Monday 6 March 2017

Light Icebreaker CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY (Revisited)

Signed by the authors, I bought it at a used bookstore.
Great Find!!
Winter was winter was winter when growing up in Port Colborne in the 1950's, 60's and early 70's. As per usual a good whack of lake-effect snow heading for Buffalo, NY, would dump on us around mid-November and more would come time and time again until April. Back then you would never ever have to worry about there not being a white Christmas because the soonest you'd ever see anything that looked like grass, it was already Easter. Unlike here is Ottawa with it's huge fleet of mini motorized plows and snowblowers to clear all sidewalks and paths, back then it was the responsibility of the business and home-owners to do the shovelling whenever they got around to it so quite often I recall walking to school pushing my way through ankle to shin high blankets of snow, and to make the trudge fun, I'd imagine I was an icebreaker cutting a track through a snow and ice covered Lake Erie. You did the same thing too, eh? c):-o
The icebreaker that I imagined myself to be was the former polar legend, CCGS N.B. McLEAN which had the responsibility of ensuring an ice free passage for lakers each spring (that's her on the front cover my book "The Ships of Canada's Marine Services"). Built in 1930 at Halifax Shipyards, the 260' N.B. McLEAN was Canada's most powerful polar icebreaker until the 1950's and when Manitoba's, Port Of Churchill on Hudson Bay was opened as a railway terminus for prairie wheat in 1929, the N.B. McLEAN was the mainstay for shipments to Europe via the Hudson Bay route before and beyond the port's narrow ice-free shipping season of mid-summer to early autumn. Before being stationed on the Great Lakes during her latter years of service, she was known for her work during the winter months on St. Lawrence River and Gulf along with the buoy tender CCGS ERNEST LAPOINTE (

Retired N.B. McLEAN undertow behind former Search & Rescue Cutter ALERT at Quebec City in the mid 1970's. Another fine photo by Graham Grattan. Thanks!!
 For much of the winter I would see the McLEAN moored at the end of West Street  near the fuel dock and to me the two-stack 6500 horse power steam powered cutter looked formidable with her wide rounded hull and slightly ram-shaped bow. She even had a helicopter on board, one of those glass-bubble types that covered the cockpit like you'd see on old TV shows like "The Whirlybirds" or "M*A*S*H" only her copter had huge pontoons added for safe landings on water and ice.
N.B. McLEAN's helicopter next to 9 metre ice ridge.
As written in the 1986 paper entitled "Lake Erie Ice, Researcher's Dream - Designers Nightmare" author and ice consultant Derek M. Foulds stated that "our most southerly Great Lake has more ice problems than any other body of water in North America and probably the this lake it may take from a few days to many weeks for the ice to cover if it freezes over at all. During the time the cover is forming, the ice may be broken away or moved many times by wind and wave forces. Ice movements are normally caused by changes in wind direction forcing it to move until it meets an immovable object, which it tries to go over, around or underneath." Like today, winds to 80 km/h were not uncommon and 160 km/h wind gusts had been experienced which creating off-shore ridges of ice piled 9 metres high like the one next to the N.B. McLEAN's helicopter about 1 mile west of Buffalo harbour in the photo above taken in 1971. Also in this paper there's an account of the N.B. McLEAN leaving Port Colborne during the winter of 1971, where T.E. Wigle said the icebreaker: "ran into almost impenetrable ice cover 150 metres from the canal entrance.  
Only thing missing here from the former icebreaker would be is huge billows 
of smoke or steam rising from her double stacks. Thanks again Graham Grattan.
The ice was about 30 cms thick but was rafted by the winds producing a total cover thickness of 60 cms. The ship thereupon turned around and for 2 days backed all the way to Long Point. By backing into the cover with engines in full reverse, the water is drawn out from under the local cover causing it to collapse."  WOW!! Now that's some pretty shrewd maneuvering by the skipper of the N.B. McLEAN eh? It's an excellent read so go to this link to check it out the paper:
Photo courtesy of Canadian Coast Guard

