Sunday 26 March 2017

Veteran Tugboat EVANS McKEIL (Revisited)

That darn fence!! It use to be so easy to snap boats along the Welland Canal but now from the concrete base for the old train bridge in Port Colborne that was dismantled many years ago, a tall chain-link fence complete with 3 strings of barb wire has been erected all the way to the stone dock below Lock 8 and then some anywhere else there wasn't one, all the way to Lock 1. No fun at all!!! In fact when I took these snaps of the EVANS McKEIL which was named after the company founder, I had to take them from behind another fence further back as the 110.5' tug remained tied off waiting to enter Lock 3 in St. Catharines last September. Fence or no fence, their was no stopping me from snapping this grand old workhorse.
Though currently looking like so many tugs that we see motoring along throughout the Great Lakes with an elevated wheelhouse, the nicely painted and well maintained McKeil Marine tug looked more like a common harbour tug for most of her 61 year career. Her name was ALHAJUELA when she was built in 1936 by the Panama Canal Company of Balboa, Panama, along with her sister, the ARRAIJAN (both named after cities in Panama). The riveted steel hulled ALHAJUELA was used for a variety of maintenance tasks while working for the Panama Canal Mechanical Division including assisting ships at Caribbean entrance to the canal while based at Cristobal Harbor. Tragedy struck the tug and crew in 1942 when while pushing a barge laden with aviation fuel, she collided with a U.S. Navy seaplane. Though I haven't been able to find out much about the crash, I can only image it had to be a horrific scene as several crew members were killed. Though damaged severely, the ALHAJUELA was rebuilt and continued to work on the Panama until she was purchased by Malcolm Marine of St. Clair, Michigan and brought up to the Great Lakes in the summer 1970.
Along with transporting the company barges needed for various marine construction, dredging and salvage operations, the newly named BARBARA ANN, (after the owner's wife), was used for towing and berthing huge lakers, and also icebreaking. For a boat that had worked so many years on the hot and humid climes of the Panama Canal zone, the BARBARA ANN performed extremely well when freeing the ore carriers MATHEW ANDREWS and HENRY FORD II from the lower Lake Huron ice on April 22, 1972 and six years later when she came to the aid of the Algoma self unloader ALGOWAY that had been stuck inside Goderich's break wall for 12 days in January 1979. That task continued for the BARBARA ANN throughout the 80's breaking up ice jams to prevent flooding along the St. Clair and the meandering Sydenham River near Wallaceburg. Quite often BARBARA ANN would teamed up with fleetmate tug, MALCOLM, like completing the scrap-tow of six lakers from Duluth to Quebec City for dismantling overseas during he summer of 1980 and for what had to be an engine failure or steering problem on the ALGOLAKE, the two tugs towed and sometimes hipped to the side of the 730' Algoma self unloader from Lake Superior to Nanticoke on Lake Erie to discharge her cargo and then to Port Colborne in late October 1983. When the GEORGE SLOAN (currently Lower Lakes Towing's MISSISSAGI) bottomed the St. Clair River at Port Huron in May 1988, the BARBARA ANN pushed her off and she was there to assist a month later when the Malcolm Marine crane barge RELIEF salvaged a fish tug sunk in lower Lake Huron. To read more about all various work activities complete the BARBARA ANN and other fleetmates, check this site  ( Though it appears the Malcolm Marine story hasn't been updated for some time, the site still has some wonderful background information about the family-owned company.

EVANS McKEIL near Mallorytown Landing Dec. 1, 2014
- Photo by Shaun Judge.
Soon after being purchased by McKeil Marine in 1989, an the elevated upper wheelhouse located on a vertical gantry above the main wheelhouse was added to the EVANS McKEIL which provided the best line on sight when pushing a barge in ballast or unladen as she did when paired from time to time with the cement barge MÉTIS ( on the Great Lakes since Essroc purchased the former canaler in 2001.
Cement barge METIS in ballast in Toronto - Sept. 24, 2014
I'm certain the extra height was also useful when notched with a McKeil barge like when she pushed the unloaded LABRADOR SPIRIT back across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Port Hasting, Nova Scotia to pick up a load of gravel for Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island or the Magdalen Islands during the summer of 2013.
The 23 tonne bollard pull of the EVANS McKEIL was taken to task when she lead the former Canadian Navy Oberon-class training submarine HMS OLYMPUS (S12) which was cradled on the also Hamilton-based Heddle Marine floating drydock, HM DOCK1 from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Port Maitland on Lake Erie for dismantling in July 2011.

