A pre-New-Year fire came dangerously close to ending the 75-year career of the American Steamship Company's self-unloader NICOLET. On Saturday, December 29, NICOLET was in winter quarters at the Hans Hansen Welding Company Inc. dock at Toledo, Columbia's ASHLAND moored along her outboard side. Welders aboard NICOLET left the ship during their break, unaware that welding sparks had fallen on and ignited her unloading belt. The fire spread rapidly through the unloading equipment and completely gutted the forward end of the ship, including pilothouse and accommodations. It took fifteen fire department units more than 21 hours to extinguish the blaze and five Toledo firemen were injured. The fire was prevented from spreading to ASHLAND, but damage to NICOLET was so severe (first reports suggested $4-million) that most observers felt certain that she would be declared a constructive total loss, even though her stern was undamaged. Fortunately, however, the decision has been made to repair the handsome vessel, the work being expected to take most of the 1980 navigation season. We are indeed pleased that NICOLET will live to sail again.
It seems probable that there will be a change in the colours of the Huron Cement vessels in 1980. The National Gypsum Company has sold Huron Cement to the General Dynamics group which will operate the company in conjunction with its own Material Service Corporation. Apart from colours, there will not likely be many changes in the operation of the Huron fleet.
The Welland Canal closed for the 1979 season on December 29, the last boat upbound at Lock 8 being ALGOPORT and the last downbound at Lock 1 being CANADOC. Since the closing of the canal, certain sections have been drained and some major maintenance work started. A new west wall is being built in Lock 1 and an early start on this work was required.
The St. Lawrence Canals closed on December 22, some four days later than planned. The last downbound ship was LAKE WINNIPEG, while the last upbounder was MAPLECLIFFE HALL. Several salties were required to pay rather substantial penalties for having left their departures from the lakes too late and forcing the canals to be kept open past the scheduled closing date. One salty which did not manage to clear the Seaway was NAMARU which, due to a number of problems, will spend the winter under arrest in the lakes. It had earlier been thought that FEDERAL ST. CLAIR might also have to remain in the lakes, but she did manage to escape in time.
Although, as previously reported, it had been planned to name the newest Boland and Cornelius self unloader CHICAGO, this will not come to pass. It seems that the executive of G.A.T.X., of which the American Steamship Company is a subsidiary, have had a falling-out with the lady mayor of Chicago. Shortly thereafter, the name was quickly removed from Bay Shipbuilding's Hull 723. The stemwinder will, instead, be christened AMERICAN MARINER. Perhaps this will be the first of a whole series of "American" names'.
Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd. has awarded to Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd. a $4-million contract for the conversion to a self-unloader of JAMES NORRIS. The work is to begin in the autumn of 1980 and NORRIS should be ready to re-enter service in the spring of 1981. She will be fitted with a polyethylene-sheeted hoppered hold, with one conveyor belt, and a loop-belt elevating device. The ship will be used to carry stone to the St. Lawrence Cement plant at Clarkson and, as such, it would seem that Upper Lakes will be cutting Westdale Shipping Ltd. out of that trade. JAMES NORRIS was built in 1952 at Midland, a sistership of GORDON C. LEITCH and of C.S.L.'s SIR JAMES DUNN and THUNDER BAY (II).
Another important contract obtained by Port Weller calls for the construction of a $54.8-million icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. The 322-foot vessel is to be delivered during the summer of 1982. This is the first time that P.W.D.D. has received an order for this type of vessel.
With the Port Weller shipyard working on the job of reconstructing ST. LAWRENCE NAVIGATOR as a 730-foot laker, work is progressing on the dismantling of the ship's old bow at Port Maitland. As of January 19, the sideplates of "NEWMAN HULL" had been removed down to the waterline and cutting was under way on the bow.
As a result of a greatly decreased demand for tonnage since the loss of the Republic Steel ore float, the Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Company has found itself with an excess of vessels, this despite the regrettable loss of FRONTENAC in her November grounding at Silver Bay and the probable (but not yet certain) retirement of WILLIAM P. SNYDER JR. as a result of her condition and age. It is entirely possible as well that the three former "Red Tomatoes", TOM M. GIRDLER, THOMAS F. PATTON and CHARLES M. WHITE, may remain at the wall for the next few years; these boats are not economical to operate and are suitable for almost no other lake trade. All things considered, it is not surprising that Cliffs, after only one year, has dropped its three-year charter of PIONEER (III) from Medusa Cement. Medusa asked for bids on her, although the asking price was highly inflated, and she was laid up for the winter in the Frog Pond at Toledo. We understand that the steamer has been sold very recently to the Interlake Steamship Company, but that plans for her are not yet certain although she may be held for the grain trade. Interestingly enough, this will be the second time that the ship has served Pickands Mather, for she once sailed as FRANK PURNELL (I) and was traded to Bethlehem Steel for its STEELTON (III), the two vessels exchanging names in the process.
