Wednesday 23 September 2015

Harbour Tug LA PRAIRIE

Autumn is here, on paper at least, and though it had been spring for over 6 weeks when I snapped the harbour tug LA PRAIRIE transiting Iroquois Lock on April 28, old man winter had kept this little big tug busy breaking up ice in and around locks Côte Ste. Catherine and St. Lambert a little bit longer than usual and thereby delaying her westerly or upbound trek to her summer work as the Port of Oshawa's harbour tug. Built in 1975 at the East Isle Shipyards in Georgetown, Prince Edward Island her name then was spelled out as "LA PRAIRIE" which as most of us up here in the "Great White North" is aware, it's the French translation for "The Prairie". Oddly enough "LA PRAIRIE" is it's also the name of a South-shore Montreal suburb which this little workhorse would regularly pass while conducting icebreaking or other maintenance tasks along the south-shore canal for her original owner, the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority and with her current boss, the Québec City based Le Groupe Océan who purchased her in 2002. 

Since going into business in 1972 as Aqua-Marine, Le Groupe Océan has become one the largest marine service providers in Canada primarily due to a series of acquisitions since 1987 of regional harbour tug companies along the lower St. Lawrence River. Today with a fleet of over 30 tugs, Océan offers year round efficient harbour towing services to ports like Sept-Îles on the Gulf of St. Lawrence; and Québec, Bécancour, Trois-Rivières, Sorel-Tracy, and Montreal on the St. Lawrence River. Based in Hamilton, Ontario, Océan expanded their services to Oshawa, Toronto, and Hamilton on Lake Ontario and Goderich on Lake Huron when they started Océan Ontario Towing in 2005.
Regardless of the situation, Le Groupe Océan has the resources to rotate their tugs from port to port or to conduct emergency salvaging operations within hours of being requested for assistance. Such was the case for those of us living near the Montreal to Lake Ontario section of the St. Lawrence, where more often this year we have seen heavy-pull tugs like the OCÉAN GEORGIE BAIN, and OCÉAN ROSS GAUDREAULT quickly motoring by to assist grounded vessels like this spring's 623' Polsteam bulk carrier JUNO beneath the Thousand Island Bridge in April, the 730' ALGOMA SPIRIT near Cornwall in May, and when the 286' cruise ship ST. LAURENT rammed into a concrete sill at Eisenhower Lock last June. Each incident resulted in the Seaway being closed for multiple days. The situation could have been far worse had it not been for the aid of Océan's modern and powerful tugs. Oh YAAA!!! c):-D
Sporting Océan's current colours of a royal blue hull and mostly white superstructure with an aquamarine trim near her deck (to acknowledge the company's founding name and colours, "Aqua-Marine", I presume), the nearly 74'x26' LA PRAIRIE perhaps looked somewhat miniature as she proudly motored along through the 776'x80' Iroquois Lock.

After an overnight stop at Kingston, (perhaps to fuel up)  LA PRAIRIE continued her journey to Oshawa where as she's done for many years before, offered assistance where needed. This summer it will have been berthing salties dockside or towing them out of Oshawa's narrow harbour to the deeper waters of Lake Ontario, while next winter she'll be back breaking ice along the Seaway's south shore canal or transferring St. Lawrence River pilots from her homeport in Sorel-Tracy. Like the late great Yogi Berra who died today at age 90, use to say about the game of baseball not being over till it's over, so is true for harbour tugs like the LA PRAIRIE. Rest In Peace Mr. Berra. We'll miss you. :-(( 

Monday 7 September 2015


Call me old fashioned. Call me sentimental. Call me a cab (or perhaps an über these days). Call me anything you want but I really felt proud when I saw the small survey boat KATELYN J. that was tied off to the east wall in Port Stanley on Lake Erie last September and that her homeport was my old home, Port Colborne, or as we call it, "Port", for short.
I don't know if it was because my dad worked on the Welland Canal or if it was because he used to sail on the Lakes and Gulf of St. Lawrence, but as long as I can remember I always got a kick out of seeing where a boat came from. Today, all you have to do is Google the ship's name and in seconds you'll often have several different sites that will tell you all you wanted to know about the boat included what country's flag it flies and it's homeport or port of registry. However, while growing up back then, the only way I could tell, was by trying to figure out the country flag that flew at the ship's stern, or by looking beneath the ship's name located there, and see a city name or her homeport.
Early on it was pretty easy going because the lakers and self unloaders that went through the canal were mostly Canadian or American flagged, but after the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, it got really interesting because ships from all or world passed by. Some of the country flags I remembered from social studies and geography in school but when I started seeing ships that came from cities like Helsinki, Hamburg and "Split", I'd look them up at the Port library and sit in amazement in front of the library's huge world atlas and see that these boats came all the way from Finland, Germany, Yugoslavia and more. They all passed right by me while waiting for the bridge to come down, and that happened a lot back then.