EVANS McKEIL leads the way for the AMERICAN FORTITUDE tow Dec. 1, 2014 - Photo by Shaun Judge.
Just like she had done while working for Malcolm Marine in the early 80's, the versatility of this experienced workhorse was called upon again in late November 2014 when she lead the downbound tow of the classic American self unloader AMERICAN FORTITUDE from Toledo, Ohio on western end of Lake Erie, through the Welland Canal, Lake Ontario, and then delicately winding her tow through the many narrow channels and away from the thousands of islands and shallow shoals found all along the Upper St. Lawrence River and Seaway while on there way to Quebec City where the responsibility of her tow would be transferred to another tug to take the FORTITUDE to Brownsville, Texas where she was to be converted into a barge and used to haul scrap metal.
JARRET M working the stern for the AMERICAN FORTITUDE tow Dec.1, 2014
Photo by Shaun Judge.
However suddenly the tow was stopped just below Cote Ste. Catherine Lock when Transport Canada demanded that bunker fuel that was remained in her tanks would need to be removed before the passage entered the Lower St. Lawrence River. With the closing of the St. Lawrence Seaway shipping season fast approaching, the decision was made to take the former ore carrier back upbound towards the Great Lakes and on Christmas Day, just two short of a month from when she picked up the FORTITUDE in Toledo, the stalwart EVANS McKEIL lead her once proud tow into Oswego harbour where she remained until the following spring when she'd be taken to Port Colborne for dismantling.

Taken from Lock 3. Only one fence there! c):-D
When I snapped the classic tugboat last September, she was on her way to Hamilton which is where I'd often see her when tracking boats on MarineTraffic usually tied off near Evans McKeil Way, also named after the gentleman from Pugwash, Nova Soctia who started his company in 1956 with one workboat, the 35' MICMAC, and grew it to a fleet of 24 tugs and workboats, 31 barges and 2 bulk carriers.
Today the EVANS McKEIL is tied off at the Picton Terminal Dock in Prince Edward County which is where she's been all winter. I initially thought she may have been sent there to keep the narrow and winding Bay of Quinte channels clear of ice if the cement carrier STEPHEN B. ROMAN visited the nearby Essroc plant during the winter months if weather permitted. But that wasn't the case as the ROMAN remained in Toronto until recently and even then, there was no ice to be seen due to the mild winter that was experienced by everyone it seems other than "poor old us 😩" living here in the Ottawa Valley. NOT ⛄ FAIR!! c):-()
Meanwhile, the EVANS is not the only tugboat currently parked at the Picton dock. Also there now are McKeil's 82' JARRET M, which worked as the stern tug for the  AMERICAN FORTITUDE tows, the 120' SALVOR which was the first downbound I snapped last year ( along with the LAMBERT SPIRIT, and the feisty Nadro Marine of Port Dover tug, the 57' SEAHOUND.
I sure hope it's not the end of the line for these veteran workhorses, but if it is, Picton and Prince Edward County is the ideal place for that to happen. By the way, they a lovely golf ⛳ course there that's situated along the bay. The first hole, a par 3, edges the shoreline and if you slice the ball to the right like I generally do, you'll need scuba gear to find it. No, you won't hit the EVANS McKEIL if she still there, but let's hope that she's back underway again, just to be safe, eh! 😁

...and just like the Mark Twain saying, the reports of her death also appeared to be greatly exaggerated as this week the hardworking EVANS McKEIL is very much active again. First she was at right place at a very wrong time when the McKeil leased barge PITT CARILLON started taking on water while transiting Picton Bay and eventually partially sinking at the foot of the Picton Terminal dock. As seen in Picton native, Dave Tugwood's photo above, the EVANS was used to assist in the salvage of the partially submerged barge and as a barrier for the float booms that were positioned by the Canadian Coast Guard to contain a spill of about 30 litres of residual oil that had already left residents having to boil their drinking water, from spreading further into the picturesque bay.
With the barge refloated and her work completed, EVANS McKEIL has returned to service on the Great Lakes and is now paired with the 340' dry bulk cargo barge NIAGARA SPIRIT. According to MarineTraffic, the dynamic duel is currently making their way to Hamilton but since she's upbound and situated southeast of Pelee Island on Lake Erie, I don't believe that to be the case. However regardless of where she's going, it's simply great to see that the legendary tug EVANS McKEIL is working and not dead yet.

UPDATE: March 26, 2020:

Veteran Tug EVAN McKEIL was very much alive and had a very import task at the lead tug as the scrap tow VICTO or better known as AMERICAN VICTORY passed through the Beauharnois Locks as seen in these pics from June 27, 2018.
EVANS McKEIL leaves Lock 3 and replaced with fleetmate TIM McKEIL to continue the tow across Lac St. Louis to the next lock at Cote Ste. Catherine.

After the tow passes, EVANS McKEIL joins fleetmate TIM McKEIL and Nadro Marine tug SEAHOUND for some idle time as other Seaways transits are completed.