The future is not all gloomy for Cliffs, however, for the company has obtained a contract to float the Wisconsin Steel Company's ore out of Escanaba, Michigan. As a result, Cliffs has taken a five-year bareboat charter on Wisconsin's 57-year-old steamer MAXINE, (a) WILLIAM H. WARNER (34), (b) THE INTERNATIONAL (77). Laid up for the winter at Chicago and due for drydocking for her five-year inspection, MAXINE faces an uncertain future. Cliffs, quite obviously, are taking MAXINE because she goes along with the ore contract, but if she should require any sort of expensive repair, Cliffs will undoubtedly use one of its own boats on the service.
When the Welland Canal closed for the winter late in December, a strange trio of vessels was lying in the Port Weller drydock. Incarcerated within were the two shunters and the Carryore steamer MENIHEK LAKE. What, one might ask, were these boats doing together in the drydock? The answer, if it is not already obvious, is that MENIHEK LAKE will be the new test hull for use in the early part of the 198O season, replacing MARINSAL. Chartered to the Seaway Authority for about a month, she will test methods of securing the shunters to the hull.
The St. Mary's Falls Canal, commonly known as the Soo Locks, closed for the 1979 season on January 15, 1980 and most of the lakers then in operation, except for a few specialty carriers, headed for winter quarters. Of course, there is no extended shipping season this winter, but a recent report from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has recommended a twelve-month shipping season in the future for Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior. Needless to say, the foes of winter navigation are howling like banshees over the report and the only certainty is that there will be much heated discussion before the future of winter sailing is finally settled.
Hull 218 of Collingwood Shipyards Ltd., a maximum-sized self-unloader for Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., was successfully sidelaunched on December 18. The ship, despite previous word that she would be named GLENEAGLES (II) (something that was more than just a rumour, we can assure you!), will be given the name NANTICOKE when she is christened in the early spring. It is hoped that the vessel will be ready for delivery in May. The Collingwood yard will be kept busy for a considerable period of time to come, much to the pleasure of local residents. In addition to NANTICOKE, the yard is building the tug POINTE SEPT-ILES for Eastern Canada Towing as a replacement for POINTE MARGUERITE, the tug sunk late in 1978 by ALGOBAY. Collingwood's Hull 219 will be a self-unloader for Algoma Central Marine and it has recently been announced that yet another similar boat will be built for Algoma as Hull 224. These two Algoma vessels are scheduled for delivery in 1981 and 1982, respectively.
A great surprise is the fact that Collingwood has also been awarded a contract for the construction of a straight-deck bulk carrier for Nipigon Transport Ltd. We understand that this hull will somehow be worked into the schedule before the second Algoma boat. No doubt the Nipigon vessel will be used primarily in the grain trade and that it is for this reason that she will be a straight-decker rather than a self-unloader; nevertheless, she will be the first straight-deck bulk carrier built by any lake shipyard since Davie completed OTTERCLIFFE HALL at Lauzon in 1969.
The rumour mill has been particularly active this winter concerning the Columbia Transportation "Maritime Class" steamer THOMAS WILSON. Currently laid up in Toledo's Frog Pond, she has been stripped of much of her equipment and has been offered for sale, this because of her condition which is much-deteriorated in all respects. Several operators have allegedly expressed interest in acquiring her services but nothing is definite as yet. In all probability, the WILSON would be most useful to an operator who would convert her for some specialty trade and thus not worry about the condition of her insides.
The Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Company's grounding-damaged FRONTENAC, presently lying at Superior, Wisconsin, has been offered for sale on an as-is-where-is basis, her damage being so severe that repair is out of the question. Her forward end has been completely stripped but the stern, including the machinery, is untouched. We understand that a number of U.S. vessel operators are still interested in acquiring FRONTENAC's stern so that the engine may be used to repower another ship.
