Saturday 22 February 2014


The JOYCE L. VAN ENKEVORT is known as an articulated push tug for the self uploading barge, GREAT LAKES TRADER which I snapped last September up at the Soo.
Sometimes when I speak or reply to a concern, people will say my response was very well articulated. Which is not to say it only happens when I'm operating an articulated bus like #6615 there behind me. The key similarity here is the word 'joining', as in having the ability of joining a group of words in a manner that is expressed fluently and coherent, or when joining or connecting two or more sections to act as one with a flexible joint. Am I making myself, perfectly clear here?. Anyhow, OC Transpo, the transit company I work for currently has 359 'New Flyer' articulated buses that were built in Winnipeg, Manitoba and can each seat 53 customers with a standing load of who knows. At rush hour, every possible nook and cranny is jammed with a person or 30. Add a couple of wheelchairs, walkers or strollers, and the commute to work or home truly becomes an upfront and personal relationship. While most of our fleet are 40 footers, our articulated buses or a.k.a. 'artics', are 60 footers which is basically a 20' trailer with seats, windows and the engine connected to the front section with a pivoted joint and flexible side walls that allows it to bend around a corner like a 'slinky' or an 'accordion' (both acceptable nicknames). Whatever you want to call them, our artics are generally easy to drive however when weather conditions become snowy, icy or both (an almost daily occurrence this winter in Ottawa), if you're not careful the back section, (where the power or drive is located), sometimes will want to slip towards the curb and jack-knife while trying to grip the road for traction on even the slightest grade or when stopped on a hill. It happens but fortunately not to me in the 11.5 years of driving artics. Quickly, knock on wood for me!! c);-b
Meanwhile, instead of joining the tug & barge with a pivot pin to offer flexible mobility like my articulated bus, the specially designed bow of the VAN ENKEVORT is first positioned within a moulded notch at the stern of the GREAT LAKES TRADER and then connected with piston-driven cylinders that are positioned into recessed vertical racks on both sides of the TRADER'S notch. As a result the JOYCE L. VAN ENKEVORT and the GREAT LAKES TRADER has literally been joined together for over 10 years.
The 135' VAN ENKEVORT was built in 1998 by Bay Shipbuilding of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, for Great Lakes Marine Leasing of Portland, Oregon, while the 740' TRADER was built in two halves at Halter Marine in Pearlington, Mississippi then towed to New Orleans, Louisiana to be joined together. Once outfitted and mated with the VAN ENKEVORT in New Orleans, the pair motored north and arrived in the Great Lakes in June 2000 after transiting the St. Lawrence Seaway. However, since their combined length was over 844', the GREAT LAKES TRADER had to transit each seaway lock independently with the aid of smaller tugs.

Operated by Van Enkevort Tug & Barge of Escanaba, Michigan,  the VAN ENKEVORT and TRADER have carried stone and iron ore throughout the upper lakes but regularly transfers talconite from her home port of Escanaba located at the upper end of Lake Michigan, due south to the other end of the lake at Indiana Harbor, Indiana which they have continued to do this winter despite biting Arctic cold temperatures and an over abundance of lake ice along Michigan's shoreline. Despite being one of the largest vessels I have ever seen, the tug & barge combo appeared dwarf-size as the thousand footer  AMERICAN CENTURY
(         passed by (above) while exiting the Soo's Poe Lock. Enough articulating about that, eh? c);-b 

Saturday 15 February 2014


She's was on the move and making a nice whitewater wake as the 431' Algoma Tanker ALGOEAST glided past us heading upbound at Brockville's river park last fall. Today, she is also on the move only perhaps not making quite the same headway as the ALGOEAST slowly but surely motors down the middle of the almost completely ice-covered Lake Erie on her way to Nanticoke, Ontario. During the regular navigational season, the journey from Sarnia (where I snapped her last September, below) might take less than a day, however her current transit is expected to take almost 4 days with an estimated time of arrival of just around dinner hour tomorrow at the Imperial Oil refinery dock at Nanticoke. Even though the ALGOEAST was constructed with an ice-strenghtened hull and bow giving her a 1A ice class standard, during her transit to Nanticoke, she has been receiving ice breaker assistance from the CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY since leaving Sarnia Wednesday night. Also tagging along until Windsor was the articulated push tug EVERLAST and her barge, the NORMAN McLEOD.   
When built in 1978 at the Mitsubishi ship yard in Shimonoeski, Japan, she was a single hulled tanker and her name was TEXACO BRAVE. Owned by Texaco Canada of Don Mills, Ontario the BRAVE operated on the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, and the Canadian east coast including some routes to the Arctic until 1986. While being owned by Sofati-Soconav of Montreal, her name was LE BRAVE until 1997 when after being bought by Imperial Oil, her name was changed to IMPERIAL ST. LAWRENCE. In 1998, she was purchased by Algoma Central, refitted with updated systems and converted to a double hulled tanker at Port Weller Dry Docks. Since returning to service in 2000, she has been named ALGOEAST and continues to service on the Great Lakes and Atlantic Canada ports from Imperial Oil's Sarnia refinery. While so many other ships have laid up for the winter, the ALGOEAST continues to 'brave-on' through the worst ice conditions on the Great Lakes in 20 years, delivering oil products to help keep our cars running and our economy healthy. Perhaps a different outcome for our lungs!! c);-b
Meanwhile, check out this video of the ALGOEAST and SAMUEL RISLEY motoring (or not) through the St. Clair river ice in January 2009. Pretty exciting stuff, eh!! c):-o

