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.

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