Saturday 30 May 2015

Scrap Tow AMERICAN FORTITUDE (Final Chapter)

In Nathan Attard's snap above, the high in the water and newest of new Great Lakes bulk carriers, CWB MARQUIS motors out of Port Colborne harbour and making her way that much closer to her next destination, Thunder Bay, Ontario. After picking up a load of Canadian prairie wheat there, she'll be motoring downbound all the way to a grain elevator near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. When the grain that's destined to a European port by a deep sea bulker is fully discharged, the 740' MARQUIS will take on a load of iron ore which will be discharged at a Hamilton steel mill before making her way back up to Thunder Bay to start another downbound/upbound cycle that will only end when the shipping season ends for winter in late December. Then the whole process gets repeated time and time again during each Seaway and Great Lakes shipping season for many years to come for the fuel-effiecient and state-of-the-art CWB MARQUIS. Meanwhile, parked abeam of the upbound Algoma Central gearless bulk carrier, sits also high in the water Great Lakes classic, the 690' "straightdeck" self unloader AMERICAN FORTITUDE going nowhere fast at the International Marine Salvage dock. Though much smaller than current American ore carriers, the FORTITUDE may have continued to be useful hauling salt, stone or grain like the SAGINAW in Lower Lakes Towing's fleet of veteran boats (, had one of her former owners re-powered the AMERICAN FORTITUDE from steam to diesel. Instead she waits to be broken apart by the welder's torch for everyone to see. It wasn't supposed to end this way. 

With her 8 year long-term layup in Toledo behind her, the AMERICAN FORTITUDE patiently sits along Port Colborne's downbound east wall in Nathan's snap to the right. Here, she was waiting for a Seaway inspection to be completed, and a pilot to be boarded on the lead tug, EVANS McKEIL so that the long passage could get underway to Quebec City where  the tow would be transferred to another tug to complete her journey along the Eastern Seaboard, the Straits of Florida and Gulf of Mexico to Brownsville, Texas. While every boat watcher east of Duluth presumed the worst, that the once gallant Great Lakes classic was doomed to the cutter's torch, rumours started floating around (no pun intended, really c);-b) suggesting that once arriving at Brownsville, only a few sections of the FORTITUDE and her discharging boom would be remove, leaving her massive holds be used for scrap storage. That could work!! Her life or usefulness could be extended for another 10, 15 or 20 years. Who knows? c):-) If the FORTITUDE could speak, she probably would have said, "ALRIGHT!!, so let's get this tow on the road or as the St. Lawrence Seaway people like to call it, "Highway H2O". c):-D  
As mentioned in my December 7th post about AMERICAN FORTITUDE's last Great Lakes "Not So Excellent Adventure", things weren't looking so good. Just mile away from completing the delicate and slow going passage through the Seaway (as shown in my friend Shaun Judge's snap near Mallorytown on December 1st) and then on down to the deeper and open waters of the St. Lawrence River, the scrap tow came to a dead stop that lasted several days just above Côte Ste. Catherine Lock on December 4. Though initially reported that the extended delay was due to high winds further down below on the St. Lawrence River, the actual reason was because during another inspection, this time done by Transport Canada, a large quantity of bunker fuel remained in her tanks and it would need to be removed before the tow down to the lower river and Gulf of St. Lawrence could proceed. A worthy concern because when another classic straightdecker, the CANADIAN MINER which was being towed to Turkey for scrap, broke free of her tug during a storm in the Cabot Strait in September 2011, the MINER ran aground on Nova Scotia's Scatarie Island with over 3,000 litres of diesel fuel on board. Not GOOD c):-(   

With only a few weeks left before the Seaway would be closed for the winter, the FORTITUDE's tow to Texas looked even more hopeless when on the next day, first her lead tug EVANS MCKEIL left the tow and got underway "upbound" back to her home port on Hamilton which is located on the far end of Lake Ontario, and then the EILEEN MCALLISTER, the tug that was supposed to takeover the tow and deliver her Brownsville, Texas, departed her berth in Quebec City and appeared to be heading at full speed to her home port of New York City. However things started to look up again though when on December 18th, AMERICAN FORTITUDE got hooked up to another lead tug, this time Groupe Ocean's ROSS GAUDREAULT but instead of continuing east through the two remaining Seaway lock that would bring her closer to her new life and usefulness along  Texas' Gulf of Mexico coastline, the scrap tow started heading in the opposite direction upbound, presumably to the IMS scrapyard in Port Colborne. It wasn't supposed to end this way.      