Thursday 6 February 2014

Ice Breaking Tug USCGC KATMAI BAY (WTGB-101)

The Bad News: The Groundhogs predictions are in and according to Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil and Ontario's Wiarton Willie, there will be NO EARLY SPRING this year. c):-(  News to the contrary would really have been appreciated by so many depressed souls in Ontario, the Great Lakes states and eastern seaboard who've had to bear unbelievably cold, raw wind and snowy winter weather since late November. Of course the hairy rodents really had no choice but to call for 6 more weeks of wintery bliss because last year when they predicted a near end to winter's misery, someone from Ohio threatened to take legal action against Phil when the cold and snow continued on, and on, and on. c):-o  Hey, if you can't take the cold, then stay in the kitchen or to go Florida, the Caribbean or simply your neighbour's hot tub and chill out, already!! c);-b
The Good News: With the Great Lakes being over 70% covered in ice, those folks who like to dabble their lines in freshly drilled holes along the frozen freshwater seas will now have a greater chance of catching a fish or many more this winter. Especially Lake Erie where 96% of the lake is a monster ice cube. There should also be less lake-effected snowstorms with the lakes frozen over and due to the deep freeze temps, excessive snowfalls and so much ice already on the Great Lakes, water levels are expected to rise significantly which has been extremely low over the past 20 years.c):-)

Meanwhile, motorists in Wisconsin and Illinois are probably pretty happy with this week's arrival of 50,000 tons of road salt in Milwaukee by Canadian self unloaders ALGOWOOD (snapped during Port Colborne's Canal Days 2012 and the ALGOSTEEL from the Sifto salt mine at Goderich, Ontario. As mentioned in my last post, many ships are getting stuck in the ice in the narrower channels of the St. Mary's, St. Clair and Detroit rivers, and any port (including Goderich) on lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie. It's been no different on the Straits of Mackinac, where the USCGC MACKINAW (WLBB-30) and ice breaking tugs like USCGC KATMAI BAY (WTGB-101) have been called upon constantly this winter to assist one or convoy groups of freighters to open water. The cutter KATMAI BAY is the first of nine 140' Bay-class ice breaking tugs to be built for the American Coast Guard in Tacoma, Washington. Each can pass through freshwater ice up to 20" thick and break ice ridges up to 3' thick, through ramming.  Also, they are equipped with a system to lubricate their progress through the ice , by bubbling air through the hull, thereby clearing a path much wider than the tugs actual width of 37.5'. The other Bay-class tugs that are stationed on the Great Lakes and very active this winter are: BRISTOL BAY (Detroit, MI), MOBILE BAY (Sturgeon Bay, WI), BISCAYNE BAY, (St. Ignace, MI), NEAH BAY and MORRO BAY (Cleveland, OH). Commission in 1979, the KATMAI BAY's home port is Sault Ste. Marie where I snapped her last September, though today she has been churning up the ice and assisting the now downbound ALGOSTEEL and the tug/barge combo GREAT LAKES TRADER, also snapped below passing the cutter KATMAI BAY and buoy tender USCGC BUCKTHORN while approaching the entrance to the Poe Lock in the Soo. Like they say, it's not the size that matters, it's what these feisty little tugs can do that counts. c);-b

Sunday 2 February 2014

Ice Breakers USCGC MACKINAW (WAGB-83 &WLBB-30)

