At this time each year, we take the opportunity to bring Holiday Greetings to our members and, as well, to make a few comments concerning the season that has just passed. It is with great difficulty, however, that we find the words to describe the 1985 navigation year. As if the past few years have not been difficult enough for the lake shipping industry, 1985 proved to be a terrible year in many respects, and one that a good many shippers and observers would not care to repeat.
The year began with gloomy prospects for the movement of grain, although a cautious optimism was voiced regarding the availability of other cargoes. As the season progressed, however, things deteriorated rapidly and, by mid-summer, a great many vessels had been laid up. Ports on both sides of the border were filled with idle lakers, and summer shipwatchers had very little marine traffic to observe or photograph.
Then, in mid-autumn, we were caught completely by surprise with the news of a massive sale of Canadian grain to the U.S.S.R. All of a sudden, the idled lakers began to fit out once again, and to head to Thunder Bay to load grain for the ports of the lower St. Lawrence River. It appeared that grain movements would hold strong for 1he remainder of the 1985 season and even into the spring of 1986, and that many of the lake fleets might be able to put some black ink into their ledgers for a change.
Fools, however, are those who ignore the effects of Murphy's Law. And if he was busy early in the season, "Murphy" was working overtime during the autumn. For the second season in a row, a major Seaway blockade occurred, just in time to bring the grain movement to a crashing halt. It was Thanksgiving Day (October 14th) when the west wall of Lock 7 of the Welland Canal collapsed. Damage evaluation and repair procedures were implemented immediately, but the canal did not reopen until November 7th, and by that time some 135 vessels were awaiting passage through the Welland. Some remained at anchor in Lake Ontario or Lake Erie, but the majority were put into the closest convenient port, and thus faced their second major period of inactivity during the 1985 season.
As we pen these words (or rather hack them out on a recalcitrant typewriter), the Seaway Authority is intending to keep the canals open as long as weather permits in order to facilitate cargo movements that were halted by the Welland Blockade. How long the thoroughly vile weather conditions that we have experienced this autumn will permit navigation is anyone's guess. Our thought would be that any major extension of the shipping season would be extremely unlikely, and that the channels will be frozen in before long.
Only one major commercial lake vessel was turned out by the shipbuilders in 1985, that being PATERSON (II), and no large lakers are presently on confirmed order. Thus at last have we come to the end of the major cycle of fleet renewal that was begun a few years ago when business conditions were so good. At the present time, it is unlikely that any number of new ships will be constructed in the foreseeable future, and we cannot imagine that any new building will be undertaken until there is a considerable improvement in the economic climate.
Perhaps the most saddening aspect of the 1985 season, however, and the one that caused the most chagrin for editors such as yours, was the resurgence of the scrap market, particularly overseas. After several years of relative quietude, the parade of lakers to the scrapyards began again in earnest during 1985. What made this year's parade so unusual, however, was the fact that, for the first time, Seaway-size vessels were included in the rush to the breakers. There is no reason to believe that the sale for scrapping of such major ships as LAKE WINNIPEG, LEON FALK JR. and MENIHEK LAKE was any momentary sort of aberration, and the weeding out of uneconomic tonnage, no matter how large or new, is certain to continue for the foreseeable future.
There were a number of marine accidents during the 1985 season, but fortunately very few were of a major nature, and there was no incident that involved any shocking loss of life. For this we can be extremely grateful.
We sincerely hope that all of our members and friends who are involved in lake shipping achieved as pleasant and safe a navigation season as was possible under the unusual circumstances that prevailed in 1985. We most certainly wish them a better year in 1986, and we hope that the coming year will be a good one for all of our members and, of course, for the Toronto Marine Historical Society itself.
But now, as the skies and waters of the Great Lakes take on the familiar grey hue of winter, as the snows obscure the horizons, and as the haze rises from the cold waters, the lake ships are trying to collect and deliver their last cargoes of the year before heading for the calm and safety of winter quarters. We wish them all safe passage.
And to all 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 1986 bring to you all a full measure of love, health and success.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.