Tuesday 30 August 2016

Gearless Bulk Carrier FLORENCE SPIRIT

Oh look at that girl go, kicking a whitewater wake beyond her  bulbous bow as she motors upbound near the North Channel entrance to the old Galop Canal and the Prescott-Ogdensburg International Bridge ahead. When I snapped this two toned green-hulled beauty on June 19th, her name was ARKLOW WILLOW, and though she's deemed a gearless "Handy" bulk carrier, she looked awfully "Randy" that day as soon after the recent McKeil Marine acquisition arrived at her new homeport of Hamilton, Ontario, her name would be changed to FLORENCE SPIRIT and a new career operating on the Great Lakes and Atlantic Canada coastline would begin. Actually, I'm not 100% certain she made it to Hamilton on this trip, but instead motored directly to Clarkson on Lake Ontario to pick up a load of cement for Newfoundland. It's just another niche service that the innovative McKeil Marine is now providing for their customers.

Founder's namesake, the 110.5' harbour and coastal tug, EVANS MCKEIL.
Photo by Shaun Judge. 
Well, actually McKeil has been providing creative solutions even before the company was started over 60 years. In 1955, company founder, Evans McKeil observed while working as a labourer on a dredging platform on the still under construction St. Lawrence Seaway that more boats were needed to transport workers to various job sites on the river. In a rented barn in Ancaster, Ontario, Evans and his father, William built a 35' workboat which was named MICMAC. Launched in 1956, Evans McKeil motored his new boat to Valleyfield, Quebec, where she was used to transport supplies and workers to the dredges until the Seaway construction was completed in 1959. An amazing and classic example of "Turning a Problem into an Opportunity". c):-D

EVANS MCKEIL with 23 tonne bollard pull leads downdown scrap-tow AMERICAN FORTITUDE while....

...96' fleetmate JARRETT M provided steerage duties. 
Photos by Shaun Judge.
Today, with a fleet of 24 tugs and workboats, and 31 barges, Hamilton based McKeil has specialized in marine transportation, construction, project cargo, salvage, towing and assistance throughout the Great Lakes.

 Shallow draft flat deck barges like the LAMBERT SPIRIT (being pushed by the 110' SALVOR) have Roll On/Roll capabilities for easy loading and discharging of dry bulk cargoes.
Photo by Brenda Benoit
For many Great Lakes fleets, this shipping season has been a very disappointing with many of their carriers still waiting to get underway for the first time while others have been tied up indefinitely due to lack of cargo or for scrap metal prices to increase  so that they can be towed overseas or to Port Colborne's International Marine Salvage for recycling. Meanwhile's McKeil's outlook continues to be improve first with last fall's acquisition of the 492' dry bulk carrier SPAVALDA. Able to carry 40% more cargo while 50% faster, the renamed EVANS SPIRIT, continues to be used to haul aluminum ingots from Sept-Iles, Quebec to Oswego New York along with McKeil's flatdeck barge and tug combos like the ALOUETTE SPIRIT and WILF SEYMOUR to other Great Lakes destinations.
Downbound EVANS SPIRIT, also named for founder Evans McKeil at Summertown, Ontario, July 13, 2016
Photo by Brenda Benoit 

Photo by Clarence Vautier

Photo by Clarence Vautier
Though MarineTraffic still has her listed as the ARKLOW WILLOW, the new McKeil bulker was proudly showing of FLORENCE SPIRIT at her bow and stern when Captain Clarence Vautier Jr. captured her anchored in Conception Bay, NL on July 27th. Named after Evans' wife, FLORENCE is current tied off at Conception Bay South terminal dock on Long Pond. Built at the Kyokuyo Shipbuilding and Iron Works in Shimonoseki, Japan for Arklow Shipping of Wicklow, Ireland in 2004, the 447.5' FLORENCE SPIRIT is capable of carrying  13,500 metric tonnes in her 4 cargo hold. Though she's equipped with cement loading ports,  FLORENCE SPIRIT  can carry any dry cargo such as grain.