When you say 'Global Warming', most people believe the weather should be warmer, which at times, that's exactly the case. Like at the North Pole in summer where there used be ice, now it's open water. Or, like two years ago here in Ottawa, we had a very mild winter, hardly any snow, then a dry-ish spring and early summer causing a drought which due to carelessness, resulted in numerous grass and brush fires literally in our backyards. The weather norm has changed. It continues to become unpredictable just like the devastating super typhoon that crashed its way through Philippines, or tornadoes in Illinois in November or a freakish snowfall causing havoc this week in Atlanta, Georgia. Say What? Yes, the weather has become 'Wacko', or an extreme reality show for us all - nothing planned or anticipated. 'You just go with the flow'.
During World War II, the production of steel was extremely important and to ensure that plants located along the Great Lakes were able to continue production during the winter months, the United States government decided to build an ice breaker that would assist freighters deliver much needed supplies of coal and ore through ice flows and clogged channels from Lake Michigan to Western Lake Erie, beyond or earlier than the 'normal' Great Lakes shipping season. The US Navy already had several Wind-class icebreakers in service that were built in California but because the design of the ship was too wide to traverse the narrow canal locks along the upper St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes version needed to be built within the inland seas. Built at American Ship Building and Drydock in Toledo, Ohio, the 290'x74' USCGC MACKINAW (WAGB-83) was commissioned in December 1944, just in time to extend the Great Lakes shipping season to mid-January and to clear the channels and ports throughout the winter to allow the shipping season to commence in March instead of the usual norm of when the ice softened enough for a safe passage, sometime in April.
Based in Cheboygan, Michigan, the USCGC MACKINAW or sometimes known the 'Mac' or 'Queen of the Great Lakes', provided exceptional service to many ports and shipping companies for 62 years and in 2006 she was decommissioned and now serves as maritime museum in the community she was named after, Mackinaw City, MI. That's where I snapped these photos of the Wind-class MACKINAW during our own 'Whirl-wind Tour to the Soo & Back' last September.
It was during that same boat hunting trip that we came across the newer USCGC MACKINAW (WLBB-30) snapped below, getting her superstructure re-painted while moored at the coast guard station in Cheboygan, MI. Commissioned in June 2006, the ice breaking cutter also serves as a navigational aid tender, as well as conducts search and rescue, and Homeland Security ops, pollution response, law enforcement and public affairs. Built at the Marinette Marine Shipyards in Marinette, Wisconsin, the 240'x58.8' USCGC MACKINAW (WLBB-30) uses two 'Azipods' for her main propulsion. These, coupled with her powerful bow thruster, makes the MACKINAW exceptionally maneuverable. Azipods also remove the need for the traditional rudder as the thrusters can turn the cutter 360 degrees around her vertical axis to direct the MACKINAW's thrust in any direction. COOL!! Also, since the azipods are controlled indiviually, the MACKINAW also lacks the need for a traditional ship's wheel. WOW!! c):-o

What started out as an essential wartime need, has become an annual tradition to continue to operate the movement of goods and services by various lakers and tankers  from Lake Michigan to the western end of Lake Erie as if no weather change has occurred. Though maintenance and ice blockage hassles has made it a requirement to close down the St. Lawrence Seaway, Welland Canal and Soo Locks during normally the worst months of winter, the recent warmer than usual winters has resulted in 'business as usual' shipping activities with perhaps the exception being this current winter. Since late November, much of central and eastern Canada, and the United States has been engulfed in a polar vortex (a.k.a. polar cyclone) that has sent temperatures plummeting to record deep freeze lows and combined with Siberian-like polar blasts that has caused ongoing wind-chill that has made life almost unbearable for anyone working or simply just getting around in the effected areas. The weather and the ice conditions on the Great Lakes are the worst in 20 years. Normally, ice may incase ports and bays along the edges of the Great Lakes that could be managed with harbour tugs and coast guard ice breakers from both sides of the border, however the middle of any lakes would remain ice free. This winter, Erie is virtually frozen over, a third of Michigan is covered in ice and the rest are at least 50% covered.  
CCGS GRIFFON and CSL ASSINIBOINE at Port Colborne - March 8 2006
For the last few weeks, it's been quite interesting to track the progress or lack there of, of so many ships that are still attempting to operate south of 'The Soo' and I've come to the obvious conclusion that many of these ships would be locked in the ice until spring had it not been for the Canadian and American ice breaking resources that appears to be stretched to the maximum. Activity like CCGS GRIFFON assisting CSL ASSINIBOINE (Carlz Boats: 19.09.12) from Nanticoke on Lake Erie to winter lay-up in Sarnia (snapped them together in Port Colborne in March 2008). Or, CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY assisting the ALGOWAY (Carlz Boats:07.10.13) from Lake Huron through to Toledo, Ohio on Lake Erie.
Tanker ALGOSEA at Port Colborne - February 10, 2013
Then the RISLEY make herself available to escort the upbound tanker ALGOSEA  making her way to Sarnia. Meanwhile, as the ALGOWOOD attempted to make her way to Goderich on Lake Huron, the USCG tug BISCAYNE BAY and USCGC MACKINAW assisted her and others through the ice locked Mackinaw Straits. From there the MACKINAW churned up a path through Georgian Bay so that the ALGOMARINE (Carlz Boats: 30.10.13) could back into Owen Sound for winter lay up (great snaps of her effort at Friday night and Saturday I watched as the tankers ALGOCANADA and ALGOSEA (Carlz Boats:13.09.12) slowly made their way from Sarnia to Nanticoke. Leading the way was the GRIFFON and USCG tug NEAH BAY, which left to assist the ALGOWAY to Detroit. Tonight the ALGOWAY made it to Sarnia with the help of the MACKINAW which also assisted the downbound EVERLAST/NORMAN MCLEOD (Carlz Boats:09.11.12) make their way to Windsor.
Bay-class ice breaking tug USCGC KATMAI BAY (WTGB-101) 

It's all been kind of like the old board game 'Snakes & Ladders' for the Canadian and U.S. coast guard ice breakers, which regardless of the flag they fly, they work together as one ensuring the safe transit and movement of commerce for both nations.
Go Coast Guards GO!!