Sunday 18 September 2016

Classic Straightdecker OJIBWAY

Well Hello!! We haven't seen many like you up this way anymore. We see all kinds of salties and Great Lakes tankers, bulk carriers, and self unloaders but almost all are "sternenders" with their pilothouse and accommodations superstructure as one unit above the engine room at the stern.

True we have seen some forward pilothouse self unloaders like your fleetmates, MISSISSAGI or SAGINAW and converts like the ALGOSTEEL motor by, but even most of that style of laker has been or are waiting to be dismantled once scrap prices rise, while others have been laid up for most this season due to a lack of cargoes. No, OJIBWAY, you are special. You are a "classic straightdecker" and now that you are underway again after your 5 year inspection, you are the last Canadian-flagged straightdecker in service. Unbelievable!

Built in Cleveland in 1869, the R.J. HACKETT was considered the first "laker". Unlike the other vessels of the day which were mostly sailing schooners or steam powered freighters with a wheelhouse amidships, the R.J. HACKETT though much smaller at 208', looked very much like the OJIBWAY. She had a deckhouse with galley and crew quarters sitting aft, a second deckhouse containing the captain's cabin and pilothouse at the bow which gave the captain better vision and quicker reaction to dangers in the water or when maneuvering through channels and locks, but more importantly in the middle was a long and wide hold which maximized cargo volume and hatches that were spaced perfectly for ore dock chutes. Being far more easier to move cargo, the innovative straighdeck design of the HACKETT became the most common type of vessel on the Great Lakes over the following 25 years, and the basis for nearly every bulk carrier built on the Great Lakes over the next 100 years. She was a classic. 

Back in August 2014 when I snapped these photos, OJIBWAY is seen here slowly but surely making way along the approach wall towards Iroquois Lock. No, there's no lack of confidence on the skipper's part but instead many years of experience and the knowledge that when entering Iroquois from the west, you can never be too cautious. It's simply not as easy as it looks. It's one thing to have to deal with the pull from the passing upbound FEDERAL ASAHI, as she picks up speed, but the current from the adjacent water-level control dam can easily draw the laden 642' OJIBWAY's stern into the middle of the channel, and who needs that? 
It was 26 years ago when the gearless bulk carrier had an incident that could have met her end. Then she was 25 miles off course and hard aground on the rocks off Isle Royale. Fortunately after being freed and towed to Thunder Bay, her damages were repaired and completed during winter layup before the new 1991 shipping season commenced. Her meeting with the breaker's touch would have wait until a later date.

When launched in 1952 at Defoe Shipbuilding Company of Bay City, Michigan for Pioneer Steamship Company her name was CHARLES L. HUTCHINSON and though there were a few modifications for the original Leon Fraser-class, she was a U.S. Steel "Super" or "Double-A" straightdecker built to haul iron ore from Duluth to steel mills in the lower lakes.

However, sometimes like us all, you do what you do to stay useful like when sailing for the Ford Motor Company as the ERNEST R. BREECH, she primarily became a grain carrier during a slowdown in the steel industry in the mid 1980's, loading in Duluth and then taking her cargo to Buffalo, New York. While there were rumours that dismantling was imminent, in 1988 she was sold to Kinsman Lines and resumed the Duluth to Buffalo grain trading route as the KINSMAN INDEPENDENT.
Life was good for the company and crew of the KINSMAN INDEPENDENT until in 2000, when self unloaders began being used to haul grain and instead of requiring shore side unloading arms to scoop their cargo into the elevator, self unloaders simply discharged the grain with their conveyer booms into hoppers.c):-()
While at the time it was considered that hauling grain to Buffalo was only suited for straightdeckers like the KINSMAN INDEPENDENT and her fleetmate, KINSMAN ENTERPRISE, however soon after an unloading hopper was installed at Buffalo's General Mills Frontier Grain Elevator in 2002, the KINSMAN ENTERPRISE was sold for scrap and the INDEPENDENT started a period of long-term layup in Buffalo. Meanwhile, the grain delivery service was given to Oglebay Norton Marine's veteran self unloader JOSEPH H. FRANTZ.
While it could have been so easy to take the aging straightdecker to International Marine Salvaging for scrapping just a short distance up Lake Erie, KINSMAN INDEPENDENT was instead towed to Hamilton when purchased by McKeil Work Boats in September 2004. In May of 2005, she was purchased by Voyageur Marine of Ridgeville, Ontario and when the renamed VOYAGEUR INDEPENDENT left on her maiden voyage to Thunder Bay just six month later, she had been re-energized with a new General Electric turbo-charged diesel engine, a new propeller shaft and a new control pitch propeller system. c):-D

She remained the VOYAGEUR INDEPENDENT when Lower Lakes Towing Ltd. of Port Dover, Ontario purchased her in August 2007, but she was given the name OJIBWAY, after one of the largest First Nation's Peoples north of the Rio Grande on February 29, 2008.
Like then, the straightdecker OJIBWAY continues to work in the grain hauling trade which has allowed Lower Lakes to seek new trade opportunities for their self unloader fleet.

Though it appeared self unloaders would make gearless boats like the passing SPRUCEGLEN and OJIBWAY obsolete when hoppers started being installed at grain elevators in 2000, both ships remain active today. Now isn't that ironic. c):-o

As the OJIBWAY approached and made her way through Iroquois Lock, I couldn't help but notice a different flag flying from the foremast behind her pilothouse, and as I zoomed in I could see it said "DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP". For anyone who has read about the War of 1812, "DON'T GIVE UP THE SHIP" were the famous last words shouted by the dying commander of the USS CHESAPEAKE, James Lawrence in 1813. After his death, fellow officer and friend Oliver Hazard Perry had a women in Erie, Pennsylvania stitch the phrase in bold white letters on a large blue ensign which was flown during the victorious Battle of Lake Erie against the British also in 1813. It was very much an appropriate phrase at the time perhaps has a similar meaning today. Though not a battle cry per se, but rather a notion to the powers that be to not let the "Classic Straightdecker" design as we know it, be lost forever. In other words, "Don't Give up this type of Ship!" Food for Thought!! c):-) 

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