Sunday 21 September 2014

Gearless Bulker ALGOMA EQUINOX

As soon as I found out my neighbour Glen and his family were heading up to Thunder Bay to visit relatives, I asked him to take a few snaps of the boats in the harbour. His initial response was kind of 'good luck with that' because he reluctantly said during other visits up there, he hardly recalled seeing any ships in the once busy Great Lakes port. He was still somewhat skeptical when I mentioned about the huge bumper crop of grain from the prairie provinces that was being shipped to Thunder Bay for loading into Great Lakes and ocean-going bulk carriers, destined to European markets.
ASTONISHING, for Glen and probably most anyone from or currently living in Thunder Bay, a community that was "hopping" in the grain storage and shipping business from the turn of the 20th century until the mid 1960's when transportation of goods to southern markets started switching over to trucks and rail cars as highways and railway lines were improved and expanded to the north and beyond.
But that all changed last fall when Canadian prairie farmers realized that despite receiving perfect weather conditions last spring and summer which produced bumper crops of wheat, canola and other grain products, they really had no place to store or get their grain to market. Prairie elevators and storage silos were over 100% filled to capacity which meant that whatever didn't make it into a building, got piled outside and covered under massive tarps for the winter. To make matters worse, the bumper crop caught haulers and rail carriers by surprise as most of their assets were allocated to transporting oil-sands crude to refineries in the States, out east or wherever. Since they couldn't say "Houston, we've got a problem!!", the called Ottawa instead where the Canadian government demanded CN & CP railways commit to shipping 500,000 tons of grain product per week or pay a weekly $100,000 fine. YIKES!! c)8-( Next problem to be solved: where is the nearest port that has the capacity to receive and transfer all of this grain to European markets ASAP? Answer: Thunder Bay with its 8 operating elevators, it's able to store over 1.2 million tonnes, the largest grain storage capacity in North American. YES!! c):-))
However, just when grain suppliers thought it was okay to start "rolling in dough", another obstacle appeared over the horizon: "Old Man Winter" and his dreaded "Polar Vortex" resulting in heavy ice conditions throughout the Great Lakes. Even Lake Superior was 70% frozen over and the ice at Thunder Bay was 4 feet thick. Despite a superb effort by American and Canadian coast guard assets, two Canadian Heavy Polar-class icebreakers and a high endurance icebreaker had to be diverted into the Great Lakes to help get the shipping season moving. Assisted with icebreakers, convoys of lakers started arriving at Thunder Bay a month later than normal and it is expected that the massive backlog of Western Canadian grain could take a full year to clear.
Meanwhile, back at the boat blog: Thank you Glen for your snap of what  looks a lot like  the 740' ALGOMA EQUINOX anchored off shore, and waiting their turn for a berth to take on a load of grain.

Last March I snapped the ALGOMA EQUINOX as she was laid up for winter off Cherry Street in Toronto. Just days after I found her sitting high in the water and appearing to be going nowhere fast, the EQUINOX raced across Lake Ontario and received the "Top Hat" honours at Lock 3 for being the first Welland Canal upbound for the 2014 shipping season on March 28. However, once she made it to Port Colborne, the EQUINOX could go no further due to heavy ice conditions on Lake Erie which was virtually frozen over during the winter due to the "Polar Vortex".

 Chopping at the bit for a load of "feed" in Thunder Bay, the EQUINOX had to wait almost a week before she and 4 other vessels left Port Colborne  escorted to the western end of Lake Erie by the Canadian Coast Guard heavy icebreaker DES GROSEILLIERS  It wasn't until April 9th that the EQUINOX finally arrived at the Soo where she sat idle for another couple weeks while waiting for an icebreaker escort convoy to Thunder Bay. I'm not exactly sure when ALGOMA EQUINOX finally arrived at 'The Lakehead' though I'm sure she's made a few trips there and back since. c):-x