The Greek freighter ARCHANGELOS is presently wintering at Port Weller, having missed the closing of the St. Lawrence Canals as a result of her stranding in the St. Lawrence River in mid-December. Rushing for the canals with a cargo of scrap from Hamilton, ARCHANGELOS ran aground on a shoal near Crossover Island, some 15 km. west of Brockville, on December 16. Lightered by McAllister equipment from Kingston, the ship was finally refloated on December 21 after more than half of her cargo had been removed. She was towed to Bay State anchorage near Brockville and then, when it was evident that the canals were closing and that ARCHANGELOS could not negotiate them anyway while she was making water, she was towed back up to Port Weller. There she will be drydocked come spring and repaired as may be necessary.
At long last, the troubles of the St. Mary's River ferry SUGAR ISLANDER may be nearing an end. After several years of somewhat indifferent operation by Poirier Marine Inc., a deal was worked out (under considerable pressure) whereby the Eastern Upper Peninsula Transportation Authority will assume control of the boat under a charter-purchase agreement and will ensure her continued operation. The agreement should ensure at least a modicum of peace for residents of Sugar Island as well as for Chippewa County officials who have borne the brunt of complaints about the manner in which the ferry was being operated. Meanwhile, operators of NEEBISH ISLANDER, the small car and passenger ferry which runs across the head of the Rock Cut to Neebish Island, have suggested that "Transpo" might also like to take over their route. They allege that the ferry has regularly been losing money and that they have no intention of continuing the service. Here we go again...
The former canaller EAGLESCLIFFE, (a) EAGLESCLIFFE HALL (II)(74), found herself in dire straits at Christmas whilst on voyage Mexico to Houston, Texas. Part of her cargo shifted, causing a heavy list, and special pumps were dropped to her by helicopter. The influx of water was eventually stemmed and the ship was scheduled to arrive at Houston on December 26. EAGLESCLIFFE is owned by the Cayman Shipping Corporation, the same firm which, late in 1979, purchased BLACK RIVER and took her to salt water under the name TUXPANCLIFFE.
A similar but less happy incident has involved the Chimo Shipping Ltd. coaster BILL CROSBIE which suffered a shift of her steel cargo on January 4 while she was some 600 nautical miles east of St. John's, Newfoundland, en route to Ireland. The West German tug HIRTENHURM came to the scene, removed most of her crew, and took CROSBIE in tow. The rest of the crew was taken off by a helicopter which used an oil drilling platform as a mid-ocean refuelling facility. The CROSBIE was towed safely into St. John's on January 9, despite the 40-degree list which she had assumed, but later in the day she rolled over and sank at her dock. BILL CROSBIE was built in 1965 in Sweden and sailed as (a) GARDA before her acquisition by the Crosbie interests of Newfoundland.
At 10 a.m. on January 21, Triad Salvage Inc. pulled the last piece of the bow of HENRY STEINBRENNER out of its scrapping berth at Ashtabula. With the last of the former Kinsman steamer out of the way, the cofferdam in the slip will be broken and G. A. TOMLINSON pulled into the berth for dismantling.
Shipping observers who live anywhere but the Lakehead area have probably found it as difficult as we have to keep track of the scrappings of old Tinstack steamers. The record is herewith updated. As of early January, WILLIAM P. PALMER was almost all gone at the Hyman-Michaels yard at Duluth. JAMES A. FARRELL and WILLIAM B. SCHILLER were lying at the same yard, the handsome old FARRELL being next in line for the wreckers' torches. Lying in Duluth at the Hallett Dock No. 6 were RICHARD TRIMBLE and PERCIVAL ROBERTS JR., both of these vessels having already been cut down to the tanktops. U.S. Steel still has a number of unused boats lying in the Duluth-Superior harbour area, but their numbers have been much reduced in recent years and we have not yet seen the end of the parade to the scrapyard.
TEGUCIGALPA, the former IMPERIAL LONDON, has been renamed (c) CONGAR (III) by her new owner, an affiliate of Ship Repairs and Supplies Ltd. The steam tanker is presently in winter quarters at Toronto and will be commissioned in the spring after she has undergone a complete refit.
Whilst the package freighter FORT CHAMBLY is laid up at Hamilton this winter, her Fairbanks Morse diesel machinery is being taken apart and completely refurbished. This major work has been necessitated by the lack of maintenance which the engines received while FORT CHAMBLY was operating on salt water.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.