The American Shipbuilding Company's Hull 906, now under construction at Lorain for the Interlake Steamship Company as a sistership of the 1,000-foot self-unloader JAMES R. BARKER, will be christened MESABI MINER prior to her entry into service later this year. The name, of course, refers to the famous Mesabi iron range in the state of Minnesota, from which much of the iron ore shipped down the lakes originates. We are pleased that Interlake has chosen a colourful name such as MESABI MINER for its new vessel instead of giving her the name of a company executive.
One of the most interesting and unexpected pieces of news to come our way in a long time concerns the sale of the veteran Canadian steamer WESTDALE. But never fear, dear reader, for WESTDALE will not be heading to the breaker's yard and, in fact, appears to have a good future ahead of her in the grain trade. The reason for the sale is that Westdale Shipping Ltd. and The Soo River Company (for whom Westdale is operating and managing agent) are reorganizing their respective fleets, the idea being that the self-unloaders should be grouped together under the Westdale flag whilst the straight-deck bulk carriers should operate in Soo River colours. Accordingly, WESTDALE has been sold to The Soo River Company and will sail in 1977 in Soo River colours under the name (c) H. C. HEIMBECKER, her new name honouring Herbert C. Heimbecker, senior member of Parrish and Heimbecker, Toronto grain brokers. The 72-year-old WESTDALE, which shares with MARTHA HINDMAN the honour of being the oldest lake vessel operating under the Canadian flag, was built at Superior, Wisconsin, in 1905 and sailed until 1964 as (a) GEORGE W. PERKINS for the United States Steel Corporation. She came Canadian in that year for the Reoch interests of which Westdale Shipping Ltd. is the successor. Despite the fact that her new name is, perhaps, not so colourful as her old and does not roll so easily from the tongue, we look forward to seeing the steamer in her new colours and we wish her many more years of service.
Work on the scrapping of the barge C. S. BAND is proceeding very slowly at Toronto where the ship is moored on the south side of the Leslie Street slip. During the late autumn, cutting was going ahead at a great rate but has slowed considerably since the onset of the cold winter weather. The after half of the hull is cut down to within a few feet of the water (ice) but the bow section has not yet been touched. It is obvious that the cutting will not be finished in March as was originally planned.
A few years ago, the lakes were buzzing with news of the plans to provide a ferry service between Manitoulin Island and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. We had not heard much on the subject in the interim and had thought that the idea had died a natural death but news items recently have indicated that the project is very much alive and, in fact, has a target completion date of 1978. A survey of economic benefits to the areas directly involved should be finished in April and a study of market potential will be done during the coming summer tourist season. The Ontario provincial government will finance the various studies while the federal government will pay for the necessary dock reconstruction at Meldrum Bay on the Island. The state of Michigan and the U.S. federal administration will finance the purchase of the vessel to be used on the route and will provide docking facilities on the Michigan side, presumably at DeTour Village.
The Eastern Upper Peninsula Transportation Authority will have the job of finding a ship suitable for the daily run between Meldrum Bay and DeTour and which also might replace CHIEF WAWATAM as needed on the Mackinaw City to St. Ignace rail ferry crossing. They say that they are looking for an existing ship rather than having a new boat built and it would seem evident that the choice will probably be an idle Lake Michigan carferry. We shall await further developments with great interest.
Last issue we mentioned the names for the Hall Corporation's newly-acquired trio of salt water vessels. It was thought that the boats would not be going to the shipyard until later in the year, but we now learn that CARTIERCLIFFE HALL is already at the Davie Shipyard at Lauzon where work on her conversion is under way. Meanwhile, STEELCLIFFE HALL and MONTCLIFFE HALL are temporarily in the Halco yard at Shelburne, Nova Scotia. CARTIERCLIFFE HALL will be ready for service in September, while MONTCLIFFE HALL will follow in November and STEELCLIFFE HALL in April 1978. The ships are being lengthened to maximum Seaway size and will have almost entirely new forward ends on them when they emerge from the shipyard.
Thousand-foot lake bulk carriers will soon be a thing of the past and 1,100-foot lakers will be the order of the day. The U.S. Corps of Engineers has now given its approval to the operation of the longer vessels through the St. Mary's Falls Canal's Poe Lock. It would seem that the first of the longer carriers will be the new U.S. Steel bulk carrier for which a contract was let last year to the Bay Shipbuilding Corporation. The ship, scheduled for 1978 delivery, was to be built to a length of 1,000 feet but U.S. Steel had an option to increase her length by 100 feet should the Corps see fit to revise its regulations for the Soo Locks. There has been no public reaction from the steel company yet but we imagine that it will shortly announce its intentions to build to the maximum permissible length.
After a year's absence, Midwest Cruises Inc. of Indianapolis will be back in the lake cruise business during 1977 with the steam (yes, steam!) passenger vessel LOWELL THOMAS EXPLORER, a vessel built in Sweden and operated previously on the Baltic Sea by Finnish interests. The ship was originally scheduled to enter the lakes in 1976 but she was trapped in Finland last summer by a strike of local seamen. A rather more traditional ship in appearance than either WORLD DISCOVERER or STELLA MARIS II, the two previous cruise boats sent to the lakes by Midwest, the EXPLORER (and we truly hope that her name will be so shortened) will run five week-long cruises from Windsor to Mackinac Island, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Duluth commencing on May 28th. She will also make six four-day trips from Windsor to Mackinac Island and Georgian Bay, two seven-day trips from Montreal to the Gaspe, and numerous shorter trips from Windsor to Niagara and from Montreal to the Saguenay.