On the other side of the Beauharnois Locks, another McKeil tug, the 120' SALVOR took over the lead tug roll and then further upriver, EVANS MCKNEIL regained the top spot. For the FORTITUDE it didn't matter which one was the lead tug, as she had no choice but to follow along wherever they were taking her with fortitude. 
Wintering at Oswego - January 31, 2015. Photo by Mike Kaminski
Soon after noon on Christmas Day, EVANS MCKEIL and JARRET M were on there way at full speed to Hamilton and hoping their crews made it home in time to enjoy many yuletide festivities. Meanwhile, tied off for winter, the AMERICAN FORTITUDE was parked facing the lake at Oswego, New York, and positioned perfectly to be towed out of the Lake Ontario port in the spring to where: Brownsville, Texas or the IMS scrapyard in Port Colborne?
At Oswego, AMERICAN FORTITUDE is positioned lake-ward for her to go somewhere in the spring. The warm climes of the Gulf of Mexico or a burning end at IMS in Port Colborne? - January 31, 2015.  Photo by Mike Kaminski

With the contract to dock the FORTITUDE in Oswego ending on April 15, 2015, her new Texas owners had to find a way over the winter to get the bunker fuel removed so the tow to Brownsville could be resumed. Due to ice conditions in Oswego harbour, the owner had almost an extra month to sort things out but once everyone who was tracking her departure on May 12th via MarineTraffic's AIS, it didn't take long for us to figure out that she was not going to end her career along the shoreline of the "Lone Star" state, when AMERICAN FORTITUDE's lead tug, now the 98' MOLLY M1 turned hard to port and upbound towards Port Weller, the northern entrance to the Welland Canal. MOLLY M1 was very capable to take the lead position. When launched in 1962 at the Davie Shipyard in Levi, Quebec, for Foundation Maritime of Halifax her name was FOUNDATION VIGOUR. She became POINT VIGOUR in 1973 and after 47 years of operating mostly alongs Canada's east coast, the harbour tug began working on the Great Lakes in 2009 when purchased by McKeil Marine of Hamilton. Ever since, her name has been MOLLY M1 and she currently wears the Nadro Marine of Port Dover colours, as subsidary of McKeil.
Just like she did to and from Côte Ste. Catherine Lock last winter as shown in another snap by Shaun, the 98' JARRET M continued to maintain the stern position when the AMERICAN FORTITUDE was delivered to IMS scrap dock in Port Colborne on May 14th.

For 56 years this huge boat made of strong and lasting American steel sailed under three different names of honour, while plying the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River resupplying the steel mills with raw iron ore or coal to keep the furnaces burning. When launched in 1952 her name was ERNEST T. WEIR. She became the flagship of the fleet replacing the famous ore carrier EDMUND FITZGERALD which sank on November 10, 1975, when the WEIR was sold to Columbia Transportation in 1978. She continued to steam on with prestige even after her name was changed to COURTNEY BURTON soon after the purchase and became substantially more useful when the BURTON was converted into a self unloader in 1981. Over the next 25 years, when the self unloader wasn't busy hauling many different trades throughout the Great Lakes, she was laid up due to lack of cargoes. To make matters worse, two years after being sold to American Steamship Company, the newly named AMERICAN FORTITUDE commenced long-term layup in Toledo, Ohio.
I know no ship can last forever and recycling the scrapped steel of a ship and her fluids in an environmentally safe manner makes a lot of sense, but in AMERICAN FORTITUDE's case, It simply wasn't supposed to end this way.      

While International Marine Salvage workers continued to cut up the former Captain John's Toronto waterfront restaurant boat JADRAN, in their main slip, dismantling had already begun with the removal  of AMERICAN FORTITUDE's self unloading boom when I snapped these photos of her during my visit to Port Colborne on November 19, 2015.
Not much  was left of the classic AMERICAN FORTITUDE when the former Algoma tanker ALGOSAR arrived to take her place for dismantling in late May 2016.
HEY, Wake UP!! What a yawner, eh c):-O but if you haven't had your fill in tugboats and scrap tows, may I suggest you read the Farley Mowat's non-fiction book, 'The Grey Seas Under' about the "Hero" Atlantic salvage tug, FOUNDATION FRANKLIN, and it's many daring rescues during the Great Depression and World War II while based out of Halifax, NS. Launched as HMS FRISKY, you can appreciate why her name was so appropriate throughout the books by clicking on to this Wikipedia link or NOT:
My dad passed on his copy of the book many years ago before he died. I read it, so has my son, and he will pass it on to his young son at the right time. c):-D
Thanks again for your excellent photos Nathan and Shaun. I really appreciate it c);-b

