At the close of each of the last few navigation seasons, we have passed the remark that each of them seemed to have been more unusual than the preceding year as respects Great Lakes shipping. We fear that we are, perhaps, beginning to sound a bit like a broken record in making such a comment, but we have no alternative but to express the very same sentiments with regard to the 1983 navigation season. While certain sectors of the economy seemed to be regaining some of their vitality during 1983, not much of a real improvement was seen in lake shipping, although a small revival of cargo traffic became evident toward the late autumn.
Business conditions have remained uncertain, to say the least, and it has been virtually impossible to keep track, on a day-to-day basis, of which vessels were running and which were idle. The active roster of both the Canadian and U.S. lake fleets has been changing constantly but, no matter how one looks at the situation, the view has not been pleasant. An atmosphere of gloom, which invaded the industry several years ago, has continued, and the gloom has spread to observers who have been watching the growing number of vessels that have been laid up at the various lake ports. There are signs, however, that we may turn the corner before long, and that we may return to something approaching more normal conditions.
Several new Canadian vessels appeared from lake and foreign shipyards during 1983, but the shipbuilding industry itself is in anything but a healthy state and most shipyards are facing empty orderbooks. That situation will not improve until there has been a considerable amelioration of the economy, for many of our fleets now have a plethora of modern vessels available and far from enough cargoes to keep them busy. Most of the new vessels that appeared on the scene this year were ordered long before shipowners realized just how bad things would eventually get.
On the other hand, however, the market for scrap metal has remained in a depressed state and only a handful of older vessels were sold for scrap during 1983. As there is little likelihood that many of the older lakers, now idle, will ever again see further service, we must expect that there will be a rush of bottoms to the shipbreaking yards as soon as scrap prices imrpove [sic].
Be all this as it may, the summer of 1983 was a good one for any boatwatchers who could find boats to watch. In the Great Lakes area, the weather was warm and sunny, and superb for photography. In fact, it was one of the most pleasant summers that we can remember. We wonder, however, whether we may be about to pay for that summer with an exceptionally hard winter...
The other happy point about the 1983 season is that it has been relatively free from major accidents, a feature upon which shipowners, crews, and observer-enthusiasts alike may reflect with a distinct sense of pride and gratitude. We sincerely hope that all of our members and friends who sail the lakes, or who are engaged in vessel management, achieved as pleasant and safe a navigation season as possible under the circumstances this year, and we do wish them the same (together with better financial results) for 1984. Indeed, we extend the very same wish to all of our members, and to the Toronto Marine Historical Society itself.
But now, as the skies and waters of the Great Lakes take on the familiar grey tint of winter, as the snows obscure the horizons, and as the haze rises from the cold waters, the lake ships scurry about for their last cargoes of the year before heading for the calm and safety of winter quarters. We wish them safe passage.
And to all of the many members of our growing family, the Toronto Marine Historical Society, we extend our very best wishes for a Merry Christmas, as well as for all possible Happiness in the New Year. Take care, friends, and may 1984 bring to you all a full measure of love, warmth and success.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.