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Time On Tug Was No Breeze

  Some sleep in queen-sized beds on luxury yachts, some sleep under the Thousand Islands sky in a sleeping bag, but those aboard the Seahound found themselves waking up on the port side of their tug boat bunk beds this past summer.

Ecosse, Nadro Marine
Photo: © Paul Beesley
Captain Paul Beesley and those aboard the Nadro Marine tugs Ecosse, Vigilant 1 and the Seahound transported 86 windmills from northern New York to Wolfe Island in Ontario prior to the shutdown of the Seaway in December.

Paul Beesley, 60, of St. Catharines, Ontario was one of those waking up early each morning to the sound of a tug boat engine roaring, exhaust billowing through the cabin and crew members stomping their feet on the bridge above. For years, Beesley was a Captain with the Canadian Coast Guard and this summer he found himself spending his retired days back on the water as a Mate and Captain on Nadro Marine's many different tug boats.

His days of water rescue and ice breaking had turned into a summer full of moving windmills from the northern New York town of Ogdensburg to Wolfe Island, Ontario.

In July, Paul and other crew members boarded the Seahound in the Port of Hamilton and made the trek northbound across Lake Ontario and on the St. Lawrence River to the Port of Ogdensburg. It was there where they would wait for ocean-going vessels to dock and unload windmills for the Wolfe Island windmill project. With no direct route available for the freighters to go to the island, Beesley and the Nadro Marine crew were called in to make the move. In all, 86 windmills would be delivered to Ogdensburg and need to be transported upbound on the river.

This situation posed a daunting task for those who would have to settle in and make the tugs their home away from home. "I usually worked one week on and two weeks off," explained Beesley. "Most others worked two weeks on and one week off. Work during the day was whatever hours were necessary with no specific hours. You might work all day and half the night, all night and most of the day." Either way, the windmills needed to make their way to the island before the closing of the Seaway at the end of December.

In late July, after weeks of hold ups in the original plans, Beesley and the Nadro Marine crew embarked on their first of many journeys up and down the mighty St. Lawrence with windmill cargo in tow. There would be no summer vacation or family trip to Disneyland, but instead a slow and grueling process to move the massive three-blade windmills. Life as the crew knew it would be spent in cramped quarters with not much to do besides work and watch the scenery go by. "TV reception was poor so when we weren't working, cleaning or sleeping there wasn't much to do besides cook and clean." When the tugs were in port the crew would take full advantage of the Ogdensburg library to check out books too.

Photo: © Paul Beesley
Transiting through both the Brockville and American Narrows with a large barge was not an easy task and when ship traffic was constant, the tugs were forced to sit back and wait for the large freighters to pass through those areas first.

Each one-way journey would take seven hours from Ogdensburg to Wolfe Island and during that time Captain Beesley was one to make the most of his time on the water.

From the beautiful sunrise at Wolfe Island to the large homes in the American Narrows to the unique and historic castles along the route, Paul always had his camera ready to take it all in. However, there was one passion of Paul's that he couldn't hide. A passion that led him to the position with the Coast Guard and now with Nadro Marine.

"I'm a boatnerd," Beesley explained, referring to the term used to best classify avid ship fans. Watching the lakers and salties sail past the tugs, almost side-by-side, was a treat for the Captain. These up close encounters allowed Beesley to snap photos regularly and fulfill both his ship watching and photography hobbies. On the side Beesley creates calendars featuring his first-class photos.

When night would fall, Beesley would take up his position in his bunk. It was there that he would pop in a set of earplugs because the noisy engine room was directly across form his sleeping area. "I snore, so I suspect some of the others used earplugs too," Beesley said comparing his snores to the noise of the engine. For a Captain who just spent the day working and watching the water there was no easy way to get the rest needed, especially when doing it for weeks on end.

Daily doings on the tug didn't come without difficulty too. The one bathroom onboard was the size of a small closet and it was a tight squeeze when it came to sitting with the door closed. Groceries had to be requested through the Nadro Marine central office and then delivered to the docks in Kingston for distribution amongst the tugs. Fresh water came from a hose on the dock in Ogdensburg twice a week, while potable water was brought on board in large bottles.

And as if everyday living arrangements weren't enough to cause havoc on the crew, there were the uncontrollable hiccups in the operation process as well.

