The 2010 Seaway season rolled in like a lamb back at the end of March, but it wouldn’t take long for it to become nothing more than a bunch of roaring lions. From ship groundings to a missing sailor, yachts to tall ships, the 2010 season never really saw a dull moment.
The season began under a dark cloud of frustration as local river advocates, Save The River, and those who operate the Seaway disagreed over a study that was released regarding the impact of winter navigation and icebreaking operations.
In response to the study, Save The River released the following to the media – “The study does not address many of the questions raised by River communities and state and federal agencies over the years including – what are the impacts of icebreaking and winter shipping on fish and wildlife habitat and population; what is the capacity and ability of the Seaway and related agencies to clean up spills and respond to shipping accidents in ice conditions; how does icebreaking impact narrow channels and natural shorelines in the Thousand Island region?”
Some of those questions remain unanswered to the liking of Save The River, but that didn’t mean it would halt shipping.
JW Shelley sailed through the Islands on the first day of the season. The interesting fact about Shelley’s trip in the region was that in 2009 it was also the final ship of that season. This year, Maritime Trader would be the last ship through the locks, while Capt Henry Jackman would be the last ship in the Islands as it traveled to Johnstown, Ontario before heading back to the lake and winter in Hamilton.
In just the first few short weeks of the season, shipping was on the rise nearly 18% over the dismal 2009 totals for the same time frame. Fortunately for the shipping industry, this trend would continue throughout the entire 2010 season and more than 5 million tons of cargo would be shipped between Montreal and Lake Ontario over last year’s total.
While the big freighters were steaming up and down the river, there were some unique visitors to the region this year.
Tall ships from all across the world utilized the Seaway in order to access the Great Lakes where they would go on to participate in the 2010 Tall Ships Challenge at various Great Lake ports. Germany, Netherlands and others were represented. Three of the 100-foot plus wooden ships would stopover on the river. Roseway visited Clayton, Bounty stopped in Ogdensburg and Unicorn made its way to Kingston. “Anytime you can get a tall ship, that’s great,” bragged Clayton Mayor Norma Zimmer, who helped to coordinate the Roseway’s visit to her village.
Along with tall ships were the beautiful sights of yachts – many returners from years past and many newcomers.
And while tall ships and yachts were quite possibly the highlight on the Seaway, there were also lowlights.
While most Americans relaxed on the July 4th holiday, there was trouble aboard the ship Algobay. At 9 a.m. on July 4 the ship lost engine power and found itself drifting outside of the channel east of Singer Castle. The crew would drop anchor to stop the vessel, but it would be a bit too late as the ship rode up on Superior Shoal, grounding the ship for several days. It would take roughly 3 weeks to repair the ship once it was freed and set Algoma Corporation back more than $500,000 in damages.
That wouldn’t be the only grounding in our region this season as the tug Commodore Straits would also drift out of the channel in October near Comfort Island in the American Narrows and would put its barges up on a shoal. It took days to partially unload the barges in order to refloat them before being set free.
Other incidents occurred on the Seaway, however not in the Islands, which included a grounding near Hamilton Island, east of Massena. In addition, there was an accident with a ship dumping fuel near Montreal that ended up closing the Seaway for a short time and cost thousands of dollars in clean up.
What might be the saddest news of the shipping season came on October 20. The crew of Canadian Provider called the US Coast Guard as it approached Alexandria Bay; a crew member was unaccounted for. The ship had traveled overnight across Lake Ontario. Engineer Gary Charlton was seen at the end of his shift in the early morning hours, but when the time came for him to report for his next shift, he was missing. Charlton was believed to have fallen overboard somewhere between Rochester and Alexandria Bay prompting the Coast Guard to conduct a 3,100 square mile search. That search would last just 25 hours before being called off and would cost more than $400,000 to conduct. Charlton’s case remains an open “missing person” case and his wife vows to find his body and to bring him home.
Despite the bad news, there is much positive to focus on moving forward for the Seaway and with the rebound of the economy shipping should only continue to solidify. Look for more growth and excitement when the season opens again in March.
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 the Thousand Islands Sun, as well as on boatnerd.com and northcountrynow.com.
This summer was especially busy for Michael. When the Algobay and the Commodore Straits both went aground, Mike's site was the first outlet along the St. Lawrence River to break the news. His in-depth coverage for both stories dubbed him as a source by area news media throughout the north country. His updated website: The Ship Watcher is one of the most credited shipping news sources. We encourage TI Life readers to take full advantage of the site by visiting often.
2010 articles by Michael Folsom included: Avoiding A Slick; Not Easy Being On A Ship: Part I; Not Easy Being On A Ship: Part II; Don’t Spill The Beans: A River Grounding; Spring’s Seaway News; Workin’ “Robby Bay”; Ships and Clicks; 2009 Seaway Season Recap; and Thousands of Island Images.