Photo by René Beauchamp
Photo by René Beauchamp
While making her way upbound toward the Seaway's first lock at St. Lambert, René Beauchamp captured these drone-like photos of the FLORENCE  on July 31st, from the Jacques-Cartier Bridge which links the City and Island of Montreal to the South Shore at Longueuil. As also seen in Clarence's snaps, McKeil's blue and green colour bans have been painted around her superstructure, accenting not seen in my snaps up top. While, her stack has been painted black, the company's white stallion logo still needs to be added along with the bold "MCKEIL" banner which will stretch amidships on a black hull. Window dressing activities that will just have wait until quite times arrive. Meanwhile it's "Giddy-up and Go FLO!!" while the getting is good!!
Photo by René Beauchamp
Thanks for the great photos Clarence, René, Shaun and Brenda. I appreciate your being there to capture and then share them with my readers all over the world. c):-D

Saturday 13 August 2016


It was a blustery fall day when we came across the McNally tug JERRY NEWBERRY connecting to a barge at Rivière-au-Renaud, one of the many pretty coastal ports near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. We came across this exciting action scene while driving through the Gaspé region while on our way to Percé Rock in September 2010.

When launched in 1956 at Davie Shipbuilding in Lauzon, Quebec for Foundation Marine of Halifax, Nova Scotia, her name  was FOUNDATION VICTOR. Big and powerful for her day, the 98' single screw tug was stationed during the summer months in Sept-Iles, Quebec and used assist in the docking and undocking of bulk carriers there to load up cargoes of Labrador iron ore. In the winter FOUNDATION VICTOR was transferred to Halifax to complete  various harbour operation activities including ice breaking.
When she started working for Eastern Towing in 1973, her name was changed to POINT VICTOR and then it was changed to KAY COLE when she was sold to Pitt Construction of Toronto in 1977 and was used to tow dredges and scows for Pitt. Her name remained the KAY COLE even after being sold to McKeil Workboats of Hamilton, Ontario in 1991, but it was changed to JERRY NEWBERRY in 1995. Just like the other McKeil tugs that we see operating on the Lakes and along Seaway today, the JERRY NEWBERRY worked as a push tug for barge services, docking and undocking tasks, as well as scrap-tow duties. She even did harbour tug activities for the Port of Montreal for a time. In 2007 she was sold to McNally Construction, also of Hamilton and continued to tow barges along Canada's east coast, the North and outer St. Lawrence River like when I snapped her in Rivière-au-Renard in 2010.

After being laid up for more than a year near the Canso Canal at Point Hawksbury, Nova Scotia, the once proud former Foundation Marine tug, was acquired by Sealand Shipping of Baie Verte, Newfoundland in 2013.
Now named R.J. BALLOTT, the 60 year old tug continues to show her usefulness by moving barges on the east coast and for the massive Hebron oil in Newfoundland. Regardless of the name she bears, it's all great work for this classic tug c):-D

Friday 5 August 2016


My dad was a big fan of Skip Gillham.  Whenever we visited Port Colborne he'd show me the latest Skip Gillham book that he would have recently purchased or had been given to him and then I'd spend the longest time checking them out, looking at the photos and reading about each of the ship's history. Soon after my dad died almost 25 years ago, my mom gave me his Skip Gillham books and whether it was one of his smaller black and one colour booklets like "SHIPS along the seaway" or a full colour glossy cover one like "Canadian Fleets Along the Seaway", I couldn't simply set them down. Even these last few day after hearing of Skip's recent death, the enjoyment returns when looking through one of his books. Whether talking about a canaller, a barge or a "then" new self unloader, each ship got there 15 minutes of fame thanks to Skip. Like I try to do in my blogpost, each article was accurate and thorough, but most of all, fun to read. What I liked the most then and now are the photos.  While many photos were taken by Skip Gillham and co-author Alfred Sagon-King, many of the others that were featured 30 or 40 years ago, were boat watchers that I still see contributing today on Boatnerds.com and the many Facebook boat watching groups that I belong to like: René Beachamp, Marc Dease, Terry Doyon and my good friend, Ron Beaupre of Mariatown. Unlike today's colourful Facebook posts, each photo inside of Skip's book were taken in beautiful "Black & White". You saw no rust, but you saw wear. You felt the glory in those photos of straightdeckers pushing water but then sadness for those doomed relics beached at Ramey's Bend. I guess you could say the beauty and the imagination were both in the eyes of the beholder when it came to Skip's books.

