There was no ice to thaw as the Seaway season got underway back in March due to temperatures being higher than normal throughout the winter. However, it wasn’t the temperatures of the season that kicked started a ‘red hot’ shipping year.
Nearly four days into the shipping season, things heated up on Lake Ontario, not far from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Tug Patrice McAllister was headed for the river in the overnight hours when trouble struck the 105-foot vessel. A fire had broken out in the engine room and quickly began to spread throughout the boat. Six crewmembers, one of which was severely burned, were forced to abandon ship.
The tug was left adrift in the lake while rescuers headed to the scene. Meanwhile, Clayton-based tugboat Bowditch was called upon to tow the damaged vessel back to Clayton. The Captain of tug Bowditch, Dewitt Withington, explained the scene on Lake Ontario as "indescribable" and the heat from the blaze was so hot that even hours after the fire began, the deck had to be cooled in order for people to board the vessel to secure tow ropes. The tug would spend nearly two weeks at the Thousand Islands Regional Dock undergoing inspections and investigation before another McAllister tug arrived to take it to New York.
Aside from a small oil leak from the Capt Henry Jackman, which led to inspections at Snell Lock, during the first week of the shipping season, everything was quiet on the massive waterway.
In May, news broke out of Washington that Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp (SLSDC) leader Collister “Terry” Johnson was gone. For some time Johnson Jr. had been pressured to leave his position by the Obama administration and he had put up a fight, refusing to back down. On Tuesday, May 8, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood requested Johnson’s resignation and Johnson refused. Instead, LaHood then told him he was fired, leaving a hole in the leadership of the Seaway – a role that had never been affected by politics in the past 50 years.
Like April showers, which bring May flowers, the Seaway was seeing cruise ships and yachts as the sun began to shine in the region.
In addition to the glamorous view of luxury sailing by came the first of many shades of grey… but not 50 shades like the book says.
The retired submarine HMCS Ojibwa was towed through the Islands in the overnight hours of June 3 and would head to Hamilton, Ontario. The sub was an eye-catcher to many Canadians along the Seaway who caught a glimpse in the daylight of their Navy heritage floating boat. Along with the grey submarine, retired US Navy destroyer USS Edson would be towed through the region, as well as HMCS Athabakan, while other grey Navy vessels touring the Great Lakes motored on their own power including – Canadian Warships 708 & 711, HMCS Ville de Quebec, USS Dewert, and the US Navy’s newest ship USS Fort Worth.
Tall ships also made appearances throughout the Islands this summer, including three stops to Clayton by well-known Fair Jeanne. Fair Jeanne made its first stop in June where it was the centerpiece of the Sailing Seaway Clayton festival, helping to draw some 11,000 people to the village. While the ship was in town, the crew and ship’s owner caught up with the 10-man crew of Clayton’s fireboat Last Chance, which helped to extinguish a fire onboard five years prior on Lake Ontario. Also making appearances in the region were Appledore IV, Empire Sandy and St. Lawrence II.
The Seaway season was quiet for the most part regarding accidents – a good thing for sure. However, as the season wrapped up in the fall, Sedna Desgagnes ran aground near Ogdensburg and Phoenix Star clipped Pullman Shoal in Alexandria Bay. Water levels were thought to be contributing factors, but never declared the reason. Also close to home, Horne’s Ferry between Wolfe Island and Cape Vincent ran into a tough situation as a van rolled off her deck and into the St. Lawrence.
As this issue prepared to go to print, the SLSDC and SLSMC issued their year-end wrap up and stated that tonnage increased by 4% to 38.9 million tons during the 2012 navigation season, exceeding the original forecast by 300,000 tons thanks in part to a late season surge in grain movements. Strong performance within a number of core markets contributed to an overall gain of 1.4 million tons for the year.
“The Seaway was instrumental in providing grain shippers with the means to rapidly respond and capitalize on market opportunities late in the season,” said Terrence Bowles, SLSDC new leader.
A number of newly built state-of-the art vessels came into service within the Seaway in 2012, boasting sharp increases in fuel efficiency and reductions in emission levels, including CSL’s Baie St. Paul. “These new vessels underscore the Seaway’s future potential,” added Bowles.
The St. Lawrence Seaway closed for the season on December 29, 2012, with the upbound vessel John B. Aird transiting the Iroquois Lock at 8:59 p.m. The ship would clear Cape Vincent in the overnight hours. The final downbound vessel for the year was tug Ocean Golf. An opening date for 2013 will be announced later this winter.
By Michael Folsom
Michael Folsom is a regular contributor to TI Life. He covers the Seaway News on his popular web site, http://www.theshipwatcher.com/, as well as a twitter site: http://twitter.com/theshipwatcher. His work has been featured in other various outlets, including Thousand Islands Sun, Know Your Ships, Boatnerd.com and more. In addition, Michael is the creator and organizer of Sailing Seaway Clayton and currently serves in the role of Campaign/Public Relations Manager for the Lynx Educational Foundation and tall ship Lynx.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to mark your calendar for Sailing Seaway Clayton: Wednesday, June 12 – Sunday, June 16, 2013