Monday 6 March 2017

Light Icebreaker CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY (Revisited)

Signed by the authors, I bought it at a used bookstore.
Great Find!!
Winter was winter was winter when growing up in Port Colborne in the 1950's, 60's and early 70's. As per usual a good whack of lake-effect snow heading for Buffalo, NY, would dump on us around mid-November and more would come time and time again until April. Back then you would never ever have to worry about there not being a white Christmas because the soonest you'd ever see anything that looked like grass, it was already Easter. Unlike here is Ottawa with it's huge fleet of mini motorized plows and snowblowers to clear all sidewalks and paths, back then it was the responsibility of the business and home-owners to do the shovelling whenever they got around to it so quite often I recall walking to school pushing my way through ankle to shin high blankets of snow, and to make the trudge fun, I'd imagine I was an icebreaker cutting a track through a snow and ice covered Lake Erie. You did the same thing too, eh? c):-o
The icebreaker that I imagined myself to be was the former polar legend, CCGS N.B. McLEAN which had the responsibility of ensuring an ice free passage for lakers each spring (that's her on the front cover my book "The Ships of Canada's Marine Services"). Built in 1930 at Halifax Shipyards, the 260' N.B. McLEAN was Canada's most powerful polar icebreaker until the 1950's and when Manitoba's, Port Of Churchill on Hudson Bay was opened as a railway terminus for prairie wheat in 1929, the N.B. McLEAN was the mainstay for shipments to Europe via the Hudson Bay route before and beyond the port's narrow ice-free shipping season of mid-summer to early autumn. Before being stationed on the Great Lakes during her latter years of service, she was known for her work during the winter months on St. Lawrence River and Gulf along with the buoy tender CCGS ERNEST LAPOINTE (

Retired N.B. McLEAN undertow behind former Search & Rescue Cutter ALERT at Quebec City in the mid 1970's. Another fine photo by Graham Grattan. Thanks!!
 For much of the winter I would see the McLEAN moored at the end of West Street  near the fuel dock and to me the two-stack 6500 horse power steam powered cutter looked formidable with her wide rounded hull and slightly ram-shaped bow. She even had a helicopter on board, one of those glass-bubble types that covered the cockpit like you'd see on old TV shows like "The Whirlybirds" or "M*A*S*H" only her copter had huge pontoons added for safe landings on water and ice.
N.B. McLEAN's helicopter next to 9 metre ice ridge.
As written in the 1986 paper entitled "Lake Erie Ice, Researcher's Dream - Designers Nightmare" author and ice consultant Derek M. Foulds stated that "our most southerly Great Lake has more ice problems than any other body of water in North America and probably the this lake it may take from a few days to many weeks for the ice to cover if it freezes over at all. During the time the cover is forming, the ice may be broken away or moved many times by wind and wave forces. Ice movements are normally caused by changes in wind direction forcing it to move until it meets an immovable object, which it tries to go over, around or underneath." Like today, winds to 80 km/h were not uncommon and 160 km/h wind gusts had been experienced which creating off-shore ridges of ice piled 9 metres high like the one next to the N.B. McLEAN's helicopter about 1 mile west of Buffalo harbour in the photo above taken in 1971. Also in this paper there's an account of the N.B. McLEAN leaving Port Colborne during the winter of 1971, where T.E. Wigle said the icebreaker: "ran into almost impenetrable ice cover 150 metres from the canal entrance.  
Only thing missing here from the former icebreaker would be is huge billows 
of smoke or steam rising from her double stacks. Thanks again Graham Grattan.
The ice was about 30 cms thick but was rafted by the winds producing a total cover thickness of 60 cms. The ship thereupon turned around and for 2 days backed all the way to Long Point. By backing into the cover with engines in full reverse, the water is drawn out from under the local cover causing it to collapse."  WOW!! Now that's some pretty shrewd maneuvering by the skipper of the N.B. McLEAN eh? It's an excellent read so go to this link to check it out the paper:
Photo courtesy of Canadian Coast Guard