It was one of those lazy, hazy, (and to complete the Nat King Cole classic), crazy days in the summer of 1974 and I was honing in on the Upper Lakes bulk carrier FRANK A. SHERMAN tied off across the harbour near the Rochester & Pittsburgh coal dock in Port Colborne with my wife-to-be's Fujica ST 801 camera.  In those days there were only two vehicle/pedestrian crossing bridges in Port (what the locals called Port Colborne then and still today), and if Bridge 21, located downtown was up, you either tried your luck by booting it down to Humberstone and hope to cross over at the jackknife bridge (#19) located at the north end of Lock 8, OR you simply shut off the car, got out and took a picture of the oncoming boat.
On this day, the approaching downbound was the 730' bulk NORTHERN VENTURE and as mentioned in Skip Gillham's first "SHIPS along the seaway", she was "an example of a bulk carrier that had been converted from an ocean tanker". Skip goes on to mention that her name was VERENDRYE when built in 1944 in Portland, Oregon, that she was operated by the United States Maritime Commission to provide fuel for naval vessels and bases in the Pacific during World War Two. Then he notes that in 1947 she was sold to Edenfield Tankers of Great Britain and renamed EDENFIELD, that she sailed with British Registry until 1960 when she was sold to Leitch Transports and taken to Schlieker-Werst shipyards in Hamburg, Germany where "her original length of 523 feet 6 inches was altered with the insertion of a new mid-body and bow". After all work was completed, her new measurements were 730'x75'x39' 6" and soon after being renamed NORTHERN VENTURE, "she sailed the Atlantic under her own power, arriving at Port Weller Dry dock on July 4, 1961. Extra hull strengthening devices were removed and on July 16, she began her maiden voyage for Island Shipping, a subsidiary of Upper Lakes Steamships."
In another of his books, "TEN MORE Tales of the Great Lakes", Skip Gillham offered a detailed overview of how after 20 years of service hauling grain and ore to ports throughout the Great Lakes and Seaway system, the NORTHERN VENTURE's cabins were removed, and stern section cut off in 1983, then attached to the stern section of the former package freighter, CABOT, to become a new Upper Lakes bulk carrier named CANADIAN EXPLORER. Skip Gillham was a wonderful Great Lakes shipping story teller and he will so be missed.  

While subsidiary fleetmate NORTHERN VENTURE cleared Bridge 21 and continued to make her way beneath the currently removed railway bridge (#20) before carrying on to Lock 8, the 681' FRANK A. SHERMAN let go her lines and got underway passing a cluster of moored Lake Erie fishing tugs, the long term lay-up sandsucker, CHARLES DICK, (http://carlzboats.blogspot.ca/2012/05/the-sandsucker-charles-dick.html) and tied off behind her unknown scrap tow sat the 98' tug boat SALVAGE MONARCH. (http://carlzboats.blogspot.ca/2013/04/tug-boat-salvage-monarch.html).
Time was of the essence for the elder Upper Lakes bulk carrier and if she didn't keep moving, she too could become a scrap tow. Though experienced in her trades, her size technically made her obsolete just a year after being built at the company owned Port Weller Dry Docks because when the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, maximum ship lengths then were set at 730'. Forty-nine feet shorter than the then current norm meant she simply could not carry as much cargo as her Seaway-max fleetmates let alone the competition.

Getting her load of ore which is what the SHERMAN was probably carrying to an upper lake steel mill, apparently was going to have to wait a bit longer as her journey during my photo op with my wife-to-be's camera, ended not that far from where it started, at the Shell Fuel Dock up on the west wall. There, she would top up her tanks and possibly take on a few extra supplies from the local ship chandler, Bell Marine. It may also have been the last chance to be fairly upfront and personal with a loved one or two for several weeks after the SHERMAN got underway.
However, as we all know, nothing lasts forever. After just 28 years of service, FRANK A. SHERMAN did become a scrap tow all the way to Kaohsiung, Taiwan along with fleetmate, the 730' RED WING which like the NORTHERN VENTURE, had been converted from a World War II tanker.
In 2007 Shell Oil closed their supply operation in Port Colborne which meant ships would have to fuel up at Sarnia, or rendezvous with the Hamilton based bunkering tanker, (the HAMILTON ENERGY (http://carlzboats.blogspot.ca/2013/11/bunkering-tanker-hamilton-energy.html) back then at Port Weller or during anchorage near the Lake Ontario entrance of the Welland Canal.
And then last week we lost Skip Gillham. I never meet the man, but from what I've read these last few days about him, he was quite the individual. He was a good father and husband, and a wonderful mentor while doing guidance counselling and physical education instruction during his 33 years as a high school teacher in Beamsville, Ontario. His faith was strong and he served in various capacities in his church, and on the Board of the Welland Canal Mission, an organization that offers spiritual and practical help for sailors and their families. You could tell that his experiences as a sailor on a Great Lakes tanker while working his way through university during one summer, made his stories about the Welland Canal and the ships that plied the Great Lakes in his numerous articles and books, that much more believable. At a time when there was no MarineTraffic or Facebook boat watching groups to view a ship photo or read about its background and achievements, Skip brought their stories and photos to us in print, over and over again, in beautiful "Black & White". He will so be missed.