What is the one thing that everybody has been talking about this winter? The weather, that's what! They've been speaking of the snowdrifts clogging the streets of most cities in the Great Lakes area and the icy winds that have been making life outside miserable. And if you think it has been bad ashore, just be glad that you weren't working aboard one of the lakers which was playing the winter navigation game. The ice cover on the lakes this winter is one of the heaviest and most extensive on record. Lake Erie is completely frozen over and even mighty Lake Superior is expected to be 100% ice covered very shortly, the first time this has happened since 1963. The Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers ALEXANDER HENRY, MONTMORENCY and GRIFFON together with the big U.S.C.G. icebreakers MACKINAW and WESTWIND and a fleet of smaller U.S.C.G. units have been putting up a valiant fight to keep the winter fleet sailing, but it has been a losing battle as problems have been encountered in ice-clogged channels everywhere. As might be expected, the main problem spot has been the St. Mary's River and the list of difficulties encountered there is too long for us to even begin to describe. Suffice it to say that every ship running in those waters found itself in trouble at some time during late December or January and needed assistance. By mid-January, U.S. Steel's Great Lakes Fleet was virtually the only line operating through the Soo with the exception of a few tankers which also got into trouble. Most operators decided that discretion was the better part of valour and that keeping their boats in one piece was more desirable than the profits gained from winter navigation. And by January 20th, even U.S. Steel found it impossible to continue and on that day their last vessel passed down through the Soo Locks, the company having given up on winter navigation and the Coast Guard having been unable to keep the channels open. This is, of course, quite a change from the last two years, both of which brought winters which were fairly mild. The fact that U.S. Steel has not been able to operate throughout the winter may result in more of their vessels operating during the summer of 1977 than during 1976, the winter fleet having been unable to build up stockpiles at the mills during the winter months. And so, after a couple of easy winters, the lakes again have shown their stuff to those who have been pushing for a year-round navigation season. It seems that the proponents of such plans have failed to consider what a few weeks of unusually cold weather can do to the lakes. Now they know.
Business is still booming for the Bay Shipbuilding Company of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, which has received a contract to build a 630-foot self-unloader for the Columbia Transportation Division of Oglebay Norton and Company. The new boat is scheduled to be delivered in November 1979 as she must wait her turn in the graving dock behind a number of other self-unloaders which Bay Shipbuilding has already contracted to construct. The ship will be somewhat smaller than the average boat being built these days and presumably will be similar to the American Steamship Company's SAM LAUD which came from Sturgeon Bay in 1975.
While things may be booming at Sturgeon Bay and also at AmShip's Lorain and Toledo yards, this rosy picture has not included all shipyards. Thomas Defoe, president of the Defoe Shipbuilding Company of Bay City, Michigan, announced on December 31, 1976 that the company was closing down its operations and was going out of business. The 71-year-old firm produced many warships of various types during the Second War and in the years since has built many specialty ships as well as taking on several major rebuilding and repowering jobs, amongst the latter being the conversion of HERBERT C. JACKSON and the dieselization of NICOLET and RICHARD J. REISS. But orders have not been flooding into Defoe recently and one reason for this is that the location of the yard on the Saginaw River has prevented Defoe from building large carriers such as those churned out by AmShip and Bay Shipbuilding. Not only has the Saginaw River not yet been dredged to a depth adequate to permit the movement of such ships but the river is obstructed by several bridges too narrow to pass today's supercarriers. In addition, the rebuilding of the Defoe plant to build such large boats would be costly indeed. Accordingly, the yard has decided to throw in the towel and to leave to other firms the task of keeping pace with the needs of the lake shipping industry.
The three salt water vessels recently purchased by the Hall Corporation have not yet been delivered to their new owner but already they have been renamed. The ships, owned previously by West German interests and chartered ever since their construction to U.S. Steel's Navios Corp. fleet, will not be handed over to Halco until the autumn of 1977 but in the meantime EMS ORE, RHINE ORE and RUHR ORE have been renamed MONTCLIFFE HALL, STEELCLIFFE HALL and CARTIERCLIFFE HALL respectively. Readers will recall that Halco has been negotiating with Davie Shipbuilding for the rebuilding of the boats once Hall has taken delivery of them and we have learned that this will be a full conversion for lake service, much similar to the one presently being done on the new LAKE NIPIGON (for Nipigon Transports) which arrived on November 14 at Singapore.
