“We are the Seaway!”
The words of Richard Corfe echoed off the islands, as if church bells chiming in a Rockport steeple, on a warm summer day in July, as the Seaway celebrated its 50th anniversary in Massena, New York. Some four months before that the ice was retreating from the frozen shipping channel as the first ship of 2009, Spruceglen, made its way from Montreal to Lake Ontario.
The season officially “set sail” on March 31 and would span 274 days. However, the sails would never be full of the wind needed to push it into the record books. Instead, it would be the opposite as the season would go in the books as one of the worst since the early 1960s in terms of tonnage. The 25% decrease in cargo volume was based on less iron ore and steel being shipped along the waterway due to the poor economy.
“Given the Seaway's reliance upon the steel industry for a substantial portion of our business, the economic downturn during the last year has certainly impacted our traffic level” commented Richard Corfe, President and CEO of The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC). “The depth of this downturn underscores the importance of the SLSMC's efforts to diversify our cargo base, and we are working diligently on a number of fronts to attain this goal”.
Due to the economic situation, the Seaway has not relented in their efforts to attract new cargo volumes. A series of business incentives have been credited with bringing in 1.6 million tons of new cargo resulting in more than $2 million in revenue for 2009. In addition, a pilot project sponsored by the Port of Hamilton demonstrated the utility of transporting specialized containers between Hamilton and Montreal via tug and barge, providing an alternative to busy road and rail links. These tugs and barges were seen weekly on the river; sometimes more often than ship traffic.
Speaking of ship traffic, there were some new visitors to the Seaway in 2009. One of those being the newly built Algocanada of the Algoma Corporation fleet. Upon arriving in North America, Algocanada jumped right into the mix of things and began her shipping legacy. She would pass through the Thousand Islands in mid-June on her first-ever St. Lawrence trip; the first of many to come.
"The idea is for her (Algocanada) to work the Great Lakes and Canadian east coast," said Catherine Calvert, Algoma Tankers Director of Commercial Shipping.
In all, there would be 1,796 total vessel transits through the American locks on the Montreal-Lake Ontario portion of the Seaway this season, 520 of which were made by ocean-going vessels, better known as “salties,” according to the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation in Massena. That total falls far short of last season’s numbers, however ocean-going numbers climbed.
There were some similar happenings that occurred in both 2008 and 2009 - yachts, windmills and a naval vessel.
Though the skies were often gray, the beauties of yachts were bright spots in the islands. Throughout the summer, glamorous floating kingdoms would dock in our small resort towns or drop anchor between the islands. Of the many to visit our area, there were a number that stood out due to their size or ownership. There was Scott Free (157’), Marion Queen (161’), Linda Lou (197’), Neon Rainbow, owned by country music star Alan Jackson (72’) and Calixe, owned by Wendy McCaw of the Santa Barbara News-Press, just to name a few. McCaw’s vessel was ranked the 29th largest American yacht in 2007 by Power & Motoryacht.
In 2008, windmills were a familiar sight on the river as tugs moved 86 units from Ogdensburg to Wolfe Island. This summer saw more windmills headed upbound for a Canadian destination. Ships from Germany passed through the region enroute to Thunder Bay, Ontario where they were unloaded and then trucked inland to British Columbia. Just 34 windmills would be built during this project.
The Canadian naval frigate Ville de Quebec ventured along the Seaway making visits to a number of Canadian ports in an effort to gain interest in young Canadians looking to enter the armed forces. Last summer it was the USS Freedom that graced the St. Lawrence on its trek from the upper Great Lakes after being commissioned to its new home in Virginia.
And while there were less ship sightings, there were still some interesting sights.
A new cruise ship, Clelia II, took a maiden voyage this summer and passed through the islands as it headed to Toronto to begin regular trips through the Welland Canal and ports west of there. The 290-foot, 100 passenger vessel will likely be seen in our region again in the spring. One new cruise ship that will become almost as regular in our area as the popular Canadian Empress will be the new Pearl Mist, which is to set sail in the late spring of 2010. The 335-foot, 210 passenger luxury cruise ship is scheduled to tour the Seaway and Thousand Islands beginning June 19.
Instead of major hold-ups on the river due to bridge trouble this year, there was the grounding of CSL Assiniboine just outside of the main shipping channel near Cardinal, Ontario in mid-November. The ship had lost engine power and drifted out of the channel which led to damage to the ballast tanks and propeller. The massive laker would later be towed to Prescott, Ontario to unload its cargo onto another ship and then would be towed by two ocean tugs to Port Weller, Ontario and placed into drydock for repairs. She would not make it out of the dock in time to sail again in 2009.
Possibly the most unique sight on the river this year was a large refinery vacuum on a barge being towed by tugs Ecosse and Mary Hannah. This piece of equipment was so large it dwarfed the vessels that were in control of its delivery. The equipment was destined for Indiana Harbor.
And, speaking of Hannah tugs, the Hannah Marine Company would have a summer that was probably worse than any other shipping company in the United States. All Hannah Marine vessels were seized by the US Marshals wherever they may have been at that point in time, the closest being in Oswego, New York. Each seized item would later be auctioned off.
Whether it was luxury or seizure, big ships or ocean tugs, the 2009 shipping season could not hide from its many ups and downs. As the bright blue and white ship, JW Shelley, passed through the locks on the final week of the shipping season, the 50th anniversary had officially and to many, painfully, come to an end. Hopefully 2010 brings more positives to the industry.
By Michael Folsom/theshipwatcher.blogspot.com
Michael Folsom is a regular contributor to TI Life contributing several articles of the past year. He covered the Seaway’s Birthday Party in July and last month he introduced Captain Murray Latham in From Summer Docks To The Captain’s Spot. Michael is an avid ship watcher and hosts a popular web site, theshipwatcher.blogspot.com, as well as a twitter site: http://twitter.com/theshipwatcher. His work has been featured in the Thousand Islands Sun, as well as on boatnerd.com and northcountrynow.com. When not watching ships or writing about them, Michael works for the Syracuse Crunch, a professional hockey team. He and his wife Christie live in Central New York.