Believe it or not, I was also as much at aw when a Misener boat went by and I'd see my home, PORT COLBORNE written on the back of their ships then, just like on my friend, Nathan Attard's dad's boat, the SCOTT MISENER in the photo above. That's Nathan's dad, Joe, who was the 3rd engineer, waving ashore just passed the SCOTT's lifeboat davits on the second deck of the aft accommodations section. Whether it was the SCOTT which appears to be motoring towards Lake Ontario at Port Weller (above), or the JOHN O. McKELLER, JOHN E.F. MISENER, J.N. McWATTERS or my favourite, the GEORGE M. CARL, they all appeared to hail from my hometown, PORT COLBORNE. All was good for me (and my strange little mind, obviously) until the new RALPH MISENER came along in 1968, when instead of Port Colborne being displayed on her stern, it read ST. CATHARINES (YUCK c):-()) because in the late 60's Misener moved their head office from Port to St. Kitts, as we called it. Their simple and probably very cost-effective move 24 miles or so down the Welland Canal meant the end to Misener ships being registered in Port Colborne and showing the community as their homeport.
Because Port Colborne was home to Algoma Central's  subsidiary Fraser Ship Repair, the lakeside city and southern entrance to the Welland Canal received the unique acknowledgement of having a ship kind of named after it, the 658' self unloader, ALGOPORT in 1978. Unlike many other Algoma self unloaders, the Collingwood Shipyards built, ALGOPORT, was designed like fleetmates, ALGOWAY and ALGORAIL to specifically be able to service smaller lake ports with a variety of essential trades like stone or road salt along with the usual grain and ore products. Like her sister ALGOBAY, the PORT was a Nova Scotia-class self unloader and during construction she was given an ice strengthened and bulbous bow to work the coastal service during winter months while during the summer would mostly operate on the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway and Gulf, and Canada's east coast. While making her way to Clarkson, Ontario with a load of gypsum from Little Narrows, Nova Scotia, my fellow boat watching friend, Ron Beaupre, snapped these shots (above and below) of the sleek and well maintained looking ALGOPORT from off his "dock" in Mariatown, just west of Morrisburg as the PORT made her way upbound toward Iroquois Lock in May 2008.
Ron was fortunate for us all to snap the ALGOPORT again about a year later while she was motoring downbound and riding high in ballast just beyond Iroquois Lock (below).
No, on that day, the versatile  ALGOPORT was not destined to pick up a load at an Atlantic Canada port, but was to eventually make her way to China for a face-lift of sorts just like her sister ALGOBAY. With a strengthen hull and new bridge wings added (as seen in Ron's photo), to meet Panama Canal transit specifications, the PORT motored under her own power all the way to Balboa, Panama, on the Pacific Ocean side of the Panama Canal. On July 19, 2009 the ALGOPORT was hooked up to the tug PACIFIC HICKORY which was to take her to Jiangyin, China where after her smaller forebody was removed, a new one that met Seaway-max specifications would be added to her modernized aft section. As fate had it though, all would not be as while only a week away from reaching the destination that would revitalize to her sailing career, the tow encountered the rough seas of Tropical Storm Dujuan and the ALGOPORT broke in half and sank, six years ago yesterday. Little did Ron Beaupre know that when he snapped the ALGOPORT during her last downbound transit as a Nova Scotia-class self unloader, that the ship and her Lake Erie port name, would soon be gone forever, sitting at the bottom of the East China Sea, south of Japan. Thanks for being there that day Ron.

Though there were no injuries, loss of live or environmental concerns, the ship owner was still somewhat caught between a rock and a hard place with a new forebody being built at Jiangyin's Chengxi Shipyards with no aft section to be attached to it. However as luck had it this time, insurance proceeds from the lost at sea ALGOPORT were used to fund the construction for a new aft section. After all was said and done, instead of a rebuild, Algoma Central Corporation took delivery of a completely new self unloader on May 31, 2011. The name she was given was ALGOMA MARINER and as shown in a this photo below taken recently by another boat watching friend, Joanne Crack of Prescott, Ontario, the MARINER's aft section looks exactly like Algoma's new Equinox-class bulk carriers that we regularly see along this section of the St. Lawrence Seaway with the exception of the self unloading boom and machinery attached to her superstructure.  
The Seaway-max ALGOMA MARINER is 740' long by 77' 11" wide and her maximum carrying capacity is 37,162 tons in the mid-summer. Like her predecessor, the MARINER services the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River and Gulf, and Atlantic Canada's saltwater ports which may explain the extreme rusting conditions on this relatively new ship's bulbous bow.
Even though the name of the ill-fated Nova Scotia-class ALGOPORT was not continued,  ALGOMA MARINER's formal christening was held in Port Colborne on August. 25, 2011 and while having lost her seafaring identity with the demise of Misener Shipping many years earlier, the community's name was returned, as shown in Joanne's photo, as ALGOMA MARINER's  port of registry or homeport.

That was quite the class act on Algoma Central's part, and if you want to see more classy boat snaps along the upper St. Lawrence River and Seaway be sure to become a member of Joanne's Facebook boat group, "The Prescott Anchor" by linking on to: You'll be glad you did!! c):-D

Hey, WAKE UP!! c);-b Plenty of time to nod off after checking the sad but amazing photos in this video entitled "The Sinking of the Algoport" with the background music of Newfoundland's "Great Big Sea" . I'm lost for words.