Last issue we mentioned that the end to winter navigation on the upper lakes came on January 20th with the downbound passage of the Soo Locks by the last of the U.S. Steel bulk carriers. Well, that was the way it was supposed to happen, but old man winter intervened again and the inclement weather kept the last of the boats in the St. Mary's near the locks until January 22nd. ROGER BLOUGH, CASON J. CALLAWAY and PHILIP R. CLARKE, together with the Halco tanker DOAN TRANSPORT, were delayed because on the evening of January 20, heavy ice in the channel parted the ice boom above Little Rapids Cut and the four ships had to wait until the U.S. Coast Guard could retrieve the wayward boom and its anchor cables. The break occurred just as the BLOUGH was downbound at the Bayfield Turn above Mission Point and the vessel had to be backed upstream to an anchorage in the lower Poe Lock approach. She, CALLAWAY and DOAN TRANSPORT spent the night below the locks while CLARKE locked down on the 21st. All four left the Soo on the evening of January 22 and with the assistance of icebreakers the tinstackers made their way to Lake Michigan and the tanker to Lake Huron bound for Sarnia. After unloading her last cargo, the BLOUGH proceeded down the lakes to Lorain where she arrived on February 4th in preparation for winter drydocking.
But no sooner had the winter navigation season ended than it started up again. The cities of Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario) and Thunder Bay were beginning to run short of heating oil due to the extremely cold conditions prevalent this winter and the lakehead paper mills were short of chemicals. No sooner had DOAN TRANSPORT arrived back in Sarnia than she and HUDSON TRANSPORT loaded fuel oil for delivery to the Soo. With the help of C.C.G.S. GRIFFON and U.S.C.G. MACKINAW, the tankers reached the Soo on January 30. They unloaded and on February 4th departed downbound, the delay being caused by the absence of MACKINAW which had damaged herself in the ice. The tankers cleared port when WESTWIND arrived to assist.
DOAN and HUDSON TRANSPORT returned to Sarnia and there were joined by IMPERIAL ST. CLAIR which came off the drydock at Toledo on February 3rd. The three motorships loaded and set off northwards again, HUDSON TRANSPORT bound for the Soo with fuel oil and the ST. CLAIR and DOAN TRANSPORT for Thunder Bay, the former with fuel oil and the latter with caustic soda for Dow Chemical. Assisted by the icebreakers GRIFFON and WESTWIND, the three fought heavy ice most of the way and finally arrived at the Soo on February 13, the HUDSON TRANSPORT being dropped off there to unload and await the return of the other two tankers downbound.
DOAN and ST. CLAIR together with their escorts passed up the American canal and then came to the worst part of their trip, the trek through the thick ice of Whitefish Bay through whose ridges they were sometimes able to cover only a mile each five hours. Once past Caribou Island, the going was easier but Lake Superior is about 80% ice-covered and even the mid-part of the lake caused problems. The trip from Whitefish was made without WESTWIND and the relatively puny GRIFFON frequently became stuck herself and only managed to get free by swinging her heavy boom from side to side. The convoy reached the lakehead on February 18th and the two tankers were escorted into the Kaministiquia River to unload, large crowds of local residents having turned out to witness the unusual event. IMPERIAL ST. CLAIR and DOAN TRANSPORT left Thunder Bay again on February 21st, with GRIFFON serving again as escort, en route back to Sarnia. It is possible that another trip may be attempted in the near future but as of this writing neither Imperial nor Halco has any definite plans in this regard.
Despite the revival, albeit limited in scope, of winter navigation on the lakes during February, icebreaking operations have been severely limited as a result of the forced lay-up of two major icebreakers. ALEXANDER HENRY, stationed at Thunder Bay, was sidelined with engine problems which have kept her inactive, while MACKINAW spent most of February in drydock at Lorain for the repair of propellor and shaft damage suffered in the St. Mary's River on February 3rd. This has left only WESTWIND and GRIFFON available for service.
One of the great wonders of the current winter season is that three of the oldest tankers on the lakes are in operation. The Amoco Oil Company has kept AMOCO ILLINOIS, AMOCO WISCONSIN and AMOCO INDIANA in service on Lake Michigan despite the fact that all three have encountered difficulties in bucking the heavy ice conditions. Readers will recall that the INDIANA got into trouble near Traverse City earlier in the winter and now comes word that WISCONSIN spilled a quantity of oil onto the ice while moored on February 2nd at the Standard Oil terminal at Escanaba, apparently as a result of the fracturing of rivets in the hull due to ice pressure. We hope that this problem is not too severe or else the authorities may well force the retirement of this beautiful steamer as they did in the case of Cleveland Tankers' ROCKET several years ago. AMOCO INDIANA, AMOCO WISCONSIN and AMOCO ILLINOIS are 40, 47 and 59 years old respectively and, to be quite honest, we cannot but feel that to operate such elderly ships in heavy ice is foolhardy, to say the least.
Not only have tankers and late-operating bulk carriers been the victims of the unusually heavy ice of the current winter, but the Lake Michigan carferries have also been affected. VIKING, bound for Frankfort from Kewaunee on January 29th, became trapped in ice not far from her destination. The U.S. Coast Guard tug RARITAN fought her way to the scene and on February 1st, after the ferry had spent three days stuck in the ice, the tug finally managed to get her free. VIKING made it safely to Frankfort harbour, loaded again for Kewaunee and departed, only to become stuck again in almost the same location as before. This time RARITAN was waiting for her and the Ann Arbor ferry was freed with little difficulty.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.