The Conneaut area has been buzzing recently with the news that the United States Steel Corporation has plans to build a $3.5-billion steel mill on the Pennsylvania - Ohio state line just east of Conneaut. The trouble is that plans have so far been kept secret and nobody in the area really seems to know exactly what the company's intentions are. Local municipal and state representatives appear to favour the building of the plant in their area in that it will provide a substantial boost to the local economy but the residents, many of whom are cottagers or farmers, are watching with mixed emotions. They have seen the land along the state line gradually being bought by U.S. Steel and the houses demolished. A detailed announcement of the corporation's plans is expected to be made shortly.
It seems that almost every news broadcast we have heard for the last few months has begun with the words "Another Liberian tanker...." but not only Liberian tankers have been involved in the many accidents which have recently been reported. On January 10, the small American motortanker CHESTER A. POLING broke in two and sank in the Atlantic off Massachusetts and at the time of this writing an investigation is underway in an attempt to ascertain why the ship foundered.
CHESTER A. POLING was a frequent visitor to the Great Lakes under her two earlier names, (a) PLATTSBURGH SOCONY and (b) MOBIL ALBANY. The Erie Canal type tanker was built by United Dry Docks Inc. at Mariners Harbor, New York, in 1934 and was enrolled as U.S.233334. She was lengthened in 1956 by the Avondale Marine Ways Inc. at Avondale, Louisiana, and thereafter she measured 281.4 x 40.0 x 17.1, Gross 1546 and Net 1033. She last operated on the lakes for the Socony-Mobil Oil Company Inc. of New York and was sold in 1968 to Motor Vessel Poling Brothers No. 1 Inc., New York. As far as we know, she had not returned to the lakes since and had been used on the east coast.
Last month we devoted considerable space in these pages to the plight of the former Detroit firetug JOHN KENDALL which was sold in November to the Panoceanic Engineering Corporation of Alpena, Michigan. JOHN KENDALL left her home at Detroit on December 2nd in tow of the tug BARBARA ANN bound for Alpena and her conversion to a diesel-powered salvage tug.
Those of our readers who may have observed the veteran Upper Lakes Shipping steamer MEAFORD in winter quarters on the north side of the Cousins Terminal at Toronto may have noticed that she is missing her starboard anchor. We were wondering where she lost it and now we have found out. The anchor was lost on the evening of December 22nd in the harbour at Sault Ste. Marie as MEAFORD was preparing to depart her anchorage and proceed downbound.
The St. Lawrence Seaway Authority has been urged to consider the closing of the Canadian Soo Lock as a method of reducing the Authority's operating expenses. The suggestion was made by the Dominion Marine Association which has been opposing federal proposals to levy tolls on vessels using the Welland and St. Lawrence Canals instead of charging a fee per lock transitted as is done now. This latter proposal has also been opposed by U.S. authorities. The S.L.S.A. has gone so far as to set up a study group to consider the implications of closing the Soo Lock which caters mainly to the passage of pleasure craft and "ice cream boats" (lock tour excursion vessels) but does handle the overflow from the American canal, particularly package freighters and tankers. Many smaller Canadian lakers use the lock regularly.
We did not devote too much space last month to the account of the grounding of CLIFFS VICTORY in the St. Mary's River. This was not an attempt to minimize the seriousness of the accident but rather to cover as many of the season's accidents as possible in limited space. Indeed, CLIFFS VICTORY's accident was a very serious matter, as Cleveland-Cliffs has since found out. It seems that the VICTORY chewed up 650 feet of her bottom in the process and she will be spending a good deal of time in the AmShip yard at South Chicago this winter while the damage is repaired. In fact, we understand that Cliffs took a good hard look at the estimated cost of repair compared with the value of the ship before deciding to go ahead with the job, so expensive will it be.