Built in Nantong City, China in 2013, ALGOMA EQUINOX is the first of eight of her class that are 45% more energy efficient than Algoma Central's earlier vessels. Like the first 4 of this class, the EQUINOX is known as a "gearless bulker", meaning that she needs shore facilities to load and unload. The remaining four in her class will be self unloaders. Designed to carry more cargo, consume less fuel and navigate with increased safety parameters, ALGOMA EQUINOX will primary transport grain to elevators in Baie Comeau (which is where she was going when I snapped her June 7th) and then pick up a load of Quebec or Labrador ore at a Gulf of St. Lawrence port destined to a Hamilton refinery. No matter how you slice it, it's a tough job and someone's got to do it to keep the economy going but at least each crew member has their own individual cabin complete with ensuite washroom, internet and satelite TV connections.
State-of-the art in more ways than one. I Likey!! c);-b

Monday 1 September 2014

Packet Freight & Ferry NORGOMA

It's hard to believe it's almost a year since we did our "Whirlwind Tour to the Soo and Back". We got lots of great snaps along the way and including a few thousand footers from waterfront walk on the Canadian side of the Soo like my favourite the downbound AMERICAN CENTURY exiting the Poe Lock
In fact, while waiting for the CENTURY to motor out of the lock, I got a snap of Janie & Tanner near the former packet freight and passenger ferry, NORGOMA which is currently a museum ship at Roberta Bondar Park. The 150'x36' NORGOMA was built in 1949 at Collingwood Shipyards for the Owen Sound Transportation Company. Though the terrain along the North Channel of Lake Huron and Manitoulin Island is very picturesque, it's also quite rugged and back then there weren't a lot of good roads to service the many villages and fishing ports along that shoreline. Therefore shallow draft packet freighters like the NORGOMA were used to transport essential goods which sometimes included livestock. The five day and approximately 300 kilometre trip between Owen Sound and Sault Ste. Marie included stops in Killarney, Little Current, Gore Bay, Meldrum Bay, Cockburn Island, Thessalon, Hilton Beach, and Richard's Landing. Her cargo was known as "packet freight" because the goods (with the exception of the cattle) were packaged in crates or skids, and instead of being lowered into a hold, they were fork-lifted through wide doors along her hull that were located near her stern and midsection (cattle probably just walked on board, told them they we going to the zoo). The doors now appear to be welded shut but if you look closely you can see them in my snaps below? Once on board, the crates would be stacked much like that in a moving van and positioned for quick access during her many short port of call visits. The NORGOMA was "life-line" for so many isolated communities along the East-West route which was also known as the "Turkey Trail", perhaps because of her erratical course changes needed to service all of the ports or because the NORGOMA was also known to transport "turkeys" to Manitoulin Island. Therefore, even when the channel was calm,  the journey had to be pretty fowl when those turkeys were on board, and that's no bull!! c):))

Meanwhile, back at the blog, as new bridges were built for the railways and  TransCanada highway, the NORGOMA's outport services ended in 1963 as the transportation of goods and passengers could be done more effectively and less costly by trucks, trains and buses.
After being converted to a diesel motor ship and renovated to increase her capacity to carry cars, the NORGOMA started her new career in 1964 as a car and passenger ferry for Ontario Northland Railway. Transiting twice daily between Tobermory, at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island,  NORGOMA, along with her sister NORISLE remained in service until 1974 when they were replaced with the larger and more modern CHI-CHEEMAUN which could carry more passengers and cars than the sisters combined.

Since 1975, the proud NORGOMA has been toured by many Sault Ste. Marie visitors. Meanwhile, her sister NORISLE is also a museum ship at Manitowaning, on Manitoulin Island, and smaller fleetmate NORMAC, was the original Captain John's Floating Restauarant in Toronto Harbour, until it was accidentally rammed by the Toronto Island ferry TRILLIUM and sank at her berth (I remember that when we lived in TO). After being raised and refurbished, NORMAC apparently now services as a restaurant and cocktail lounge while parked in Port Dalhousie, Ontario. Oooo, we'll have to check her out during our upcoming whirlwind tour to Niagara, Southern Western Ontario, and the Detroit and St. Clair rivers. I can hardly wait. Really!! c);-b