Saturday 23 February 2019


Photo by Nathan Attard - February 10, 2019
One of the first things I said to Nathan Attard, my boat watching friend in Port Colborne after he sent me a photo on Messenger on February 10th of a tug and barge at the old grain terminal where I worked unloading ships and boxcars in the early 1970's, was "I've never seen a barge so high in ballast". Oddly enough I said the same thing to my son Drew last Sunday when quite by accident the towering raised hull of the McKeil Marine deck barge ALOUETTE SPIRIT caught my eye while we playing with my grandson, Jose at H.H. Knoll - Lakeview Park across the bay. For those not aware, "in ballast" means the ship is laden only in ballast or water to give it stability which prevents the vessel from capsizing.

Yes, she was sight to behold especially when observing the lighter tone below her hull's waterline, the huge starboard rudder and notch-guards, and not to mention the tall steel box cargo frame and a hangar-like structure that were added above the main deck of this motorless vessel (a.k.a, a barge). Built at Gulfport Shipbuilding in Port Arthur, Texas in 1969, she started her usefulness as a single-hulled oil tanker and named KTC 135. In 2004 after she was removed from the oil trade, the 425' barge was bought by McKeil Marine of Hamilton and converted to transport dry bulk goods while paired with the 122' former harbour tug WILF SEYMOUR, tied off just to her stern. 

The twin screw 73 tonne bollard pull tug was also built at Gulfport Shipbuilding in 1961 and worked for the Moran Towing Company of New York City as the M. MORAN. I don't know about you but I still recall photos in boat books at the library of huge ocean liners like Cunard's QUEEN MARY or the United States Lines' AMERICA being berthed by immaculate and stalwart looking "Moran" tugs with their burgundy red wheelhouses and big white "M" on a black stack. It's the kind of work the M. MORAN with her 5,750 bhp engines would have been tasked with while working on the Hudson River for the first part of her career. In 1970 her name was changed to PORT ARTHUR and then back to M. MORAN two years later. When flagged Canadian, her name first became known as SALVAGER when McKeil Marine bought her in 2000. In 2004 she was renamed WILFRED SEYMOUR and then shortened to WILF SEYMOUR soon after. In 2006 the 122' SEYMOUR was installed with a raised upper wheelhouse for improved visibility and a Bludworth coupler pin welded into her bow which when locked into the ALOUETTE SPIRIT's notched stern, it would offer greater control when pushing the barge through the locks and many winding channels along the Seaway and Great Lakes.

While there's no sign of the Bludworth coupling pin at WILF SEYMOUR's bow in this snap, you can see her starboard side expanding pad near amidships and below her wheelhouse.
Being tucked behind the tall walls of Port Colborne Grain Terminal is a much better place to be laid up at than where the hard working tandem spent last winter. While motoring up the St. Lawrence River laden with aluminum ingots from Pointe Noire, Quebec destined for the Oswego, New York on Lake Ontario, an electrical fault in the SEYMOUR's navigation equipment, caused the ATB (articulated tug & barge) to divert from the channel and run hard aground on Lac Saint-Pierre near Louisville at 06:45 on December 25, 2018.
The upbound ATB approaching Iroquois Lock - May 10, 2016 by Helen Mott
It was definitely not the gift anyone would want to receive on Christmas morning but the situation worsened for the crew of the WILF SEYMOUR and her charge when after 4 days of trying to free the heavy barge on her own because no icebreaker or other tugs were available to assist, it was decided to abandon the ALOUETTE SPIRIT on her perch surrounded in ice until spring. With assistance of fleetmate LOIS M. the lightened ALOUETTE SPIRIT was refloated 3 month to the day of her grounding and finally delivered her load aluminum ingots to Oswego on or about April 1st. No fooling!!
Accidents happen and deliveries sometimes get delayed but since the ALOUETTE SPIRIT made her maiden voyage in 2004, more than 1,500,000 tonnes of aluminum ingots and sows have been shipped to many destinations. Whether she's carrying Quebec-made aluminum ingots to Oswego or steel slabs from Hamilton to Cleveland, her hydraulic bow ramp as seen in ship watching friend, Helen Mott's photo above, makes it easy to "ro/ro" (roll on/roll off) cargoes from dockside forklifts. When taking on grain which the ALOUETTE SPIRIT has been known to do at the Port Colborne Grain Terminal, the barge's retractable roof panels keeps the cargos dry for their transit.
A new cycle of usefulness is about to begin for the 50+ year-old WILF SEYMOUR and ALOUETTE SPIRIT as a new shipping season begins in less than a month on the Welland Canal and soon after at the Soo Locks and on the St. Lawrence section of the Seaway.
Like the other "in ballast" bulk carriers and tankers that have laid-up high and in plain sight for the winter in ports throughout the Great Lakes, they'll will be laden with a cargo and making our countries prosperous and great again. And it couldn't come at a better time.
UPDATE: 11.09.2023  - Sorel-Tracy, QC

Though primarily known for carrying aluminum ingots and slabs produced by her Sept-Iles, Quebec based namesake, Aluminerie Alouette Inc, the 425' deck barge ALOUETTE SPIRIT can carry other dry bulk cargoes in her tall retracable roofed steel hopper. It appeared grain was the cargo being haul when I caught the barge being guided to the Sorel's Richardson International Terminal wall by the 122' veteran tug WILF SEYMOUR with her slender raised wheelhouse. Easy as she goes, skipper and crew.

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