Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Harbour Tug LAPRAIRIE

Autumn is here, on paper at least, and though it had been spring for over 6 weeks when I snapped the harbour tug LAPRAIRIE transiting Iroquois Lock on April 28. Old man winter had kept this little big tug busy breaking up ice in and around locks Côte Ste. Catherine and St. Lambert a little bit longer than usual and thereby delayed her westerly or upbound trek to her summer work as the Port of Oshawa's harbour tug. When launched in 1975 at the Georgetown Shipyards in Georgetown, Prince Edward Island her name then was spelled out as "LA PRAIRIE" which as most of us up here in the "Great White North" is aware, it's the French translation for "The Prairie". Oddly enough "LA PRAIRIE" is it's also the name of a South-shore Montreal suburb which this little workhorse would regularly pass regardless of how her name was spelled while conducting icebreaking or other maintenance tasks along the south-shore canal for her original owner, the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority and with her current boss, the Québec City based Le Groupe Océan who purchased her in 2002. 

Since going into business in 1972 as Aqua-Marine, Le Groupe Océan has become one the largest marine service providers in Canada primarily due to a series of acquisitions since 1987 of regional harbour tug companies along the lower St. Lawrence River. Today with a fleet of over 30 tugs, Océan offers year round efficient harbour towing services to ports like Sept-Îles on the Gulf of St. Lawrence; and Québec, Bécancour, Trois-Rivières, Sorel-Tracy, and Montreal on the St. Lawrence River. Based in Hamilton, Ontario, Océan expanded their services to Oshawa, Toronto, and Hamilton on Lake Ontario and Goderich on Lake Huron when they started Océan Ontario Towing in 2005.
Regardless of the situation, Le Groupe Océan has the resources to rotate their tugs from port to port or to conduct emergency salvaging operations within hours of being requested for assistance. Such was the case for those of us living near the Montreal to Lake Ontario section of the St. Lawrence, where more often this year we have seen heavy-pull tugs like the OCÉAN GEORGIE BAIN, and OCÉAN ROSS GAUDREAULT quickly motoring by to assist grounded vessels like this spring's 623' Polsteam bulk carrier JUNO beneath the Thousand Island Bridge in April, the 730' ALGOMA SPIRIT near Cornwall in May, and when the 286' cruise ship ST. LAURENT rammed into a concrete sill at Eisenhower Lock last June. Each incident resulted in the Seaway being closed for multiple days. The situation could have been far worse had it not been for the aid of Océan's modern and powerful tugs. Oh YAAA!!! c):-D
Sporting Océan's current colours of a royal blue hull and mostly white superstructure with an aquamarine trim near her deck (to acknowledge the company's founding name and colours, "Aqua-Marine", I presume), the nearly 74'x26' LAPRAIRIE perhaps looked somewhat miniature as she proudly motored along through the 776'x80' Iroquois Lock.  

After an overnight stop at Kingston, (perhaps to fuel up)  LAPRAIRIE continued her journey to Oshawa where as she's done for many years before, offered assistance where needed. This summer it will have been berthing salties dockside or towing them out of Oshawa's narrow harbour to the deeper waters of Lake Ontario, while next winter she'll be back breaking ice along the Seaway's south shore canal or transferring St. Lawrence River pilots from her homeport in Sorel-Tracy. Like the late great Yogi Berra who died today at age 90, use to say about the game of baseball not being over till it's over, so is true for harbour tugs like the LAPRAIRIE. Rest In Peace Mr. Berra. We'll miss you. :-(( 

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