Friday, 1 May 2015

Deck Barge NIAGARA SPIRIT (& Pushboat JOHN SPENCE)

"Da Barge", pronounced in a similar fashion as to the SNL skit about Chicago's beloved football team, "Da Bearss" or basketball team, "Da Bullss" only in this case unfortunately "Da Barge" may not be considered beloved even though in many regions, costs would soar in more ways than one if "Da Barge" was "Nada". c):-o

"Da Barge" is one versatile vessel but just like what the late Rodney Dangerfield use to say when joking about himself, they "don't get no respect". Let's face it, "Da Barge" gets pushed or pulled in one direction or the other and must only go wherever that big lug of a tug in front or behind decides to get underway because "Da Barge" has no engine. They are the first to feel the effects of a choppy lake or bay, and the first to touch bottom when the tug's GPS goes out of sorts or she " suddenly lost steering". Ya Right c):-(). Unlike other cargo ships, "Da Barge" seldom is given a name and those that do, like "Da Barge" WICOMICO (below) that was snapped by my friend Jim in Salisbury, Maryland, the name may barely be visible due to rust or being scrapped off when "Da Barge" is rubbed along a dock wall or jetty. No respect but enough with the "Da", da?   
Not surprising, conditions were pretty much the norm for 340' deck barge NIAGARA SPIRIT which was being pushed at a good clip past Mariatown and then continued her formidable advance passed us by cutting through a harsh west wind during upbound passage to Iroquois Lock. So many other times when I've snapped boats at the road side Loyalist Park which is about midway between Morrisburg and Iroquois, the Seaway channel would be flat as board offering hardly any resistance for the passing ship. It was a much different situation for the low in water NIAGARA SPIRIT as her tug JOHN SPENCE relentlessly push her through a constant roll of white caps and an imminent summer storm ahead.
When built in 1984 in Portland, Oregon, her name was ALASKA TRADER and unlike the WICOMICO which as a hopper barge carries dry bulk cargo in her hold, the ALASKA TRADER was a deck barge which meant that all of her cargo would be transported on her reinforced flat deck. When sold to Marcon International of Coupeville, Washington in 1999, she became a log carrier and her name was changed to TIMBERJACK.

In 2008, her name was changed to  NIAGARA SPIRIT when she was sold to McKeil Marine of Hamilton, ON and soon after her long haul journey to her new Great Lakes homeport via the Panama Canal, 12' high steel corrugated bin walls where added along with a fitted cover to protect special cargoes. Also unlike the WICOMICO with its angled rake bow, NIAGARA SPIRIT's bow is spoon-shaped which offers less resistance when pushed through choppy seas and wave spray is lessen with the steel breakwater structure that you can see in both above snaps at her forward section.
It hasn't been an easy time either for NIAGARA SPIRIT's pushboat, the 171' tug JOHN SPENCE. When launched in 1972 at the Fraser Shipyards in North Westminster, British Columbia, her name was MARY B. VI and instead of being built to haul or push barges from here to there, MARY B. VI was designed as an offshore supply ship. One of the first of these unique ships to be built in Canada, the MARY B. VI would battle snow, ice and heavy seas for many years while supporting oil rigs and exploration off Nova Scotia and the Arctic's Beaufort Sea.
She also had many name changes including the ARCTIC TUKTU when McKeil Marine purchased her in 1994. Soon after an elevated wheelhouse was installed above her superstructure, the once glorious and hard working offshore support ship commenced her new career as a tugboat with a new name, JOHN SPENCE.

Though able to carry just about anything that can be lashed to her massive reinforced steel deck like containers, or rolls of steel, NIAGARA SPIRIT's primary cargo is aluminum ingots that's transported to market from Sept Isle, Quebec through the St. Lawrence River and Seaway system. Though their appearance may not be as pretty as so many lakers and salties that get snapped by us boatnerds everyday, tug and barge combos like the JOHN SPENCE & NIAGARA SPIRIT deserve a second look and calm waters every now and then too, don't you think? c):-D    

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