Winmills equipment Photo: P. Beesley
Photo: © Paul Beesley
Each one-way journey would take seven hours from Ogdensburg to Wolfe Island

Transiting through both the Brockville and American Narrows with a large barge was not an easy task and when ship traffic was constant, the tugs were forced to sit back and wait for the large freighters to pass through those areas first. If fog was thick, the tugs were made to stop. If the winds were too strong, the tugs wouldn't even leave the docks until they calmed down under the twenty knot maximum set by the Seaway. This was put in place because the barges were at the mercy of the wind due to the large windmill blades on board.

On average one day was lost per week from October to December due to weather restrictions.

In all, Paul Beesley and those aboard the Nadro Marine tugs Ecosse, Vigilant 1 and the Seahound did an outstanding job despite all that confronted them. All 86 windmills were moved from northern New York to the big island on the river prior to the shutdown of the Seaway, making way for them to be put in place by the spring. No major incidents or injuries occurred during the project time. And in the end, earplugs got their full use out of them, a camera shutter was clicked more times than a pen in the hand of a lawyer and a bunk bed was finally traded in for the comfort of home.

Paul Beesley was a member of the Nadro Marine crew as a Mate and Captain during their July to December 2008 windmill transportation project.  In all, five tugs were used to complete this labor intense project.  The Lac Manitoba and McKiel Marine's tug Florence M also assisted the three previously mentioned tugs.  The Lac Manitoba and Vigilant 1 are currently still on the project working between the Canadian mainland and Wolfe Island breaking ice and transporting workers each day to the work site. 

According to Nadro Marine, a total  of approximately 40 people worked the waters aboard the tugs and barges, while a large number of people on land at both the Port of Ogdensburg and Wolfe Island assisted with loading and unloading, as well as the team in place now erecting each piece, all of which have done an outstanding job.


By Michael Folsom, (Article updated, February 16)

Michael Folsom, is an avid ship watcher who currently hosts a web site,, where he tracks ships and reports on various items while on the shores of the River. In addition, his work has been featured in the Thousand Islands Sun, as well as on and This is Michael's second article for TI Life.  In January Mike provided a 2008 overview for the of the St. Lawrence Seaway season.

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Dick Withington
Comment by: Dick Withington ( )
Left at: 12:48 PM Sunday, February 15, 2009
Enjoyed Mike's article. I was deck hand and relief captain on the little tug, ABACO which assissted the dockings of the heavy lift ships bringing the windmills to Ogdensburg. At home on Round Island we listened to the distinctive sounds of the ECOSSE's engines. After the first few transits, the noise was so recognizeable, one didn't have to get up and look to know who was going by. At first we thought the 4 AM passages were timed to avoind the attention of those who don't like windmills. Then we realized that 4 AM here put them at the dock on Dawson Point about 0630. Just in time to be ready for the workers who arrived on the 0700 ferry from Kingston to unload the barge. Downstream it always seemed that SEAHOUND could barely keep up with the ECOSSE and barge. They became part of the daily routine, and we looked forward to hearing the roar of those engines. We'll miss them this summer, unless they find more work here.
Ian Coristine
Comment by: Ian Coristine ( )
Left at: 1:27 PM Sunday, February 15, 2009
Many thanks Michael for bringing life aboard these ships into focus for those of us who only see them passing. It adds another level of interest to our unique and fascinating place. And Paul, your shots add to the story with the middle one in particular being a winner.
Rod Morrison
Comment by: Rod Morrison ( )
Left at: 8:47 AM Monday, February 16, 2009
It was a very good article that you have written about the tug operation. As Dick has mentioned in an earlier comment , the Ecosse was indeed easy to recognize by the sound of her engines. He is correct about arriving at Wolfe Island between 0600 and 0700 hr. One correction to his comments, the Seahound worked with the tug Florence M, and the tug Lac Manitoba was tied on the stern of the HM8. That is the barge that the Ecosse towed. The Manitoba is still working on the project with the Vigilant 1 in Kingston.
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 6:17 PM Monday, February 16, 2009
Jim Buerkle
Comment by: Jim Buerkle
Left at: 10:31 AM Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Yes, it was good to see the tugs working. I hope you all have been able to visit Cape Vincent to see how overpowering those windmills are on the Wolf Island landscape.
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 4:15 AM Wednesday, May 16, 2012

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