Conditions were very much the same two years ago in late February when while attempting to make a late season trip to Conneaut, Ohio to pick up a load for Gary, Indiana, the 767' ore carrier ARTHUR B. ANDERSON became locked in the Lake Erie ice for 2 days just 4 miles from her intended destination. Due to their extended slow trek along Lake Erie's south shore, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter BRISTOL BAY had no choice but to break off her escorting duties and make way to the nearest port to take on fuel and additional supplies. Unable to break through huge pressure ridges produced by gale force winds (sound familiar?) at Ashtabula and the BRISTOL BAY made it safely to Cleveland with assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker GRIFFON which had been working near Long Point. Then the GRIFFON made her way to the ARTHUR B. ANDERSON and helped the ore carrier turn herself into westward direction.
Photo courtesy of Canadian Coast Guard
Meanwhile after escorting the Algoma self unloader CAPT. HENRY JACKMAN through the lower St. Clair River, the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker SAMUEL RISLEY also made her way into Lake Erie to help free the ANDERSON. Since the GRIFFON was needed back at Nanticoke to assist Algoma tankers, ALGOCANADA and ALGOSEA, the SAMUEL RISLEY remained with the ARTHUR B. ANDERSON and  escorted her to Detroit. With more escorting required from both country's coast guard icebreakers, the ARTHUR B. ANDERSON finally arrived at Sturgeon Bay for her winter layup on March 4th and ended a much longer than expected journey that had started from South Chicago, Ill., on February 5th.
The United States and Canada have a strong icebreaking partnership and in 2015 in particular, both Coast Guards worked tirelessly under very challenging conditions to assist commercial vessels through heavy ice conditions on the Great Lakes and connecting waterways. It's what they do.

Built in 1985 at Vito Steel Boats and Barges Shipyard of Delta, British Columbia, the 229' CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY is the first in her class as a navigation aids vessel design based on a supply ship type hull. Named for a 19th century maritime inspector and the first head of the Board of Steamship Inspectors for Upper Canada and Ontario, the SAMUEL RISLEY is responsible for ice free passage from Port Colborne to Thunder Bay and is based at Parry Sound on Lake Huron's Georgian Bay while her sister ship CCGS EARL GREY is based in Charlottetown, P.E.I. and operates in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and East Coast shoreline.

Known officially as a Medium Endurance Multi-Task vessel, the RISLEY is powered by 4 Wärtsilä Vasa 16V22 12 cylinder geared diesel engines driving to controllable pitch propellers that creates 8,640 bhp for a max speed of 15 knots and enough umph to break ice up to 2 feet thick, which perhaps with the exception of the last two years, a normal occurrence for icebreakers plying Lake Erie during the winter month. The distinctive looking SAMUEL RISLEY with her sleek bow and the tall forward bridge is also equipped with a big Liebherr crane capable of lifting navigation aids or whatever up to 5 long tons onto or off her extended quarterdeck. We don't get to see the SAMUEL RISLEY that often along these parts of the St. Lawrence River so it was really nice to snap her motoring by Prescott and tying off at Johnstown on July 2, 2015, while on her way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland shoreline to work search and rescue and fisheries operations there for that summer.

Photo by Evelyn Escalona
It's been a pretty mild winter for much of the Great Lakes region with not a lot of icebreaking activities required for the RISLEY but as you can see in these two wonderful photos by boat watchers Evelyn Escalona and Kristian Moller, she did make her way up to Goderich on February 17th, to break up the ice cover at the Lake Huron port's outer and inner harbours in preparation for the arrival of the 730' Algoma's self unloader JOHN B. AIRD. Due to finally commence her winter layup, the AIRD had her season extended hauling road salt to Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit. You did good girl (& Crew)!! c):-D

Photo by Kristian Moller

When not tied off at the Government Dock in Sarnia, CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY has been seen by many placing buoys along the ice-free St. Clair River in preparation for the approaching shipping season. With the Welland Canal and St. Lawrence Seaway opening early this year, on March 20th, the upper lakes based RISLEY and her U.S. Coast Guard counterparts will be busy opening the bays and harbours that are ice covered along the shoreline of either country as both coast guards have no boundaries when it comes to clearing ice on the Great Lakes. They work as a one, like the best of friends that we are in so many ways.
While the wrath of this winter's "La Niña" forecast didn't really show up in most of Ontario and throughout the Great Lakes region, she sure met her mark here in the Ottawa Valley dropping over 200 centmetres of snow since November. I must admit it was a lot of fun making tracks like an icebreaker through the freshly fall snow at the park with my grandsons José and Hayden back in December after an afternoon on the toboggan hill. With repeated 5-10 cm snowfalls throughout January and February, more and more Ottawa streets got narrower and narrower because the plows had no place to put the snow.

CCGS SAMUEL RISLEY glides by a slab of ice in front of Graham Grattan's
place at Pointe Louise on the upper St. Mary's River on April 1, 2020. Nic pic!
So quite often while doing my bus routes I really had no choice but to push the odd snowbank or drift back a bit further to service the stops, and indirectly to make it easier for other buses and motorists to drive through a neighbourhood much like an icebreaker would do on the lakes. It's only snow and after all, and just like those might ships like the SAMUEL RISLEY, our buses are also red and white with a big "Maple Leaf" on each side. Yeah, you can't knock a guy for having an imagination now, can you? c);-b