As far as the accident itself is concerned, we now learn that the grounding occurred nearer to Everens Point than Johnson Point, although it is probable that it was at the latter location that the ship lost her rudder and that this is what eventually caused the grounding further down the channel into Lake Munuscong. In fact, the loss of the rudder was not noticed until after the ship had been freed and was manoeuvring in preparation for proceeding down the river. The pressure of the ice made steering so difficult and held the ship so firmly in the travelled steamer track through the icefield that the loss of the rudder was not immediately apparent.
Another victim of late-season navigation has been the tanker AMOCO INDIANA. The steamer was en route to Traverse City, Michigan, when on January 10 she became stuck in ice off the mouth of Grand Traverse Bay in Lake Michigan. As the ice drifted shoreward the tanker was pushed into shoal water where she grounded. Amoco Oil Company sent AMOCO WISCONSIN from Milwaukee and she lightered the fuel oil and gasoline cargo from the grounded vessel. AMOCO INDIANA was floated free on January 12 and both ships were then taken to Traverse City. Damage to the INDIANA was not believed to be serious. Quite frankly, we were rather surprised to learn that either boat was operating so late in the season considering the severe ice conditions. AMOCO INDIANA is now 40 years old while AMOCO WISCONSIN is a veteran of 47 years.
The most alarming piece of new we have heard recently concerns the Straits of Mackinac steam carferry CHIEF WAWATAM. The Michigan Public Transportation Council has made it known that at its February 14 meeting it will recommend that the 66-year-old ferry be reduced to a barge and that a tug be chartered to push her back and forth between Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. The Michigan Department of Highways and Transportation would also have to approve before any action could be taken on the proposal. The press has quoted public officials as saying that they appreciate the historic and aesthetic value of CHIEF WAWATAM but they appear to appreciate even more the thought of the savings that might be achieved by cutting the ferry down even if they could not come up with the actual dollar value of such savings. In the meantime, CHIEF WAWATAM is busier than usual. The boat, which normally makes but one round-trip crossing per week, is presently making five round-trips per week and will do so through February 11 to accommodate a special coal shipment. If the State of Michigan is anything like the municipal, provincial and federal authorities with which we are acquainted on this side of the border, we are certain that it spends millions over the years in restoring and maintaining various historical artifacts, not to mention other millions simply wasted. Surely CHIEF WAWATAM is an artifact worth preserving intact and if the officials are so impressed with her beauty and stateliness, we would suggest that they should cease mouthing useless platitudes and do something about keeping the ship in operation under her own power. The savings to be achieved by cutting her down can't be all that great. Surely the almighty dollar does not control everything we do in this life. Or does it?
Several issues ago we mentioned the withdrawal from service of the Kinsman steamer CHICAGO TRADER and the fact that she had been put on drydock for inspection. We voiced a hope that the TRADER, effectively retired a couple of years ago and brought back to life when recommissioned this spring, would pass her survey and be available for further operation. Would that it were so. CHICAGO TRADER was found to be in need of extremely extensive deck repairs and in addition needs much attention to her bottom, the cost of just the deck work far exceeding the value of the boat. Accordingly, it would seem that the steamer has probably sailed her last, at least as far as Kinsman is concerned and when the ship is in need of such costly maintenance it is unlikely that any other operator would take her over. We shall miss CHICAGO TRADER not only because of her good looks but also because of her distinctive voice. We rather wonder what Kinsman will do in 1977 as the only ship with which they can replace the TRADER is the smaller PAUL L. TIETJEN which operated briefly last autumn, but which is hardly economical to run.
While on the subject of retirements, we might mention that a Canadian lake shipping operator will be losing the services of its oldest self-unloader as a result of the high cost of extensive repairs necessary, particularly in the engineroom. The steamer was the first self-unloader ever acquired by this operator and her forced retirement follows closely on the heels of a similar event which in the fall of 1975 robbed the same fleet of another veteran steamer. More on this item later.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.