Friday 15 May 2015


Anyone living here in the Great White North has their own tell-tale sign that "Spring is 'Really' here". No, I'm not talking about simple little things like that foot and a half of snow melting off the roof or lawn because that generally happens at least once during our normal winter (except this year of course). For many it's the first sighting of a robin red-breast or hearing its pleasant song in the neighbourhood, or perhaps it's the opening of your bulbed flowers like tulips, hyacinths and daffodils in your garden or randomly appearing in the middle of the yard due to unplanned re-planting activities done by neighbourhood squirrels in the fall. People who let their dogs do their business out back know exactly when spring has arrived. That's a fun annual event, right? c):-() Regardless, for me when those purple buds start popping out of the ground in my asparagus patch, I know right then "Spring is here". Like the snap above, asparagus spears cut into inch or so morsels, boiled or steamed for a few minutes, lathered in melted butter then seasoned with freshly ground pepper. Oh YAAA!! Is there a better freshly grown spring time vegetable treat out there? I don't think so!!! c)8-D
Meanwhile, back to the boat blog, yes I know many self-confessed boatnerds or shipwatchers might suggest "Spring is here" when the Seaway commences its new shipping season and all kinds of salties and lakers make an appearance for the first time since late December. I agree it's a fun time but you still have to bundle up to stay warm due to all that ice that's still bobbing about and the wind is COLD!! It's still so winter-like that you may just as well have stayed in Florida or Arizona, eh? c):-o However, a true tell-tale assurance that "Spring is 'Really' here" for boat or shipwatchers is when a Canadian Coast Guard small buoy tender like the CARIBOU ISLE or COVE ISLE motors by because they can only venture away from their home base to repair or place small navigation aids when all channels and port entrances are completely free of ice. So many other coast guard buoy tenders that we see all season long like the GRIFFON, and SAMUEL RISLEY remain active throughout the winter as icebreakers on the upper Great Lakes, but CCGShips CARIBOU ISLE and COVE ISLE are laid up all winter long because their bows are not ice strengthened, so they cannot become operational until "SPRING".
It was still technically "Spring" on June 7, 2014 when from behind the tall spruce trees west of the Iroquois Lock, out popped this cute little boat, the 75.5' CARIBOU ISLE. Cool c):-D At the time I was actually waiting for the downbound Algoma tanker, ALGOCANADA ( which was listed as the next downbound on the Seaway's 'Order of Turn' website for Iroquois Lock. However since 9/11, Seaway passage information for all Canadian and American navy ships, and coast guard vessels have been restricted to the public due to security reasons. Meanwhile, anyone can check their whereabout on MarineTraffic's AIS site, so what's with that, h'uh? c):-l
Regardless of what you can or cannot know about, it sure was neat to see the 75.5'x19.7'x5.5' CARIBOU ISLE motor through the 766'x80' Iroquois Lock with the same grace and confidence of any of her substantially larger fleetmates like the helicopter carrying high endurance bouy tender CCGS MARTHA L. BLACK (

When built in 1985 at Breton Industries in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia, the CARIBOU ISLE was one of four vessels in her class of small buoy tenders that were primarily intended for use in restricted and shallow waters. Manned with a crew of 5, the controllable pitch twin screw CARIBOU ISLE has a top speed of 11 knots and is powered with a 475 horsepower diesel engine. To haul buoys in and out of the water, CARIBOU ISLE comes also with a hydraulically-powered articulated crane which has a maximum lift of 2.5 tons. When not motoring about along the St. Lawrence River, Seaway, or Lake Ontario, CARIBOU ISLE's home base is the Prescott Coast Guard Station located about 24 kms west of Iroquois Lock..

While touring the Canadian Sault Ste. Marie Canal in September 2013, I came across another small buoy tender, the CCGS COVE ISLE tied off along the lock's upbound east wall. Based at the Parry Sound Coast Guard on Lake Huron, the COVE ISLE was built in 1980 at Canadian Dredge & Docks in Kingston, Ontario and has the same specifications as CARIBOU ISLE except the COVE is ten feet shorter and is powered by a slightly smaller 380 horsepower diesel engine.  
If you didn't know it already, the Canadian Coast Guard is mandated to provide aid to navigation in Canadian waters. Winter ice conditions may require the removal of some buoys at the closing of the navigation season and in less severe ice conditions, unlighted summer buoys maybe left in place or lighted buoys maybe replaced with unlighted winter buoys. Got That? c):-o OK, I'll try to lighten the rest up, or NOT. However with winter ice melted, ship's crews on all coast guard buoy tenders are currently busy throughout the Great Lakes and Seaway replacing winter to summer buoys and/or positioning those that may not be in the advertised location due to storms and shifting ice.
Though one might be slightly older and 10' shorter that the other, did you notice that both ISLES have a pair of marker buoys on the fo'c'sle deck near their starboard bow. The green one with the flat top is a "Port Hand Buoy". It marks the port or left side of a channel or location of danger and must be kept on the vessel's port or left side when proceeding in an upstream direction. The red one with pointed cone top is a "Starboard Hand Buoy". It marks the starboard or right side of a channel or location of danger and it must be kept on the vessel's starboard or right side when proceeding in an upstream direction. If the "Starboard Hand Buoy" is located on the port side when heading in an upstream direction, the name of your ship may be the 623' Polesteam bulk carrier JUNO and the reason why your ship appears to be dead in the water, is because she's run hard aground beneath the Thousand Island International Bridge. Embarrassing but it actually happened almost a month ago? c):-((