Conditions were very much the same two years ago in late February when while attempting to make a late season trip to Conneaut, Ohio to pick up a load for Gary, Indiana, the 767' ore carrier ARTHUR B. ANDERSON became locked in the Lake Erie ice for 2 days just 4 miles from her intended destination. Due to their extended slow trek along Lake Erie's south shore, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter BRISTOL BAY had no choice but to break off her escorting duties and make way to the nearest port to take on fuel and additional supplies. Unable to break through huge pressure ridges produced by gale force winds (sound familiar?) at Ashtabula and the BRISTOL BAY made it safely to Cleveland with assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker GRIFFON which had been working near Long Point. Then the GRIFFON made her way to the ARTHUR B. ANDERSON and helped the ore carrier turn herself into westward direction.
Photo courtesy of Canadian Coast Guard
Meanwhile after escorting the Algoma self unloader CAPT. HENRY JACKMAN through the lower St. Clair River, the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker SAMUEL RISLEY also made her way into Lake Erie to help free the ANDERSON. Since the GRIFFON was needed back at Nanticoke to assist Algoma tankers, ALGOCANADA and ALGOSEA, the SAMUEL RISLEY remained with the ARTHUR B. ANDERSON and  escorted her to Detroit. With more escorting required from both country's coast guard icebreakers, the ARTHUR B. ANDERSON finally arrived at Sturgeon Bay for her winter layup on March 4th and ended a much longer than expected journey that had started from South Chicago, Ill., on February 5th.
The United States and Canada have a strong icebreaking partnership and in 2015 in particular, both Coast Guards worked tirelessly under very challenging conditions to assist commercial vessels through heavy ice conditions on the Great Lakes and connecting waterways. It's what they do.

Built in 1985 at Vito Steel Boats and Barges Shipyard of Delta, British Columbia, the 229' CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY is the first in her class as a navigation aids vessel design based on a supply ship type hull. Named for a 19th century maritime inspector and the first head of the Board of Steamship Inspectors for Upper Canada and Ontario, the SAMUEL RISLEY is responsible for ice free passage from Port Colborne to Thunder Bay and is based at Parry Sound on Lake Huron's Georgian Bay while her sister ship CCGS EARL GREY is based in Charlottetown, P.E.I. and operates in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and East Coast shoreline.

Known officially as a Medium Endurance Multi-Task vessel, the RISLEY is powered by 4 Wärtsilä Vasa 16V22 12 cylinder geared diesel engines driving to controllable pitch propellers that creates 8,640 bhp for a max speed of 15 knots and enough umph to break ice up to 2 feet thick, which perhaps with the exception of the last two years, a normal occurrence for icebreakers plying Lake Erie during the winter month. The distinctive looking SAMUEL RISLEY with her sleek bow and the tall forward bridge is also equipped with a big Liebherr crane capable of lifting navigation aids or whatever up to 5 long tons onto or off her extended quarterdeck. We don't get to see the SAMUEL RISLEY that often along these parts of the St. Lawrence River so it was really nice to snap her motoring by Prescott and tying off at Johnstown on July 2, 2015, while on her way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland shoreline to work search and rescue and fisheries operations there for that summer.

Photo by Evelyn Escalona
It's been a pretty mild winter for much of the Great Lakes region with not a lot of icebreaking activities required for the RISLEY but as you can see in these two wonderful photos by boat watchers Evelyn Escalona and Kristian Moller, she did make her way up to Goderich on February 17th, to break up the ice cover at the Lake Huron port's outer and inner harbours in preparation for the arrival of the 730' Algoma's self unloader JOHN B. AIRD. Due to finally commence her winter layup, the AIRD had her season extended hauling road salt to Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit. You did good girl (& Crew)!! c):-D

Photo by Kristian Moller

When not tied off at the Government Dock in Sarnia, CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY has been seen by many placing buoys along the ice-free St. Clair River in preparation for the approaching shipping season. With the Welland Canal and St. Lawrence Seaway opening early this year, on March 20th, the upper lakes based RISLEY and her U.S. Coast Guard counterparts will be busy opening the bays and harbours that are ice covered along the shoreline of either country as both coast guards have no boundaries when it comes to clearing ice on the Great Lakes. They work as a one, like the best of friends that we are in so many ways.
While the wrath of this winter's "La Niña" forecast didn't really show up in most of Ontario and throughout the Great Lakes region, she sure met her mark here in the Ottawa Valley dropping over 200 centmetres of snow since November. I must admit it was a lot of fun making tracks like an icebreaker through the freshly fall snow at the park with my grandsons José and Hayden back in December after an afternoon on the toboggan hill. With repeated 5-10 cm snowfalls throughout January and February, more and more Ottawa streets got narrower and narrower because the plows had no place to put the snow.

CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY glides by a slab of ice in front of Graham Grattan's
place at Pointe Louise on the upper St. Mary's River on April 1, 2020. Nic pic!
So quite often while doing my bus routes I really had no choice but to push the odd snowbank or drift back a bit further to service the stops, and indirectly to make it easier for other buses and motorists to drive through a neighbourhood much like an icebreaker would do on the lakes. It's only snow and after all, and just like those might ships like the SAMUEL RISLEY, our buses are also red and white with a big "Maple Leaf" on each side. Yeah, you can't knock a guy for having an imagination now, can you? c);-b


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