the lakes will be CHRISTIAN RADICH which also visited these parts in 1964. One major sail-training ship which definitely will not be coming to the lakes is the U.S. Coast Guard's EAGLE. The U.S.C.G. objects to having to lower EAGLE's rigging in order for her to pass beneath Seaway and Welland Canal bridges, but this problem does not seem to bother other operators of sailing vessels. Figures, doesn't it....
One rather interesting sailing vessel which has already arrived on the lakes is the 1891-built Thames sailing barge MAY which came to Toronto on the deck of a freighter during the week prior to Easter. She is now lying across the end of the Redpath Sugar dock in Toronto, a not unusual place for her since she is owned by Tate and Lyle, of which Redpath is a subsidiary. We imagine that she will spend her summer barnstorming around the lakes. When back in her home stomping grounds, MAY normally operates in charter service but she occasionally carries freight to the Isle of Wight from London. She is all the more interesting to local historians in that she is fitted with a one-piece keelson cut from a tree felled in the late 1880's on Lake Ontario's own Garden Island, the home of the famous Calvin family. MAY has created quite a stir each time she heads out into the lake under sail.
Last month we ran down some of the major lake fleets as regards the number of ships they would be operating this year. One of the firms mentioned was the Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton and Company. We had been somewhat puzzled in that we could not make sense out of the number of ships which the company had indicated it would run. But now that the shipping season is underway, it is evident that all the self-unloaders are operating, together with one craneship (BUCKEYE), and all the straight-deckers with the exception of WILLIAM A. REISS which is still in the course of an extensive refit. The REISS will re-enter service late in the summer and it is highly likely that not long thereafter THOMAS WILSON will head to the wall for conversion to a self-unloader. It is known for sure that over the coming winter the WILSON will receive oil-firing and automated boiler controls.
Last issue we also mentioned that the U.S. Steel fleet would be operating 22 vessels including the chartered PRESQUE ISLE. Of course, this figure did not include the "Bradley" self-unloaders, all of which will be operating with the exception of IRVIN L. CLYMER. It was originally thought that T. W. ROBINSON would remain idle this year but we note with pleasure that she is out and running. The idle W. F. WHITE has, of course, been sold.
The tugs which, as we went to press, were heading towards Toronto with ERINDALE, are scheduled to return up the lakes dragging with them the rather woebegone AVONDALE which has spent the winter in the old canal below Humberstone. The old girl has been sold for scrapping and it looks as if the job will be done in Duluth by Hyman Michaels. It is only speculation on our part, of course, but we'd bet that some sort of deal was made whereby AVONDALE was exchanged for W. F. WHITE which was destined to be broken up at Duluth prior to her sale. During the early spring AVONDALE took on a very alarming list to starboard and had her nose down on the bottom of the old canal. We had visions of the job that would have been necessary to remove her had she settled completely or gone over on her side, but now she has been pumped out in preparation for her long tow to the American Lakehead.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.