Besides aids to navigation work, these versatile little boats could also be used for marine and fishery research, conservation and protection patrols, search & rescue support and even fire fighting with their water cannon mounted high and amidships. That's why the Canadian Coast Guard prefers to call CARIBOU ISLE & COVE ISLE "Specialty Vessels". They're pretty much "Jack of all trades and masters of them all" and prime examples of the Guard's motto' "Safety First, Service Always". c):-D
Still awake? Hey, want to read more exciting information about lighted or unlighted markers and buoys? Then check out this colourful link or NOT c);-b : 

Friday 1 May 2015


"Da Barge", pronounced in a similar fashion as to the SNL skit about Chicago's beloved football team, "Da Bearss" or basketball team, "Da Bullss" only in this case unfortunately "Da Barge" may not be considered beloved even though in many regions, costs would soar in more ways than one if "Da Barge" was "Nada". c):-o

"Da Barge" is one versatile vessel but just like what the late Rodney Dangerfield use to say when joking about himself, they "don't get no respect". Let's face it, "Da Barge" gets pushed or pulled in one direction or the other and must only go wherever that big lug of a tug in front or behind decides to get underway because "Da Barge" has no engine. They are the first to feel the effects of a choppy lake or bay, and the first to touch bottom when the tug's GPS goes out of sorts or she " suddenly lost steering". Ya Right c):-(). Unlike other cargo ships, "Da Barge" seldom is given a name and those that do, like "Da Barge" WICOMICO (below) that was snapped by my friend Jim in Salisbury, Maryland, the name may barely be visible due to rust or being scrapped off when "Da Barge" is rubbed along a dock wall or jetty. No respect but enough with the "Da", da?   
Not surprising, conditions were pretty much the norm for 340' deck barge NIAGARA SPIRIT which was being pushed at a good clip past Mariatown and then continued her formidable advance passed us by cutting through a harsh west wind during upbound passage to Iroquois Lock. So many other times when I've snapped boats at the road side Loyalist Park which is about midway between Morrisburg and Iroquois, the Seaway channel would be flat as board offering hardly any resistance for the passing ship. It was a much different situation for the low in water NIAGARA SPIRIT as her tug JOHN SPENCE relentlessly push her through a constant roll of white caps and an imminent summer storm ahead.
When built in 1984 in Portland, Oregon, her name was ALASKA TRADER and unlike the WICOMICO which as a hopper barge carries dry bulk cargo in her hold, the ALASKA TRADER was a deck barge which meant that all of her cargo would be transported on her reinforced flat deck. When sold to Marcon International of Coupeville, Washington in 1999, she became a log carrier and her name was changed to TIMBERJACK.

In 2008, her name was changed to  NIAGARA SPIRIT when she was sold to McKeil Marine of Hamilton, ON and soon after her long haul journey to her new Great Lakes homeport via the Panama Canal, 12' high steel corrugated bin walls where added along with a fitted cover to protect special cargoes. Also unlike the WICOMICO with its angled rake bow, NIAGARA SPIRIT's bow is spoon-shaped which offers less resistance when pushed through choppy seas and wave spray is lessen with the steel breakwater structure that you can see in both above snaps at her forward section.
It hasn't been an easy time either for NIAGARA SPIRIT's pushboat, the 171' tug JOHN SPENCE. When launched in 1972 at the Fraser Shipyards in North Westminster, British Columbia, her name was MARY B. VI and instead of being built to haul or push barges from here to there, MARY B. VI was designed as an offshore supply ship. One of the first of these unique ships to be built in Canada, the MARY B. VI would battle snow, ice and heavy seas for many years while supporting oil rigs and exploration off Nova Scotia and the Arctic's Beaufort Sea.
She also had many name changes including the ARCTIC TUKTU when McKeil Marine purchased her in 1994. Soon after an elevated wheelhouse was installed above her superstructure, the once glorious and hard working offshore support ship commenced her new career as a tugboat with a new name, JOHN SPENCE.

Though able to carry just about anything that can be lashed to her massive reinforced steel deck like containers, or rolls of steel, NIAGARA SPIRIT's primary cargo is aluminum ingots that's transported to market from Sept Isle, Quebec through the St. Lawrence River and Seaway system. Though their appearance may not be as pretty as so many lakers and salties that get snapped by us boatnerds everyday, tug and barge combos like the JOHN SPENCE & NIAGARA SPIRIT deserve a second look and calm waters every now and then too, don't you think? c):-D